We hunt, capture, and train your young for entertainment purposes

By: Mara Liz Díaz Burgos

Figure 1. Cartoon representation of a captive orca whale

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Adapted from Haley Ann, Phighting for a cure while remaining simply phenomenal, by H. A., 2014. Retrieved March 11, 2015, from http://phenomenalhaley.com/2014/01/06/mammal-monday/.

Imagine being taken away from your family and held captive in isolation for two thirds of your life, while being exploited everyday for the economic gain of a multi-billion dollar company. That is exactly what orca whales, marine animals, experience once they are taken from the freedom of the vast ocean and are thrown into the captivity of metal tanks. These animals (orca whales), like humans, are intelligent and social creatures that are being submitted to physical, mental, and emotional damage with no regard for their well-being or survival. Some people see it as a means of entertainment, others as an educational experience. In reality, it is an immoral act driven mainly by profit.

Historical Background

In 1970, the sound of bombs and frantic cries were heard along Puget Sound, Washington as more than 90 orca whales were being herded by multiple capture teams. Aircrafts flew above the Pacific Ocean spotting the fleeing whales while speedboats chased and gathered the young ones with explosives and seine nets. By the end of the day, 7 young orcas were captured and 3 were killed and disposed of. Video 1 (Jay G, 2013) shows a scene, from the documentary Blackfish, which relates this very process. Unfortunately, this is an event that dates back to 1961 and is still carried out to the day of this writing.

Video 1. Orca Kidnapping (Blackfish)

Adapted from YouTube, by Jay G, 2013. Retrieved April 5, 2015, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-zXMxBtBPJo.

Effects of Captivity

The first known orca captured was a female spotted in Newport Harbor. From the moment the whale was placed in a tank, she began exhibiting signs of erratic behavior consisting of her smashing into the walls of the tank at high speeds until it eventually caused her death (Messenger, 2014, para. 10-12). This type of behavior, along with psychosis, self-mutilation, laying or floating motionless, biting on gates and bars, and aggression towards others, is not uncommon among captive whales. The reason for this behavior is that, in the wild, whales spend their lifetime swimming approximately 100 miles a day along with their social and family groups, which can range from 15 to 60 members. However, in captivity, whales are separated from their families and isolated in small, shallow tanks where they can only swim in endless circles, causing boredom and depression (SOS Dolphins, n.d.). The red circle in Figure 2 (Limited space, n.d.) demonstrates the limited space whales have in these tanks. A better understanding of a whale’s perspective can be achieved by comparing it to a human spending the rest of his or her life alone in a bathtub.

Figure 2. Limited space of whale tanks (SeaWorld)

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Adapted from “30 years and three deaths: Tilikum’s tragic story”, SeaWorld of hurt: where happiness tanks, n.d. Retrieved March 11, 2015, from http://www.seaworldofhurt.com/features/30-years-three-deaths-tilikums-tragic-story/.

Besides behavioral issues, a number of health issues usually arise from being contained in small tanks. Some of these include deadly infections such as pneumonia, sunburn due to the lack of sun protection and the shallow depth of the pools, immune system malfunction, the dropping of dorsal fins, dental injuries, among others (Jett & Ventre, 2011; SOS Dolphins, n.d.). The tanks become an even harsher environment when whales from different social groups and cultural backgrounds are placed together. In addition, whales born into captivity are subjected to inbreeding or sold to other parks and aquariums in spite of the severance of their family ties (SOS Dolphins, n.d.).

The inhumanity and immorality involved in the captivity of marine life in general is greatly apparent from the discussion above. Nevertheless, marine parks and aquariums around the world not only participate but also benefit economically from this phenomenon, the most successful park being SeaWorld.

Making a Profit

SeaWorld is a marine mammal park owned by SeaWorld Entertainment, a leading theme park and entertainment company which also owns Discovery Cove, Aquatica, Busch Gardens, Adventure Island, Water Country, and Sesame Place. SeaWorld is most commonly known for its orca shows, although it also features sea lion and dolphin shows, marine animal exhibits, and thrill rides. Since its opening in 1964, SeaWorld has had a leading role in the utilization of marine life for entertainment and profit. More than 400,000 people visited the park during its first year. Last year (2014), it received more than 22 million visitors, each paying an entrance fee of more than $75. SeaWorld also generates revenues from its culinary services and merchandise sold inside its parks (SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, 2015). Video 2 (Behind the Thrills, 2012) shows a promotional video for SeaWorld Orlando aired in 2012.

Video 2. 2012 SeaWorld Orlando promotional video

Adapted from YouTube, by Behind the Thrills, 2012. Retrieved April 5, 2015, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=evgR7nLctsA.

SeaWorld currently holds 30 whales captive, 23 of whom can be found at its 3 locations across the United States, while the rest can be found on a zoo in Spain called Loro Parque. Over the years, the captivity of orcas has proven to be not only unethical but also unsafe due to the recorded number of incidents and deaths attributed to its whales and trainers alike. A total of 37 whales, 1 trainer, and 1 trespasser have died in SeaWorld’s facilities, while 93 incidents of injuries have been reported. Exhibit 1 (SeaWorld’s timeline of death, n.d.) depicts the 37 whale deaths that have occurred at SeaWorld. Exhibit 2 (Jacobs, 2015) lists the amount of incidents resulting from the captivity of whales, including the 93 that took place at SeaWorld parks.

In every incident that occurred, SeaWorld Entertainment tried to manipulate the media into relating the story in a way that was not detrimental to them. The main reason for this being that perceiving whales as dangerous and aggressive animals will most likely have a negative effect on the sale of tickets and merchandise. Therefore, when trainer Dawn Brancheau was fatally attacked in 2010, the company blamed the incident on her and not on the vicious outburst of a clearly abused and affected animal (Oteyza & Cowperthwaite, 2012).

Taking a Stand

It is evident, from the discussion above, that more importance is being placed on the economic aspect of the company and not on the moral issue at hand. Because of this, organizations such as PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) and OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) have filed investigations and multiple lawsuits against SeaWorld. In order to create further awareness, a 90-minute documentary (Blackfish), which provides an in-depth look into this cruel reality, was released. The film has inspired many companies and the general public to take steps to end the practice by protesting, boycotting, and severing any association with the parks. As a result, in 2014, SeaWorld’s revenues dropped more than 7%, its attendance almost 5%, and its stock price 60%. In 2015, the company’s CEO, James Atchison, resigned (Ferdman, 2014).

Negative effects toward the company are rapidly becoming apparent, however, it doesn’t seem to be enough. Millions of people keep supporting the captivation and abuse of marine animals by visiting the parks year after year. One of the biggest reasons: they have not realized the ethical issues that the behavior of companies like SeaWorld implies. Their lack of environmental protection and company transparency is irrefutable.  Because of this, stronger actions need to be taken to ensure not only the safe release of the animals currently in confinement but also the prohibition of future exploitation of all animals.

Exhibit 1. SeaWorld’s timeline of death

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Adapted from “Lives stolen by SeaWorld”, SeaWorld of hurt: where happiness tanks, n.d. Retrieved March 11, 2015, from http://www.seaworldofhurt.com/features/lives-stolen-seaworld/.

 

Exhibit 2. Amount of incidents resulting from the captivity of whales

mara5

Adapted from “Incidents between humans and killer whales in captivity – a longer list than the parks would like to tell you!”, Orca Home, 2015. Retrieved March 11, 2015, from http://www.orcahome.de/incidents.htm.

 

References

Behind the Thrills. (2012, April 20). 2012 SeaWorld Orlando promotional video. [Video file] Retrieved April 5, 2015, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=evgR7nLctsA.

Ferdman, R. A. (2014). “The sinking of SeaWorld”. The Washington Post. Retrieved April 5,  2015, from http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2014/12/12/chart-what-the-documentary-blackfish-has-done-to-seaworld/.

H. A. (2014). Cartoon representation of a captive orca whale [Image]. Retrieved March 11, 2015, from http://phenomenalhaley.com/2014/01/06/mammal-monday/.

Jacobs, S. (2015). Amount of incidents resulting from the captivity of whales [Image]. Retrieved March 11, 2015, from http://www.orcahome.de/incidents.htm.

Jay G. (2013, December 31). Orca Kidnapping (Blackfish) [Video file]. Retrieved April 5, 2015, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-zXMxBtBPJo.

Jett, J. S., & Ventre J. M. (2011). “Keto & Tilikum express the stress of orca captivity”. The Orca Project. Retrieved March 11, 2015, from https://theorcaproject.wordpress.com/2011/01/20/keto-tilikum-express-stress-of-orca-captivity/.

(n.d.). Limited space of whale tanks (SeaWorld). [Image]. Retrieved March 11, 2015, from http://www.seaworldofhurt.com/features/30-years-three-deaths-tilikums-tragic-story/.

Messenger, S. (2014). Remembering Wanda, The first killer whale taken into captivity. Retrieved March 11, 2015, from https://www.thedodo.com/remembering-wanda-the-first-ki-498461409.html.

Oteyza, M. (Producer), & Cowperthwaite, G. (Producer/Director). (2012). Blackfish [Documentary]. United States: Magnolia Pictures.

(2015). SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment. Retrieved March 11, 2015, from http://seaworldentertainment.com.

(n.d.). SeaWorld’s timeline of death. [Image]. Retrieved March 11, 2015, from http://www.seaworldofhurt.com/features/lives-stolen-seaworld/.

(n.d.). SOS Dolphins. Retrieved March 11, 2015, from http://sosdolphins.org.

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13 thoughts on “We hunt, capture, and train your young for entertainment purposes

  1. Brilliant piece! The author has successfully address the unethical business practice of SeaWorld. It is quite unfortunate that up to this day, even with so much public awareness of the mal-treatment of these magnificent and intelligent creatures, that there are still people out there that would support the practice of this type of business. I agree with the authors point of companies that are engaged in these practices, should be more transparent with their customers / public.

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  2. Incredible article! The author has expressed exactly what everyone needs to read, the truth about how companies such as Sea World benefit from the cruelty of animals such as the orca not for research but to make an insane amount of profit putting aside the well-being of the animals. These companies hide the truth about what is really going on behind closed doors and it makes it very difficult for the public eye to see what is really going on. The author clearly states information that is easy for any reader to understand and shows a detailed outline from when orca captivity first began to present time. I recommend everyone should take their time not only to read this article but to stop and truly see that animals are not a spectacle. They are living beings just like us that deserve the chance to live the way it’s meant to be, happy and free.

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    1. The author did a great job in pointing out the most crucial facts, to date, about the capture of these marvelous cetaceans. It is baffling to see how in this day and age, with all the technology and knowledge we possess, that they can legally extort emotional, innocent living creatures for the sake of profit. They willingly turn their heads on the important information provided on how badly these intelligent, beautiful animals are suffering.

      I would have liked to read more about the law suits and fragments on the debates exchanged between OSHA and Sea World’s representatives. In these court dates, the lengths of what this heinous company is willing to go to in order to save face and revenue is clearly evident. If included, I believe it would have been greatly beneficial to the authors work. Other than this, the rest of the article is written excellently.

      The facts don’t lie. More people should be taking a stand against this toxic company and everything it stands for. Animal slavery is unacceptable. A great quote by Martin Luther King expresses this when he said, “One day the absurdity of the almost universal human belief in the slavery of other animals will be palpable. We shall then have discovered our souls and become worthier of sharing this planet with them.”

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  3. What about the whales that are being saved by the marine biologists in Sea World or other aquariums? I have to take an objective approach to this problem. In this case, we can clearly see the negative side of the captivity of these whales.

    There is a fine line between caring for these whales and using them for profits. I believe there is an ethical side of helping out those whales that are sick with pneumonia and other infections and conditions. It is not pretty to watch how these whales are taken, I have to admit. However, if there is anything humans can do to cure and preserve these species, and prevent extinction, so be it.

    I beleive using orca whales for profit is not only socially irresponsible but cruel. In the other side, if we have the power to prevent their extinction and cure its diseases, then we should be socially responsible in doing so. Even if it means holding it captive for a while.

    Thank you

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  4. Amazing body of work! The author succesfully exploits the main issues to allow readers obtain a complete understanding of the topic. I completely agree with this blog’s content. Orca whales and many other sea creatures are forced to live a cruel and barbaric lifestyle. They are brutally tormented during most of their life for the sake of entertainment and billions of dollars in revenue. The author composes a body of work that clearly illustrates what these whales are subject to on a daily basis. It is very sad and unfortunate that so many people enjoy watching these shows and companies sponsor such brutality. The only thing I would change about this blog is its length. I got very involved reading the blog, that is why I wish it would’ve been a bit longer!

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  5. It’s curious how recently I had watch the documentary, Blackfish and then reading this article reminded me what I felt in that moment while I was watching it. Anger, sadness, frustration. We need more articles like this. Articles that educate and help remember people how damage the human being can be to its sorroundings. Especially when it comes to a situation where animals or nature are affected.

    I have to say that I had visited Sea World when I was a kid and definetly I was excited for being there and watching how well trained this animals where and how well they responded. It is mind blowing for a kid. But thanks to this great article and how the author treats the theme I have decided not to visit nor to support these type of theme parks.

    Good job!

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  6. A compelling argument against the capture and exploitation of orcas by powerful commercial entities. Well researched and presented in a clear and organized manner, the article does a good job in demonstrating the long list of injustices the animals suffer at the hands of profit-seeking companies, not to mention the potential dangers trainers face when working with such creatures.
    While the evidence is undeniable and utilized effectively to support the argument, it could have been made even more substantial with more contextual information. For instance, a brief rundown on how orcas generally live in the wild ( habitat, diet, population, life expectancy, communication patterns, social behavior etc.) would inform much of what the article is discussing. Some of this is touched upon throughout the piece, but a brief paragraph in the beginning would definitely help to underline the drastic differences between orcas in the wild and those living in captivity.

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  7. Dentro del panorama empresarial la ética se vuelve un umbral entre mínimos y máximos, en función de generar la mayor cantidad de riquezas, proyectándose siempre en cumplimiento con la ley. Hablamos de un pensamiento estratégico impulsado por intereses que se circunscriben a la generación de bienes capitales. Son esos bordes que categorizan cualquier acción que los cruce como antiética. Ejemplos de estos lo podrían ser el pagar por debajo del salario mínimo, no brindar la protección mínima requerida dentro del escenario laboral, sobre pasar el máximo número de personas permitidas dentro de un centro de trabajo, etc. Al cruzar esta línea que llamamos leyes cualificamos la acción asumida como una antiética. A la luz de lo anteriormente discutido, ¿es antiética la trata a las ballenas en cautiverio y su constante exposición al público como parte de grandes espectáculos de entretenimiento?

    No es de sorprender las grandes cantidades de dinero que generan los parques temáticos dado el inmenso número de personas que los visitan todos los años. Es parte esencial de este tipo de negocios la constante reinvención y el lograr caracterizarse por una imagen clara, icónica y de perfil internacional. Las orcas son sin duda animales esplendorosos, misterios, los cuales con su gran tamaño y majestuosidad provocan un gran sentido de curiosidad. Estas compañías, de manera muy hábil y estratégica han podido identificar exitosamente estas cualidades tan atractivas de las ballenas y las han traducido en máquinas de generar riquezas. Sin embargo, la discusión se vuelve controversial cuando no es de personas laborando de lo cual se trata, sino de ballenas que son consideradas como bienes materiales, animales que no tienen voz ni algún tipo de representación para exteriorizar su sentir dentro de estos centros de entretenimiento. Entonces si esto es así y no se está desobedeciendo ninguna ley, ¿qué tipo de límites deben ser establecidos para mejorar la calidad de vida de estos animales dentro de lo que podría llamarse, sus centros de trabajo?

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  8. This piece provides compelling arguments condemning the use of orcas in the entertainment industry. The data presented here can easily be applied to denounce the exploitation of any wild animal. In fact, multiple studies have shown increases in inflammatory markers of captive animals when compared to those in wild life. I would not be surprised animals kept in captivity also are at increased risk of developing pathological conditions that rarely exist outside the zoo/aquarium. Your argument could be stronger if you compared rates of adverse events such as chronic bacterial infections in orcas kept in captivity vs in the wild. Companies like SeaWorld have a long tradition of animal abuse and show persistent incompetence in their care of animals. Its attitude towards the multiple incidents that have happened in the past clearly portray its true character.

    It is important however not to undermine the positive role some of these multi million dollar companies have in the conservation of species that are on the verge of extinction. It is particularly relevant when considering the impact of global climate change and the much need for further ecological and field research. While I do not support the use any type of animal for the profit of a single entity, I do understand the financial reality “wild life” corporations face. Without a stable source of income, it is impossible to fund any sort of project with the means of preserving an at risk population.

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  9. First of all, the article is well written and brings a compelling argument about the idea of ethics seen through a specific industry. The author’s decision in choosing the orca whale exploitation is a good example of the reality of how a major corporations handle this idea about ethics. We can understand clearly through this article that Sea World exploits these marine mammals for pure entertainment purposes. This article also demonstrated through this specific example that ethics is purely a subjective matter based on profit value. It is disheartening to know the harsh reality of what these whales go through but that is what I can sadly say that money is more important to corporations. I would also think that it wouldn’t be such a problem to rethink these ways of entertainment without these types of consequences. Overall, the author did an excellent job composing an informative article on a topic that is now given much more attention than before.

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  10. “A better understanding of a whale’s perspective can be achieved by comparing it to a human spending the rest of his or her life alone in a bathtub.” Often times, it takes comparison to make humans realize that something needs to be changed when it comes to handling negative information. By making readers question how they would behave under such dire circumstances, it automatically grasps your attention. We are seriously informed on facts we were not aware of before, but without it being threatening. The author is precise, easy with words, and incredibly detailed. A very good post. What I wonder, however, is that though we are expected to take a stand, what would the author suggest the mass do?

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  11. I think the article overall is well-written and sheds light on am important issue in animal cruelty. The title was slightly misleading because it did not foreshadow (at least to me)that we would be talking about orcas rather than humans. However, the piece clearly stated the dangers of continuing the practice of marine animal entertaiment parksand provoded several places to gather more information such as movies and articles. This is all fantastic. However, to play the devil’s advocate, I think exposure of human children to other species such asarine animals can make them more enviromentally concious and empathetic towards the realities of animals who live very different lives from our own. In that sense, going to a place such as SeaWorld can be a positive experiencefor a young child. Therefore, I think the author should have not only mentioned why some people believed these parks were positive and then stated alternatives that could replace this practice but preserve the few positive attributes it can provide. An example of this would be to cote the Sea World motto or public company goal and then name ways in which that could still be accomplished perhaps by allowing the young public (or forcing school to provide these trips) easier access to rehabilitation places for rescued marine life such as those that help save animals from oil spills or turning Seaworld into a marine reserve that has much, much better accomodations.
    Regardless, the artcle was well-writtwn and thought-provoking and raised concern for an issue that is not as mainstream as it should be. Good job.

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