San Diego vs. SeaWorld: Let the Battle Begin

by on December 30, 2013 · 36 comments

in California, Environment, Health, History, Ocean Beach, San Diego

seaworld

By Eva Posner / San Diego Free Press

Blackfish has been on my DVR since it aired on CNN for the first time in October. I knew I should watch it but I didn’t want to. I’ve never been to SeaWorld, and I wanted to go. I wanted to see the whales. I wanted to watch them jump in the air and wave at me. It’s really selfish, and maybe not the best thing to admit, but I didn’t want to see Blackfish because I didn’t want to feel guilty about thinking the whale show was super cute.

Last night, I decided to woman up and turn it on. Which lead to the most depressing 90 minutes I have spent in front of a TV in a long time, and relief that I never did make it SeaWorld. Because I would have been disgusted with myself.

“Blackfish” follows the story of Tilikum, an orca (or “killer whale”) captured off the coast of Iceland in 1983 who has been at SeaWorld Orlando since 1992. The film follows a history of violence by “Tili” and the three human deaths he has been associated with. The story culminates in Tili pulling senior trainer Dawn Brancheau into the water and killing her in 2010.

It makes a convincing case against keeping orcas in captivity, not only for the whales’ sake, but for the safety of employees at aquatic parks as well.

There are some facts from the documentary that make it a pretty open and shut case for me:

  • The mortality rate of captive orcas is 2.5 times higher than their wild counterparts.
  • There is no record of an orca ever killing a human in the wild.
  • Although in the wild, orcas breed in their early teens and babies never leave their mothers, SeaWorld breeds its orcas at 5 or 6 and separates the families.
  • In the wild, orcas live in pods with their families. At SeaWorld, different whales from different families are strewn together in whatever amalgamation will sell the most tickets and result in the most prolific breeding. This causes tension and violence between the whales who ram each other and “rake” each other with their teeth. These acts of aggression have resulted in the injuries and deaths of multiple whales. (Including a serious injury at our local park last year.)
  • Housing marine mammals that are not compatible with each other violates the Animal Welfare Act.

There are three SeaWorld aquatic parks in the United States: Orlando, San Antonio, and right here in San Diego. You all know where it is. You can’t miss the signs, or the giant Christmas tree, or those obnoxious summertime fireworks.

SeaWorld San Diego was the home of the very first orca show, done in 1965 by a female orca named Shamu, who became the mascot of the park. What is less known is that Shamu was taken from the wild, and that her mother was killed with a harpoon gun during the capture. Shamu herself became violent with trainers, and died in 1971 at 10 years old.

It’s not only the whales we should worry about; human lives are at stake too. There have been over 100 incidents between captive orcas and humans. With minimal research I was able to find that at least 48 of those incidents happened here in San Diego. And there are likely countless more. It was only 2006 when trainer Ken Peters was attacked during a whale show and dragged to the bottom of the pool by his foot. Orcas have lunged at trainers since then. It’s likely just a matter of time before another serious incident occurs and someone gets hurt or killed.

The movie asserts that the orcas are driven to psychosis by their unnaturally small environments, discipline by their trainers, and unnatural social order in the parks. Whether you buy into whales going crazy or not, the fact is that these are large predatory animals with instincts to hunt. They are not the giant aquatic teddy bears the “Shamu Shows” lead crowds to believe.

After the death of Brancheau in 2010 the Occupational Saftey and Heath Administration (OSHA) cited SeaWorld for “willfull” safety violations and told the company to keep trainers at a safe distance from the whales or put physical barriers up. SeaWorld has appealed more than once, and the decision has been upheld as recently as last year. Although SeaWorld has stopped allowing trainers in the water, they are continuing “dry work”, when the whales are up on a stage or platform and the trainers pet, kiss and cuddle them. Brancheau was doing dry work when she was killed. And that doesn’t even count the contact with the orcas that trainers and veterinary staff have when there isn’t an audience.

The company has also gone on the offensive regarding Blackfish. Although invited to be interviewd for the film multiple times, SeaWorld declined. Now it calls the film one sided and misleading. Friday it took out whole page ads in the U-T San Diego, Orlando Sentinel, New York Times, and other papers to “set the record straight.” The “open letter” can also be found on SeaWorld’s website.

As the municipality in which a SeaWorld park is located, the city of San Diego should do something to end the animal and employee abuse in Mission Bay.

The city currently leases the land that SeaWorld sits on to the company at an extremely cheap rate, where the park discharges massive amounts of polluted water into Mission Bay with near impunity.

Could the City Council vote to revoke the lease? Could the City Attorney sue for animal cruelty and willful endangerment of employees? Could someone bring this up in the mayoral election and see if Alavarez and Faulconer have any ideas?

There will be arguments from opponents of job loss and revenue loss. There will arguably be an effect on the local economy, though I doubt it would be very big considering the deals SeaWorld gets.

What could replace it? Maybe a less cruel theme park. Dollywood? (Yea, I’m Southern.) Don’t we still need a place to build that damn football stadium that we are going to undoubtedly waste taxpayer money on? There’s tons of parking already. We could rename SeaWorld Drive to Chargers Boulevard or something. Everybody wins. Well, the Chargers win. And the orcas. And the trainers who won’t die.

There are holes in this position: For one, SeaWorld is taking the brunt of criticism for an entire industry. There is also a larger issue of wild animals being in captivity that needs to eventually be debated. (I am not advocating shutting down or even boycotting the San Diego zoo. That could be seen as hypocritical.) And to be fair, SeaWorld does do some good conservation work with turtles, manatees, and other species that is largely being overlooked and would likely be misplaced if the company closed.

Maybe we don’t have to close it. Maybe we can just get them to free the whales. And dolphins. And seals.

I know San Diego has a lot of issues and a lot of fights at present. There’s the fight for Barrio Logan, the fight for the mayor’s office, the fight for pensions and a balanced budget that still invests in essential services, children and vulnerable populations. Those only scratch the surface. But this is something we should add to our list. It’s a fight that needs to be had.

I will be doing more research, and will likely write again on the issue. It’s been a while since I’ve been this worked up over a company that wasn’t Walmart or BP.

I will never go to SeaWorld. I will never allow my son to go to SeaWorld. I will never recommend SeaWorld to friends and family who come to town. I recommend you take the same stance. I recommend you pressure your city councilmemeber to take a hard line on the issue. I also recommend you watch Blackfish, because misery loves company and, man, am I sad.

{ 35 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Chase December 30, 2013 at 9:35 am

I’ve been following the Blackfish journalism trail since I viewed the film. Your article is very well written and you make your points very clearly. Thank you for writing, and I will be reading any more that you write on the subject.

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avatar Roland December 30, 2013 at 10:22 am

Well written and thank you for highlighting the issue, and suggesting some practical things that locals can do in response to it.

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avatar Debra December 30, 2013 at 11:51 am

I’m so sad to read about the way poor Shamu was abducted, only to die at a young age, in captivity. Almost as sad as I am about the way Tilikum’s teeth were drilled down and who now languishes, depressed and bored somewhere in a sterile tank. SeaWorld should be allowed to only rehab sea creatures and release them, (mammals anyway). Forcing wild animals to perform un-natural tricks is barbaric and I find nothing “entertaining,” about it.

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avatar Eva December 30, 2013 at 2:21 pm

Thank you for the kind words. I look forward to following up on this issue.

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avatar Frances O'Neill Zimmerman December 30, 2013 at 2:26 pm

$eaWorld is a money-making machine, using captive wild animals to bring in the bucks.
Kids should not be exposed to $eaWorld “shows. If you want to see marine life, go out whale-watching with Scripps Institution of Oceanography or walk at La Jolla Shores beach. We saw dolphins there on the day after Christmas.

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avatar Chris December 30, 2013 at 2:32 pm

I won’t criticize you but you yourself in your article stated you have never been to see SeaWorld so you don’t know what SeaWorld is really like and once again following a documentary that only tells you one side of the story. It is out to destroy SeaWorld and you jump on the bandwagon to help them. You have a lot to learn about what the care is like for the animals at SeaWorld. You don’t have any idea what the care if like. Also SeaWorld has not captured any whales from the ocean for shows in about 40 years now. Also why is closing San Diego Zoo hypocritical? It’s no different at all except SeaWorld Rescues, rehabs and released more animals combined then all of the zoos and aquariums in the country.

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avatar Doni December 30, 2013 at 7:20 pm

Oh Chris! You have a lot to “learn” about your friends at Seaworld. I’m sorry that the average person isn’t impressed by Seaworld’s supposed rescue and rehabilitation of the few and far between, but as I like to yell to the customers driving into Seaworld ‘IT’S NOT WORTH IT!’
Okay, they haven’t captured (yes, I call it “captured” although Seaworld likes to refer to it as “collected”) from the wild in fourty or so years; which is a statement that can’t be confirmed because it is a big chance that they were behind the capture of ‘Kshamenk’ – a whale in a small, dreadful “aquarium” named Mundo Marina in Argentina.
Mundo Marina claims to have rescued Kshamenk after he was “stranded”; however, eye-witness reports state the boats holding Mundo Marina employees PURPOSELY followed and cornered him causing him to beach himself. Keep in mind – this aquarium has seeked out financial assistance from Seaworld in the past. With this, it’s difficult to imagine this miniscule, awful place is able to capture, transport and house an orca on their own. Mundo Marina has attempted to sale this orca to Seaworld, but were unable to because of certain laws in place. Instead, what has the greed within Seaworld led them to do? You guessed it! Use Kshamenk to artificially inseminate Seaworld orcas. DISGUSTING.
I’ll leave you with this. Seaworld doesn’t get a kudos from me because you know what? Their research, rescue and conservation efforts are through one of their few non-profit charities, but it’s these same charities that obtain government grants, personal donors and even attendees to their parks. Can you imagine? Purchasing a $70-something ticket for yourself, your wife and two childen and on top of that spend $20-something on a Shamu plush bear and this multi-billion dollar company is asking you to donate? DISGUSTING.
PS. No, Seaworld doesn’t have to capture, kidnap, steal and ravage orca communities in the wild anymore. They can have third world countries do that for them. Oh, they can also continue to inbreed with the few male orcas they do have.

Join the fight and do what’s right Chris.
http://www.facebook.com/protestseaworldsandiego

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avatar Jason Thompson December 30, 2013 at 8:00 pm

At one time there were people who started vocalizing their disagreement with slavery, women not being allowed to vote, blacks sitting in back of the bus, etc. For those that did not see it as they did, they labeled them as jumping on the bandwagon as well. Sentient beings deserve to live their life as freely possible. Someday a majority will view this issue in the same vein…as being self evident. Until then, we will wait patiently for those that are not yet on the wagon…

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avatar Eva December 31, 2013 at 1:12 pm

You’re right. I haven’t been there. Perhaps I should go in the name of fairness. But I won’t pay for it, and I can’t afford it anyway, so that causes a problem. Perhaps SeaWorld will grant me a press pass. I doubt it, but I will try. I’ll let you know how it goes.

I also want to point out that I have never been to Egypt, but still have an opinion on the way the government is cracking down on its people. I understand that is a hyperbolic comparison, but my point is that thanks to the availability of information today because of the internet, I can learn a lot about something without ever seeing it myself. I know I still have a lot to learn on this issue, but what I know of so far bothers me.

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avatar PreacherT December 30, 2013 at 3:48 pm

Chris -’The documentary only tells one side of the story’…really??

Mammals/Animals should not be held ‘captive’ for OUR amusement. PERIOD.
There is no need to capture Killer Whales in the wild because they are using Tilikum as a ‘breeder’. Who cares if he killed a few people right? He can breed. This needs to stop.

There is no need for a bandwagon when you have common sense.

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avatar Katie December 30, 2013 at 7:06 pm

Regarding the prior comment that “SeaWorld has not captured any whales from the ocean for shows in about 40 years.” This general statement has to be clarified in that SeaWorld artificially inseminates their animals in order to breed more Shamus for their shows.

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avatar Melissa December 30, 2013 at 7:06 pm

Great article that makes sense.

Ive heard from a few people with kids that I am being too sensitive on the issue and that Seaworld respects its animals. I, as a person that has been to Seaworld, multiple times during my youth, knows what type of environment these animals live in. Your estimate of 40+ years on the last captivity or better yet, kidnapping of family members is inaccurate. All one has to do is READ to learn that. And breeding a whale that is known to have violent tendencies, further, killed someone should NOT be breeding.

All one has to do in SD is walk outside on the boardwalk to see dolphins on the daily and whales when they are migrating through. There are MANY MANY non-profit organizations that rescue animals and RETURN them to their homes. Yes, Seaworld does good for some animals but isn’t it funny how the mammals they rescue don’t return to the wild? there deemed unfit to return to the wild?

Also, of all the blogs Ive read on this issue none have touched on “the educational aspect” that Seaworld claims it provides- Has Seaworld wrote any dissertations on the mammals in their care? Seaworld what educational aspects of breeding captive predators can you share with us? The last I read was about the “research” on respiratory conditions to claim that whales don’t need exercise in their lives. All i can say is boycott Seaworld. If your a parent, taking your kids to that place does nothing but teach them that its OK these mammals stay in captivity and it will never end.

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avatar Gene December 30, 2013 at 11:22 pm

So your research amounts to re stating just was blackfish told. Great Journalism there.

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avatar Eva December 31, 2013 at 12:57 pm

I can see your point. But it is a column, not an investigation. However, I will state that besides the bullet points (which I researched the legitimacy of and did not just regurgitate from the movie) the rest of the piece researched to be San Diego specific.

I took a local angle that did require research into the history of violence at the San Diego park, the tax breaks the park is awarded, the citations it has received for pollution with negligible consequences and watching two hours of “Shamu Shows” on youtube to be sure that the trainers were still doing the types of things that got Dawn Brancheau killed.

I hope to continue researching and investigating the issue so as to be able to add new and more pertinent information about our local SeaWorld to the discussion. You know, real journalism. But this piece was inspired by the movie, and therefore revolved around that premise.

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avatar Jay December 31, 2013 at 4:57 pm

Eva,
Your bullet points actually do the same thing as the movie does – that is take “industry stats” and use them to Seaworld’s detriment, despite the fact that Seaworld far exceeds these ‘averages’.
It’s like saying Fast Food is unhealthy & using that to attach Au Bon Pain, which uses whole grains, free range products, and quite healthy cuisine – and is not at all unhealthy.
For instance:
– The mortality rate of captive orcas is 2.5 times higher than their wild counterparts.
— This is true, but factors in data from half a century ago, data from sub-standard facilities (where they really are in “bathtubs”), and places without access to specialist care. More recent data, reflecting significant upticks in care, does show the orcas at Seaworld beginning to parallel average ages & rates from the wild. To be objective (I’m a scientist), we’re talking about “freeing the orcas now”, so we need to use current data, not factors from 50 years ago, where humans didn’t know how to properly care for these animals.

- There is no record of an orca ever killing a human in the wild.
—This really doesn’t factor into the objective argument in my mind. No sharks have killed people at Seaworld, yet do in the wild – this is no reason to make captive all sharks. The level of personal interaction is not an equal factor here, thus the reason for disparity. We can’t draw any statistical significance from this “observation”.

- Although in the wild, orcas breed in their early teens and babies never leave their mothers, SeaWorld breeds its orcas at 5 or 6 and separates the families.
— Is there similar concern for dog/cat/horse breeders with similar stats? If this is truly a debate between wild vs. not, then these stats are little different from other animals. Many civilizations in the past (and still today) encourage childbirth as early as able. This may be a moral argument to make, but not a scientific one – and again, to be objective, one you’d have to make against horse breeders, dog breeders, as well as many South American, Indian, and European cultures as well. Orca births to younger whales in the wild have not been shown to be “bad for them” so without parallel data to draw from, there’s nothing here.

-In the wild, orcas live in pods with their families. At SeaWorld, different whales from different families are strewn together in whatever amalgamation will sell the most tickets and result in the most prolific breeding.
— Actually, I would assume this is to prevent inbreeding from orcas in the same pod. This is to mimic natural behaviors, where orcas only mate within their pods as a last resort. “whatever amalgamation will sell the most tickets” is a propagandist statement, and detracts from any legitimate argument. Since all the orcas perform, then this is actually an inconsistent statement with the one that says they’re unhappy because they’re separated from their pods. If they are (which would seem to be the more rational statement), why would putting them with an unfamiliar grouping, be more apt to sell tickets? I’d rather see an engaged performer (whether animal or broadway actor) than a moping one

- Housing marine mammals that are not compatible with each other violates the Animal Welfare Act.
— The law is written about safety. My boys antagonize each other, when they fall, sometimes even blood is drawn from the scrapes. Should they be separated from each other & me, because they tussle?
Further, this is a direct allegation spawned from PeTA, which no one in the scientific/legal community takes seriously. Rather, it muddies the claims of someone claiming to be independent/objective.

Given your lifts of blackfish statements, PeTA talking points, and no contemporary research presented from the AZA, or objective consideration of Seaworld’s POV, forgive me, but it seems this piece was not a “reaction” borne of careful weighing of both sides and/or study.

Finally, when you repeat the talking point that Seaworld had the chance to rebut, but they declined to be in the film – this is a laughable.
- Would Disney agree to put up their execs in a film about the Nazi ties of Walt? Of course not, an agenda-piece with a preformed conclusion (and full editing rights) is not a rebuttal.
- Many times there are claims made “at parks like seaworld” rather than “at seaworld”, as without that clarification, the film would be open to litigation, since the statement is factually false if made about Seaworld, rather than captive parks as a whole. The film, dishonestly in my opinion, leads the viewer to make this direct connection to Seaworld (having named them over and over indirectly). Indeed, twitter bears this out. In every case the film’s allegations of “at parks like seaworld” are constantly being parroted out by the uninformed as Seaworld’s sins in that medium. Why would someone from the company agree to sign away rights, be in this hostile situation, and retain no element of equal control in how their words are cut?

I’ll be honest, I like Seaworld. While I haven’t worked for them, I’ve accompanied their rescue teams in the past & have seen firsthand the good they do. While I’m not a huge fan of the captive orca, there is no good alternative to the ones already in captivity. The “tricks they are forced to perform” are actually cognitive challenges to keep them intellectually stimulated while in a captive environment. Unfortunately, the real argument that could make the difference in the future (around captive breeding) is lost by the feel-good argument of “free them”. While this shallow argument looks good, anyone with a degree in the field would be able to tell you this is a death sentence. Its been tried before, death has always resulted in days or weeks. Sea Pens aren’t much better, as new pathogens & bacterium would be introduced to an animal that has never known anything but perfect water conditions. (Freeing a SCID child from their protective bubble would be a congruent argument).

Bottom line, there aren’t any good solutions with already-captive orcas. Seaworld has bar-none the best conditions for them, and “shutting them down” would result in the immediate death of a huge marine population. What people should be focused on is captive breeding – there’s something to that.

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avatar Jim Light January 1, 2014 at 3:20 pm

Sadly, I am embarrassed to say I went to SeaWorld decades ago. There is no denying the pools are too small. Having witnessed dolphins and whales in the wild, there is no way Sea World or any other company can reasonably recreate their habitat. Surrounding animals that use echolocation with walls of concrete is inhumane. Separating species who stay together in family units for life is cruel. It is not rocket science.

And watch carefully the words of SeaWorld. While they may not have “captured” a wild “Orca” recently, they are part of the import permit request for 18 recently captured wild, Russian beluga whales submitted to NOAA by Georgia Aquarium. NOAA denied the permit. Georgia Aquarium and Sea World are appealing. So SeaWorld IS involved in capturing wild cetaceans.

We are a much more enlightened about cetaceans and captivity now. SeaWorld is hanging on desperately to a 50 year old business model. They need to adapt or go out of business.

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avatar Eva January 2, 2014 at 10:07 am

Jay, thank you for this. As I admitted in the piece I have more to learn on this issue.

What kind of scientist are you? And would you be willing to speak to me before I write my next piece? I will definitely look into the captive breeding aspect more, as you suggest.

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avatar Teresa December 30, 2013 at 11:30 pm

I’m from San Diego as we’ll and would love to see some action, mass unity against Sea World. That’s what blackfish was missing for me, a call to action.

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avatar Susie December 31, 2013 at 1:18 am

Chris….. …I do know what Sea World is like as I worked there in the late 1990′s in the
medical areas. We had the whole park to take care of & had to know all of the important people there on a first name basis. We also had to learn & know all of the secret passage ways & other things that a general employee would not be privy to. I quickly learned after 8 weeks, I wanted No part of working for that organization & have boycotted the whale jail since. I know things that were not made public. I tell everyone I know to stay away from Sea World. Yes, when we know better, we do better.
Sea World knows better, but the general public does not. The good Sea World does in No way negates the pure Evil it does. It’s all about $$$. I wish the place would just sink into the bay. Your statement of no whales have been captured in 40 Years…. So What ?
That still does not excuse the Horrible treatment of the whales & other mammals. The fact that you say that indicates to me that you need further remedial education & a trip to Alaska to see Wild Orcas & you would not write such statements.
You do Not Know what you don’t know. So sad. Get enlightened & Educated.
Captive Mammals is ancient history except to greedy corporations & uneducated people.

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avatar Eva December 31, 2013 at 1:13 pm

Thanks, Susie for your first person perspective.

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avatar Roland December 31, 2013 at 11:19 am

Thank you Susie, for your comment, and your decision to stop working at a place you saw as unethical.

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avatar Susie December 31, 2013 at 11:45 am

You are so welcome. I will also be at the protest in January to help get Sea World closed. Click on the link above. Thank you for your good thoughts re my post too.
We All need to help those creatures. They are begging us to do so.
We need to start pressuring City Council and praying too.
Baby steps. All their. $$$ talks & we need to put an end to cruelty.
It is more Horrible than the average person knows. That is why I quit.
Those people have no conscience. Despicable. All for $$$.
Make it a New Years passion to close the Whale Jails, All 3.
SD, Orlando & San Antonio. Closed. Those mammals need our help .
Remember the show….Flipper ? Free all Flippers too .
Nothing will change unless average people get involved & Educated.
Thank goodness for Blackfish . If you don’t stand for something, then you fall for anything. That is how Sea world has been able to get away with murder.
People…. It’s Time to wake up & Educate all the tourists too .
Be a part of the solution, not a part of the problem .
Sea Worlds days are numbered, know that. We will not stand for murder anymore.
It’s not right to spend money at a killing machine.
Go to legoland or just go on a day boat . Cheaper & more fun.

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avatar Thompson December 31, 2013 at 6:34 pm

Hmm… You worked there, yet you misstate their name? They drill in that it’s SeaWorld,  not Sea World, or Seaworld.   Over and over…  And over. 

If you did actually work there, you would also well know that releasing them would result in their death. If you worked *anywhere* with experts,  you’d know this.  If you even bothered to take the time to read the first sentence in Wikipedia about Keiko (of “free willy” fame), you’d know a good deal more about the real facts than you do now. 

Your two options are that they remain at SeaWorld to live out their lives, or they are released to their death.  You advocate the latter, yet call SeaWorld “murderers”? 

You tell others to get educated, but seem to have little practical education on the matter yourself. Saying an entire company is filled with “those people [who] have no conscience” is insulting.  Having worked with animals my entire adult life,  I’m incensed that you presume to know anything about me.  I volunteer at shelters in my off time,  and contribute quite a bit to animal charities, I’d wager a hefty sun that my contributions to animal welfare vastly outweighs yours. 

But you have a keyboard, and either worked for SeaWorld for a few weeks before being fired, or never worked there at all.  But you saw a film or even traversed a hidden passageway (apparently off site and away from all the rescue tanks, rehab facilities, and veterinary care areas that the public seldom sees) and are now a “firsthand account” expert.

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avatar Frances O'Neill Zimmerman December 31, 2013 at 2:52 pm

Credit SeaWorld for one positive change from past practice: in the old days orcas were made to wear sunglasses as they went through their paces.

You’ve done a good job here, Eva. You don’t need to see a concentration camp to know that what goes on inside is wrong.

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avatar Aaron December 31, 2013 at 3:21 pm

As you write your articles, please keep in mind that Blackfish is a heavily biased, one sided Documentary. Some scientists, filmakers and many credited people have even gone so far as to say it’s nothing but a movie. A false one at that. The SeaWorld you hear about in blackfish is nowhere near the SeaWorld of today. All footage used, yes that happened, but the message blackfish sends is not true. One problem with blackfish is that there is no relevance, these animals, just like humans, have emotions and the ability change their behaviour, so things that have happened in the past do not happen now. Blackfish creates a mood that SeaWorld hides things from its guests when no they do not. Every incident that people have found out after blackfish could have been found over the internet before the movie was released, blackfish is simply just repeating information that was already known and makes it seem as though they hide everything from the public when that is not at all true.

• “The mortality rate of captive orcas is 2.5 times higher than their wild counterparts.”

Some people will argue that you cannot compare wild averages to captive averages, there is such a big difference in numbers that the wild averages will always supersede the captive averages. However this statement is not at all true. Scientists and orca researchers don’t document new born wild orcas because the mortality rate is so high that there is no point because most of the whales die before even being born a year old.

• “There is no record of an orca ever killing a human in the wild.”

No documented records, there have been documented attacks, but then again you’re comparing people who swim, play, love, care and interact with these whales daily for a living, versus whales who only get to watch giant boats swim by, there is no direct interaction with these whales. There is this one person who swims with wild orcas in new Zealand, but that’s because she helps keep them safe away from boats, they allow her, but if someone were to go swimming with whales in Iceland where there is no direct human contact on the whales, well then there will be a lot more different stories.

• “Although in the wild, orcas breed in their early teens and babies never leave their mothers, SeaWorld breeds its orcas at 5 or 6 and separates the families.”

Not all whales have bred that early, I can only think of one whale named Kalina, Kohana (who is under Loro Parque’s care, not SeaWorlds), and that’s about it. Others have bred much later; you have to remember that if the whales body is capable of carrying a child and they are sexually mature, they will breed. We cannot forget that sexual interaction, in orca society is a two way street. There are no males raping the females or anything like that. Females are relatively dominant then the males so if the males confront the females sexually, the females will decide if they would like to breed plain and simple. If the male comes across to forward, the female WILL rake the male, because she is the dominant one and whatever she says goes. What blackfish does not tell you, before they know a whales is sexually mature they will need to train certain behaviours in order to do the proper husbandry care. For example in order to tell where a whale is in their reproductive track they will need to train the whale to pee in a cup so it can be analyzed. An extremely complex behaviour like that takes about 18 months to learn and its one the females first learn. Now these children don’t start learning these behaviours until they are about 3 years old. In order to learn the urine sample behaviour they need to be trained to on smaller behaviours to build on that behaviour which can take even longer. They need to learn to roll over and slide out on to a platform on their side. This can take another 18 months. That is three years of training by the time they are 6 years of age. Now if you put a young orca with a mature male for a period of time, just to change up and enrich their surroundings, you would not suspect when they interact sexually that the female will become pregnant, because of her. 5 and 6 years old is rare and extremely young for a female orca to become pregnant. You would not expect it to happen, and if it does happen, well it’s not a bad thing; it’s the miracle of life.

When it comes to separations, they only happen for a reason. Separations are extremely expensive and require a lot of work; SeaWorld wouldn’t just move whales without a reason. When Blackfish talks about Kalina, who was separated from her mother at 4 years of age, they fail to mention that Kalina was a very independent whale. The fail to mention Katina(her mother) had her second calf and needed to put more attention into that child, they don’t mention that Kalina would constantly disrupt shows challenging her mother, of course kalina always lost, because that is how the social structure works. They also forget to tell you that she was reunited with her mother 4 years later and had another dominance dispute with her mother. Of course Katina was still the Pod Matriarch, but that did not mean she didn’t like her daughter any less, they performed together, played together, lived in the same pool together. It’s a natural behaviour between the whales to have those disputes; SW moved them because they felt it was necessary. They also forget to tell you that no whale has been separated in 5 years. Therefore it is not relevant for them to talk about separations because it misleads people.

• “In the wild, orcas live in pods with their families. At SeaWorld, different whales from different families are strewn together in whatever amalgamation will sell the most tickets and result in the most prolific breeding. This causes tension and violence between the whales who ram each other and “rake” each other with their teeth. These acts of aggression have resulted in the injuries and deaths of multiple whales. (Including a serious injury at our local park last year.)”

SeaWorld has whales in their parks that are from different sub species of killer whale yes. However which ever whales are in each park, does not matter when it comes to ticket sales, everyone refers to them as Shamu anyway. The different species of orca does not cause any tension; it does not affect the social system. It’s like humans, one speaks English, and one speaks French, they aren’t going to fight, but they will both start to learn each other’s language. Just because one orca may be a northern resident, and one may be a southern resident does not mean they will not get along. Corky II(Northern Resident) at SeaWorld of San Diego, gets along extremely well with the matriarch Kasatka(Icelandic). Blackfish lies right to your face about certain things. They mislead you into thinking Kasatka hates Orkid in the video when Orkid slide up onto the slide out after Kasatka raked her. No that was her submitting to Kasatka, when they fought for dominance. This also is not relevant because now a days Orkid and Kasatka get along extremely well, actually Orkid was the first whale at SeaWorld of San Diego introduced to Kasatka’s baby Makani who was born this past January. The chin injury incident last year which happened to Nakai, was not aggression, he was playing with Ikaika and got hurt. Please note that raking is a natural behaviour, it’s how the dominant whales assert their dominance over the submissive whales. It is no way, unnatural and SW forcing the whales to do things they do not want to do. It makes them no less of a pod. In this video, you can see all the whales at SW San Diego swimming just like any wild pod. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OsiS1rHm0wU Note that these whales had access to every pool in the complex and they all chose to swim in the back pools which is relatively smaller than the larger front pool. That pool apparently is preferred by Kasatka the Matriarch, and please if you have 6 minutes, witness the social structure of these whales. Those are wild like qualities being shown in a captive setting.

• “Housing marine mammals that are not compatible with each other violates the Animal Welfare Act.”

Well thank God we’ve established that all these whales are compatible, they all are the same species.

“SeaWorld San Diego was the home of the very first orca show, done in 1965 by a female orca named Shamu, who became the mascot of the park. What is less known is that Shamu was taken from the wild, and that her mother was killed with a harpoon gun during the capture.”
Yes this is true but what most do not know is that SW tells you all about this in there seasonal show “The Shamu Story” that is them not hiding anything. What most people don’t know is that SeaWorld did not capture Shamu, actually most of the Wild Caught whales that belonged to SeaWorld they did not capture. There was a whale named Namu who was rescued from fishing nets in Seattle, Washington. Namu refused to leave the man and swim away so the trainer made a sea pen for him. The owner realized how much attention and socialization, Namu needed and realized he wasn’t able to be there all the time, so he decided to capture shamu to be a companion for namu. Shamu did not like Namu, so the owner sold her to SeaWorld. SeaWorld then began to acquire more orcas, what people don’t know is that SeaWorld yes, they did house a lot of orcas but they only captured 15. Other wild captured orcas who were exhibited by them were caught by other marine parks. 5 of their whales today were wild captures 2 were captured by them. Blackfish leaves the conversation at SeaWorld capturing orcas, yet they don’t say they haven’t captured any in 35 years. It leaves people thinking that they still capture orcas.

“It’s not only the whales we should worry about; human lives are at stake too. There have been over 100 incidents between captive orcas and humans. With minimal research I was able to find that at least 48 of those incidents happened here in San Diego. And there are likely countless more. It was only 2006 when trainer Ken Peters was attacked during a whale show and dragged to the bottom of the pool by his foot.”
The thing about this is that there are always precursors before an aggressive incident, some just aren’t seen fast enough, that’s why trainers have been trained to be more vigilant. It’s a risk any trainer is willing to take, any animal has the power to hurt their trainer, that’s why there is that trust and relationship. Keep in mind these trainers would have dozens of safe interactions a day, millions a week, all versus a hundred incidents that were bound to happen.
“The movie asserts that the orcas are driven to psychosis by their unnaturally small environments, discipline by their trainers, and unnatural social order in the parks. Whether you buy into whales going crazy or not, the fact is that these are large predatory animals with instincts to hunt. They are not the giant aquatic teddy bears the “Shamu Shows” lead crowds to believe.”
They are not driven psycho, just because someone could have had a few outbursts does not mean they are downright crazy. Shamu shows showcase the sheer power and strength of these animals, just because they have instincts to hunt means that they cannot be very gentle animals. Blackfish even talks about the emotional part of the brain, when these whales interact with their trainers, they grow attached to them, you cannot say that just because an animal is supposed to be fierce brave and bold, that they cannot be loving. Pool size does not matter as you can see in the link I sent you above. We’ve already spoken about social order. Trainers use a method called positive reinforcement. They reward the whales when they do anything correct, this is how you build relationship. Whales have been known to get excited when they do things correct (such as Kalina).
“Occupational Saftey and Heath Administration (OSHA) cited SeaWorld for “willfull” safety violations and told the company to keep trainers at a safe distance from the whales or put physical barriers up. SeaWorld has appealed more than once, and the decision has been upheld as recently as last year. Although SeaWorld has stopped allowing trainers in the water, they are continuing “dry work”, when the whales are up on a stage or platform and the trainers pet, kiss and cuddle them. Brancheau was doing dry work when she was killed.”
That osha expert in blackfish said he read both Keltie Byrne and Dawns story and did his analysis. He then diagnosed Tilikum with a psychosis because there incidents were almost exactly 20 years apart. What this man would know from studying the cases is that by keeping trainers from being in the water with the well is just starting up another Keltie Byrne incident. Does he not realize that because of the horrible stimulation and no trainer whale contact at SeaLand is the reason why those animals pulled the trainer in? SeaWorld has all right to be in court and challenging his credibility. He is speaking for the whales when the only ones who could do that are the trainers because they work with the whales day and night. It is there job to interpret the whales behaviour. Waterwork is the safest way possible for these trainers and animals.
“Maybe we can just get them to free the whales.”
No you cannot, that is a death sentence for the whales. Remember “Free Willy”? They tried to free him and he died. He was found off the coast of Norway giving kids rides on his back for food. Captive orcas feast off of their trainer, when they found keiko (star of free willy). He was craving that attention. One cannot just free the whales. Whales also have bad teeth in captivity. The water in marine parks are monitored for bacteria and, the whales get their teeth flushed daily. Yes you could retire them to a sea pen and still the flush their teeth, but you cannot monitor the ocean especially with all the bacteria.
I suggest you should go to seaworld like you have planned to do all along and see for yourself what goes on in Shamu stadium, as a matter of fact I challenge you too, and see if blackfish was accurate. If you want to know what really goes on behind shamu stadium watch this video. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9o94CtSVqTM . I am in no way affiliated with SeaWorld.

Oh and just for those people in the comments who have been so heavily influenced. Tilikum was not captured by SeaWorld. SeaWorld does not capture killer whales. Tilikum is not SeaWorlds main breeder anymore, he hasn’t sired a calf in 3 years. Tilikums teeth are drilled down so bacteria will not end up killing him. They numb the mouths of the whales, and use a hand drill not a power drill. Its painless, just like whenever we go to the dentist. Tilikum is not housed alone, nor is beat up by all the big females. Blackfish is one sided, marine animals are kept for edutainment. Education that entertains. It teaches people about the animals and what they can do to help there wild counter parts. The animals are trained to respond positively to audience cheers and applause. Artificial Insemnation is a painless, and easy procedure that does not mess up with the hormonal health of the whales. They are trained to respond positively but if they just don’t like it, they are not going to be used for it. Keep in mind that the ex trainers in Blackfish are Ex for a reason. Some were fired for doing irresponsible, some quit because they did not want to co-operate. Everyone calls SeaWorld a prison yet OSHA is the one putting bars in between them and their trainer. SeaWorld is a company that is always improving SeaWorld of two hours ago is not the SeaWorld of right now. Please there is a lot more to the story.

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avatar Amaretto January 1, 2014 at 10:31 pm

Thank you Aaron, for voicing up another side of the possible story about what went wrong at Sea World with Tilikum, and the death of the trainer. It was sad, and I can’t help but feel everyone is responsible, not just Sea World. It is our support of circus entertainment that has made Shamu shows popular and worth enough to keep beautiful, previously wild whales in captivity.

I commend you for not following the emotional frenzy and trendy social media targeting of Sea World in this Orca mess and offering another rationalized viewpoint. However, I still believe that keeping whales or any intelligent, emotional animal in captivity and making them perform violates animal rights. I was a vegan for 10 years (but stopped for health reasons), so I don’t joke about animal liberation. I believe that this unfortunate loss of human life from these attacking orcas, is the karmic retribution for ignoring the fact that animals have a life force and soul that is perhaps equal to that of humans. So why can we justify confinement of them even if the care is adequate? Even if they are happy performing? I say let them go! I don’t need a one sided documentary to move me. I can see and decide for myself.

I am not disagreeing with Blackfish. But I do see how it is the viewpoint of maybe just one documentary maker. How true the documentary is, is still yet to be debated, but I hate how everyone after watching just one movie, flips out and joins the cause. It makes the whole movement of animal liberation less real, less about facts, and just more about emotion, or about the popularity of the cause. I am critiquing the world’s reaction, because until we can steadily care about all animals all the time, watching Blackfish and promising to boycott Sea World doesn’t change a whole lot, nor does it provide humanity with any realistic long-term solution about the ethical treatment/use of animals.

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avatar Jay January 2, 2014 at 1:51 am

I must firstly congratulate you on such a well crafted response. I take it that you were hoping to try and justify the obominable conduct of Seaworld in the last 40 years but I hate to tell you that you can’t, and although you might have convinced yourself I’m afraid that you’ve convinced nobody else. In the past we, as a species have condoned slavery, hunted animals to extinction and even outlawed homosexuality. All things which we now know to be wrong and most people are ashamed of. Its only a matter of time before we realise that kidnapping and imprisoning these creatures to perform ‘tricks’ for a paying audience should also be in that category.

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avatar Aaron January 2, 2014 at 1:12 pm

No, no, no don’t get me wrong. I am not trying to justify the keeping of orcas in captivity. I’m just trying to make it clear that blackfish is not a source for truthful information for SeaWorld or their Orcas (as you know). I’m not trying to make clear that SeaWorld capturing Orcas was okay, but im trying to make it known, that SeaWorld does not capture orcas anymore, and though it is a popular belief, and information is left hanging in blackfish, they have not captured loads of orcas (not that its okay in anyway), yet they have only captured 15 (16 if you want to include Katina). We all know these orcas could never be released, that’s why im all for, the shamu stadiums and the marinelands, where its trainers Jobs to care for these animals. When it comes to a situation like this, yes i know it shouldn’t be forgotten but, right now we should think about moving forward, to better the captive orca industry. We cannot forget the good that comes out of keeping these animals in Marine Parks. We cant forget that these are animals who used to be killed on sight because they were seen as a threat, if it weren’t for the SeaWorlds and MarineLands, subspecies of this animal, if not the whole species could be gone. We cannot forget that these animals are ambassadors for their wild counter parts. We cannot just stop orca breeding and watch the population die off, who are we to deprive them of reproduction? Though you may not see it directly in the big shamu show “One Ocean”, (it is still indirectly there) education can be found in the smaller shows. We cant forget that we learn so much from these whales, we’ve done so much research, we wouldn’t know things if it weren’t for captive orcas. We wouldn’t know certain things about wild orcas if these wild orca research projects didnt feed off of captive orca research information. You said it in your earlier post that these behaviours are challenges for the whales. They keep them mentally stimulated to keep them happy and mentally healthy, its a win for SW because they make money (seeing as though they are a business) with a good amount going back to the animals, its a win for the animals, because they get knew enrichment devices right at their demand, (SW SanDiego is actually working on a $60,000.00 enrichment device for their orcas), knew enviornment changes, its a win for the people because they are entertained, knowing their money is not wasted, it is a win for oceans world wide because more people are gaining knowledge. That is the importance of shows. Once again i dont mean to sound like im justifying to keep these animals in captive settings, but seeing that they cannot be released, their is nothing wrong with enriching their daily lives, and have them showcase their “awesomeness” to people from around the world. I don’t mean to sound rude or anything, but since i am looking to entering this industry, ive seen tons of people say they have been more inspired by SW then when they go whale watching or anything of that sort. Its because at SW there is a connection, people are moved when they see the connection and relationship these trainers have with the whales, i mean some might not, but that does not mean others don’t.

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avatar Eva January 2, 2014 at 10:05 am

Aaron, I appreciate your well crafted response. As I admitted in the piece, it was a reaction from the movie and I need to do more research. What is it that you do for a living? You seem very knowledgable on the subject. Perhaps you and I can talk before I write my next piece on the issue.

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avatar Aaron January 2, 2014 at 12:30 pm

Send me any of the questions that you have please. I’m studying to become a marine mammal caregiver. We could do an interview through email if you like. Yes i may say things that have good points but the way to know for yourself is to pay a visit to one of these parks. I highly recommend it. There are many behind the scenes tours you can do, just to see what their facilities look like and how they go about caring for their animals etc. :)

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avatar da john January 1, 2014 at 11:32 am

I personally would love to see this place taken back by the public and turned into a park by eminent domain. I find it hard to imagine that the benefit and positive impact of the tourist money that the hotels and restaurants in the area take in can really justify having so much of the bay eaten up by a private company.

It would be interesting to know how sea world got a hold of all that land they needed for expanding their parking lots a few years back. Also interesting to note that taking previous natural ground cover and paving over it is one of the worse pollutants of storm water runoff that is tainting the ocean.

If they want to be a place to help sick and hurt animals, and maybe bring the plight of said hurt animals to the public’s attention, I think a lot of their detractors would change their tune. I doubt they would need a stadium or gondola for that mission though.

Side note: After living in OB for over 3 years, I finally made it up to Cabrillio last week, and not only was I amazed by the view, I couldn’t believe you can actually see whales migrating south. I was also horrified to see a few tourist boats circling the wales on their journey. This is probably one of the “seasick free” whale watching tours that are being promoted (see la times CA section this Sunday.) While it’s probably painfully obvious to anyone with a brain that having a bunch of boats circling these whales isn’t in their best interest, I think the craziest thing is the need to promote it as seasick free is just a little more ridiculous icing on the insanity cake.

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avatar William Hunt January 2, 2014 at 3:20 pm

Submitting the Orca’s to the 3-4 months of Fireworks that have my dogs cowering looking for somewhere to hide can’t be good for them.
I also find huge chunks of cardboard from these fireworks in and around the waters surrounding Fiesta Island. I would never go to SeaWorld myself or entertain taking my family there. I don’t need to see the movie Blackfish to know that the SeaWorld company is in this for financial gain. SeaWorld is Public on the stock market and is filled with amusement type rides! Speaks for itself.

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avatar OB Mercy January 4, 2014 at 6:09 pm

Did you see that the Sea World Float was in the Rose Parade, and had to have over 20 security police around it and was booed as it came down the route? Wowza.

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avatar Nicole February 20, 2014 at 12:27 pm

I have had Blackfish on my to watch list for quite some time. Perhaps, now I will view it. Thanks for your post, and your bravery.

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avatar OB Mercy February 20, 2014 at 1:17 pm

Have you all heard about all the big musical stars that have pulled out of Sea World concerts there because of Blackfish?? This is BIG!

Heart, Joan Jett, Willie Nelson, Trace Adkins, Martina McBride, Trisha Yearwood, and the list goes on. Here is a link http://music.yahoo.com/blogs/music-news/heart-willie-nelson-barenaked-ladies-back-seaworld-concerts-154013399.html

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