New Laws Provide Protection for Orcas Without Dooming SeaWorld

Screen Shot 2014-08-18 at 7.01.29 PMIn recent years, SeaWorld has made a regular appearance in the media following a nation-wide backlash against its treatment of captive killer whales.  The company came under fire after the powerful documentary Blackfish, was released.  The film graphically demonstrated the fatal consequences of the captivity and mistreatment of orcas at SeaWorld to a massive audience, which in turn, caused outrage and concern among the public.  After SeaWorld’s recent announcement of the whopping 33% drop in stock last week, they have taken the stage yet again, headlining all over the media across the country.  In a recent article in the Miami Herald, Carl Hiaasen writes: “[SeaWorld] reported that attendance at it’s marine theme parks fell 4.3 percent during the first half of the year, and predicted revenue will continue to drop substantially in the coming months.  In the entertainment business, this is known as a wake-up call.  It’s time for SeaWorld to quite using orcas like trained poodles and think up with a new act.”  In a seemingly desperate attempt to win the people back, SeaWorld also announced plans to build larger orca habitats and donate millions to orca whale research.  Although encouraging news for animal rights activists and the concerned public—it is not enough.  A history of trainer deaths, whale deaths and evidence of mental, emotional and physical stress for orcas in captivity have provided the proofs needed to come to the reasonable conclusion that whales should no longer be kept in captivity for public amusement.  The power to free these majestic creatures and provide them with protection from further abuse can only come in the form of a thorough and well-established, government law—and the demise of SeaWorld does not have to come as a result.

In an article on Buzzfeed, Jordan Zakaran describes the aftereffects of Blackfish on SeaWorld, in the statement: “The release of the documentary has made for a dark 12 months at SeaWorld.”  Zakaran adds that, “after the documentary first aired on CNN in October [of 2013], the protests hit the mainstream.  The fight between the corporate giant and a newly emboldened band of activists has spilled over.”  So what is it about Blackfish that has millions of people outraged?  According to a review of the documentary by Jeannette Catsoulis of the New York Times, Blackfish, “tells the distressing story of Tilikum, a 12,000-pound bull orca implicated in the death of three people.”  Castoulis further describes the film as being, “painful to watch,” as it includes: “bleeding whales, flanks raked by teeth of their fellow captives; a trainer crushed between two gigantic beasts with only his wet suit holding him together; another trainer dragged repeatedly to the bottom of the pool until he manages to escape.”  The documentary points to mental distress caused by captivity as one of the main reasons for the aggressive behavior from the normally, gentle giants.  A chilling quote by Jane Velez-Mitchell, a CNN anchor presented in the documentary, asks:  “If you were in a bathtub for 25 years, don’t you think you’d get a little psychotic?”  It is no wonder that millions of people have jumped on board to end SeaWorld practices and are currently pushing for the banning of orcas in captivity in the state of California.  Although Blackfish has created a serious case against SeaWorld, SeaWorld and SeaWorld supporters, strongly defend the company on the grounds that their orca program contributes to valuable public education and is a huge contributor to jobs and to the economy in the state of California.  This may be true, but do these benefits outweigh the suffering of orcas in the eyes of the public?  As consumers, the fall of SeaWorld could be in our hands–but is there a better possible outcome? 

The proposed Orca Welfare and Safety Act of California, “if passed, would make it illegal to keep orcas in captivity or use them for entertainment purposes.  It would also make it illegal to breed or impregnate an orca in captivity, and to use artificial insemination,” as described by Emily Tripp in an article on Marine Science Today.  In an article on the Daily Titan, Cristina Nguyen imagines that the ban will do more harm than good.  Nguyen, like those who support SeaWorld, believes important educational values that can only be acquired through real-life experiences in zoos and at SeaWorld, will be lost.  She writes, “Children who visit SeaWorld and similar parks come away with a sense of attachment to animals, which sometimes stay with them even as adults.  The valuable experience leaves a lasting impact even into adulthood and a great understanding of the majestic creatures featured at SeaWorld.”  Although is hard to deny that observing an animal up-close in person can serve educational purposes, still, many do not believe it outweighs the importance of the animals’ welfare.  

In an article on the Daily Camera covering schools supporting SeaWorld, Zori Levine expresses her stand on the matter by stating that, “We live in a world today that allows us to learn so much about these animals without having to torture them.  By doing a little research students could easily learn that dolphins, orcas and other marine mammals do not fare well in captivity.  And not only that, but once they learn how their lives are structured in the wild, it becomes quite obvious that family, social relationships and travelling far distances are all very important aspects to everyday life.  The simple step of not attending SeaWorld would not harm anyone.”  In the same article, Levine also addresses the rise of student protesters against SeaWorld: “Schools around the country have petitioned to end the school trips to SeaWorld and have succeeded.  One in particular is Pt. Dume Marine Science Elementary School located in Malibu, California [where] the school listened to the students’ concerns and took into consideration the number of signatures they collected on a petition.  They will not be attending SeaWorld this year.”  Although there are those that are in favor, it is clear that many are against SeaWorld for educational purposes.  With current ongoing movements to raise awareness for orca freedom from SeaWorld, we can expect more student protestors and parents against SeaWorld, alike.  That is, until SeaWorld provides the public with alternative means of entertainment, educational or not, that does not involve the captivity of orcas.   

In Cristina Nguyen’s article on the Daily Titan, as mentioned above, Nguyen also introduces the concerns surrounding what the loss of SeaWorld could mean for the state of California, financially: “Beyond sentimental value, a decision to shut down this main attraction could cause more problems for the region’s economy.  Many are concerned that if the legislation goes through, many jobs will be lost as a result.”  An article by Tony Perry in the LA Times puts the possible losses into perspective: “SeaWorld San Diego, which drew 4.6 million visitors last year, employs 4,500 workers during the summer, and pays $14 million a year in rent to the city for property on Mission Bay.  Forty percent of SeaWorld Visitors stay in local hotels, and the average visitor spend $371 a day, compared with $177 for all tourists, according to the San Diego Tourism Authority.”  Although it may seem as though California could face some serious losses, California assembly member Richard Bloom (who proposed the Orca Welfare and Safety Act) and over 1 million supporters of the banning of orcas in captivity, disagree.  In an article in ANIMALS, Jason G. Goldman sheds light on the massive support in a quote by Richard Bloom: “The public support for ending orca captivity has been overwhelmingly positive.  One petition gathered 1.2 million supporters and another petition received more than twenty-five thousand supporters.”  According to Goldman, Bloom also acknowledged that SeaWorld San Diego would have to alter its business model, but points out that other parks have moved away from killer whale shows and have done just fine.  Bloom was quoted as saying, “Right here in Vallejo, California, the former Marine World Africa USA now Six Flags Discover Kingdom, moved away from their killer whale shows, the park is doing just fine and weathered the recession without killer whales.  Their doors are still open today.”  Although the welfare of the orcas of SeaWorld are undoubtedly of great importance to the people, it seems that those in favor of the bill aren’t fighting to watch SeaWorld burn to the ground.  There are great possibilities for SeaWorld to make things right and rebuild a company whose form of public entertainment doesn’t include the mistreatment of animals.

According to the aforementioned article by Jason G. Goldman, in the bill’s official analysis, “supporters point out the scientific information documenting the damaging effects of captivity on orcas’ physical health and psychological well-being.  Supporters assert the conclusion from decades of cumulative results of both captive and field studies is that cetaceans possess a level of intelligence, awareness, and psychological sensitivity that makes it unacceptable to continue to keep them in captivity if not necessary for their welfare, survival, or conservation.”  With scientific proof orcas do not fare well in captivity, and a clear example that a theme park can succeed even with the removal of orcas for entertainment, there is no reason why the Orca Welfare and Safety Act of California, should not pass.  Earlier this year, a New York senator introduced a bill that would ban orca captivity there–where no captive orcas exist–proof that California’s movements are leading to preventative measures (literally) across the country.  It has also been made clear that those in favor of a law protecting orcas, are not narrowing their efforts on ending SeaWorld, but on ending the captivity of orcas—and they will not stop until orcas are swimming soundly in spacious sanctuaries or freed into the ocean if they possess the ability to survive in the wild.  Small-scale solutions like “bigger tanks” and millions in whale research donation money will not suffice.  It is up to SeaWorld to come up with a new form of entertainment for business that does not involve the exploitation of these magnificent orcas.  Whether SeaWorld decides to take control of the situation or not, the people have made it clear that they will not stop pushing for laws that will protect these gentle giants of the sea.  With true power to control the rise or fall of the company alone, only SeaWorld can save SeaWorld now.   

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One Comment to “New Laws Provide Protection for Orcas Without Dooming SeaWorld”

  1. I loved reading this piece, mostly because it is about a topic I feel so strongly for but also because it is nice to see others who feel the same. I absolutely think that SeaWorld should have to surrender all of their whales and no longer be allowed to hold them (or any other large mammal) in captivity. Like you said, it is extremely clear that living in these conditions is detrimental to these beautiful creatures. It’s sad that so many are fooled by SeaWorld funded ‘research’. I think you would really enjoy a book I read a while back that really opened my eyes to this matter and shed some scary light on SeaWorld. If you get the chance, picked up “Death at SeaWorld”. It is really a wonderful book full of actual testimonies from previous SeaWorld employees and just exposes all of their lies. It is heartbreaking that they try to pin a child’s “lasting attachment” to such things, giving these whales their freedom will not take away all of the wildlife. Children can still go outside and see the world – just like the orcas should be able to! I’ll be waiting for these results with ya!

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