Published: April 7, 2016
Growing up, I watched “Animal Planet” religiously, read books and magazines about animals, and could recite random facts about any number of animals. Needless to say, I liked animals, especially marine animals. One of the highlights of my childhood was when I was six, and my family took a trip to Florida, which included a stop at SeaWorld. I got to see sharks, pet a sting ray, feed some sea lions and best of all I got to see Shamu, the killer whale, perform.
However, future children who are like me will never be able to experience this iconic feature of SeaWorld. It was recently announced that SeaWorld will be replacing the theatrical orca shows with more natural exhibits.
Additionally, they announced that the current generation of orcas will be the last in their breeding program. While seeing Shamu was the coolest thing my six-year-old self could imagine, my 21-year-old self is not sad to hear of either program’s discontinuation.
What my six-year-old self did not understand was the dark side of having these incredible creatures in captivity; details that have been gradually exposed by animal rights activists groups.
SeaWorld has inspired controversy and been criticized for years about the treatment of their animals and their various programs. Most notable of these controversies is the numerous deaths that have occurred at the hands (well, fins) of some of the performing orcas. The 2013 documentary “Blackfish” was one of the last straws for SeaWorld’s PR image. “Blackfish” illustrated the hushed details concerning one orca in particular, a bull named Tilikum, whose aggressive outbursts resulted in the deaths of not one but three individuals.
People were shocked and outraged by the death of orca trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010. How could this cute, intelligent animal kill his trusted trainer?
What was SeaWorld hiding? In reality, it should not have been such a surprise that this occurred. In fact, it is more of a surprise that it has not occurred more often.
While it is true that orcas are incredibly intelligent, they are 12,000 pounds of undomesticated and instinctual muscle. Furthermore, they go by another name, which is killer whale (although they technically are from the dolphin family). Watch one video of an orca hunting and you will understand why.
Orcas are considered one of the fiercest predators in the ocean, preying on seals, squid, large fish and even whales.
Additionally, orcas live in tight family units, or pods, and are extremely protective of one another, but especially their young.
Knowing this, it appears fairly obvious why having a breeding program, aside from just having these creatures in captivity, is not a great idea. Ending the breeding program will not only increase safety for the human caretakers, but will be justice for the animals themselves. According to SeaWorld’s website, the company “has not collected an orca from the wild in almost 40 years,” meaning that their animals were born in captivity and therefore lack the instinctual abilities necessary to survive in the wild. As the current orcas die out, this feature of the SeaWorld attraction will be phased out.
Despite this victory for animal rights groups, many people are still not satisfied. “Blackfish” exposed the conditions of care these animals have been receiving, which many believe is cruel and unfair.
This has been a long-standing battle from animal rights groups who vehemently denounce keeping the orcas and other large marine creatures in tanks as opposed to more natural and open environments. SeaWorld stated that they would be revamping their orca exhibit to comply with these growing demands and to attempt to repair their company’s broken and distrusted image that has formed over the past several years.
It is difficult to say whether these changes are too little too late for SeaWorld.
While the parks will still attract millions of visitors a year, there is an increasing public awareness and recognition of SeaWorld’s questionable history. Hopefully, this awareness will continue to inspire changes that benefit the beautiful animals the company claims to admire.
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