Since the release of the scathing documentary, Blackfish, on DVD and its public airing on CNN, SeaWorld has been the target of an increasingly enlightened public. Their upcoming event “Bands, Brew and BBQ” loses its main event as 8 of the 10 scheduled bands bail out in Blackfish‘s wake. The Florida Attractions Association defended SeaWorld by calling its “attackers” “radical extremists” and urging supporters to vote on a poll at tmz.com. The plan backfired as 56% of the 220,000 votes are to shut down SeaWorld. All of the uproar has SeaWorld’s majority owner, Blackstone Corp, running for cover from the sinking ship. In recent weeks, they have sold 19,500,000 shares and sought to invest their money elsewhere.
SeaWorld recently released an official letter from their zoological team in response to Blackfish. The letter touches on six points brought forward by the documentary. All of the points are deceptive or contain false information which could easily sway anyone who is unaware of the truth. This is especially worrying since SeaWorld has so far published this letter in eight national newspapers. The lies need to be exposed:
“SeaWorld does not capture killer whales in the wild.”
This point is fairly misleading given that the film Blackfish never claims or even implies that SeaWorld is still capturing killer whales. The wild capture segment of the film opens with a clear date: 1970, and in case the dated footage doesn’t indicate its age, narrators explicitly state that this was a past event.
However, SeaWorld responds to the segment by saying that it has not captured killer whales in 35 years. Not because the practice is wrong or cruel, but because they found other ways to stock their tanks: through captive breeding. SeaWorld describes their breeding program as a “groundbreaking success” in spite of the fact that it has produced several inbred and hybrid animals, a 50% infant mortality rate, and multiple instances of infant rejection. Not to mention the upper-limit for captive born orca longevity is only 25 years. It cannot be denied that the captive killer whale gene pool is heading toward a dangerous bottle-neck, and when it does reach a critical state, SeaWorld and other aquariums will call again for the capture of wild killer whales. This is currently happening with beluga whales and SeaWorld was recently among several U.S. aquariums who requested to import wild-caught belugas from Russia. SeaWorld finally adds that “only two” of the whales they caught from the ocean are still surviving. One is led to question why they would shoot themselves in the foot by adding this fact. It implies that most of their wild-caught killer whales have died prematurely, and fosters more questions about the species’ well-being in a captive environment.
“We do not separate killer whale moms and calves.”
This statement is blatantly false and even SeaWorld contradicts it by saying that the whales ARE moved but only to “maintain a healthy social structure.” The bond between the mother and calf is recognized as being “important”, so it seems strange that maintaining a healthy social structure should involve the severing of that important bond by removing the young from its established family and placing it in another tank with strangers. In fact, Taku, Unna, Ikaika, Takara, Kohana, Keet, Keto, Skyla, Tuar, Shouka, and Trua are just some of the whales (still living) that were separated from their mothers by SeaWorld.
“SeaWorld invests millions of dollars in the care of our killer whales.”
SeaWorld claims that in the past 3 years it has invested $70 million in its killer whale habitat. That’s an average of $23 million a year. This might sound like a shockingly large amount of money, but in the course of 9 months SeaWorld spends $99 million on food and goods. What exactly the money is being spent on is unknown. The killer whale “habitats” have not been updated since the 80’s, and according to former trainers, millions of dollars may be spent on the set and lighting at the stadium – would this be considered an investment in the killer whale habitat?
“SeaWorld’s killer whales’ life spans are equivalent with those in the wild.”
The average lifespan of a wild male killer whale is 35 and for a female it’s 60. SeaWorld may have six whales that have exceeded the age of 30, but four of them are females who would normally reach 60 years in the wild. In other words, only two of SeaWorld’s whales have reached the average life span of a wild whale of the same sex, and two whales out of the countless whales that have lived at SeaWorld parks is not a very impressive number. It certainly does not represent an average, but an exception. In the film Blackfish, SeaWorld educators claim that captive whales live longer than wild whales, so it appears that has now been retracted and changed.
“The killer whales in our care benefit those in the wild.”
This is a nice statement but what is there to show for it? Populations of wild killer whales are endangered and have been for decades, so where are the “significant real-world benefits” of this research?
“SeaWorld is a world leader in animal rescue.”
This is a very common red herring that SeaWorld uses to detract from the real issue. Rescue and rehabilitation efforts are irrelevant to the topic at hand which is the ethics of killer whale captivity. Even so, the claims made need to be addressed: “The millions of people who visit our parks each year make possible SeaWorld’s world-renowned work in rescue, rehabilitation and release.” In fact, these efforts are very under-funded and are supported largely by government grants and donations, not ticket sales.
SeaWorld and supporters say that the public should do research and look at the facts before making a decision about killer whale captivity. The public is now seeking the facts and that is why the Blackfish movement is now in motion – full steam ahead.