Amazing Kids! Magazine

The Show Must Not Go On: Does SeaWorld Deserve to be Shut Down?

By Katherine Trevethan, age 12, New York

 

Cramped space, life threatening diseases, and animals fighting each other to death. Just another ordinary day in the life of an orca at SeaWorld. All over the globe, a large portion of our society has been fighting for the release of marine wildlife at SeaWorld, and the shutdown of one of the most successful companies in the world. Until now.

From the outside, SeaWorld is an inspirational and educational marine mammal park, but when you examine what goes on away from public view, you can see the true mercilessness behind the seemingly good-natured SeaWorld.

The stress of captivity thrust upon marine mammals at SeaWorld can lead to anxiety related aggression, and these animals are not receiving the right treatment for it. 92% of the orcas at SeaWorld have not lived past the age of 25, despite the fact that in 2014, a 103 year old female orca was spotted off the coast of Washington.

Even though that is a longer than average lifespan, these orcas have the potential to live so much longer than they are in captivity.

In an interview with former trainer Sarah Fischbach, who voluntarily left the company in 2013, she reported that the orcas would release their frustration out on birds. “They would constantly tear apart birds. They weren’t eating them at all,” she said, “You would find the whole bird – just in pieces.”

Orca whales will typically eat small birds in the wild, but there is no need for captive whales to be hunting their own food. This is because the stress of captivity will influence animals to mimic wild behaviors. While in the wild, beluga whales will perform “spy-hops” to spot predators. One beluga at SeaWorld, Ferdinand, will do these hops because of the mental stress of being in captivity.

Furthermore, shortly after a breeding mishap, SeaWorld was left with dozens of hybrid turtles. SeaWorld put all the turtles into one, small tank, and because turtles are solitary animals, they turned on each other and started attacking.

Fischbach also stated that the orcas were being drugged with Valium, a drug used to treat anxiety, muscle spasms, and seizures, to keep them calm because of anxiety related aggression.

Fischbach said that there was no protocol or safety procedure about swimming near orcas. “There was no procedure for us… not once was I ever given training on what to do if a whale got in a pool with us.”

It is important to realize that the pools at SeaWorld do not meet the animals’ needs. Fischbach revealed that one whale, Ulysses, couldn’t even stand nose to tail underwater in his pool, which is now only about 15 feet deep, after SeaWorld installed a $70 million lift floor. “It had no benefit to the animals… They put in that lift floor so they could get their trainers out of the water.” It takes up ¼ of the B pool, one of the 3 performing pools at SeaWorld, leaving the orcas with even less space than before.

Due to these shallow pools, the orcas at SeaWorld have collapsed dorsal fins, which only occurs in 1% of the wild population, and is a sign of an unhealthy orca.

Additionally, an orca at SeaWorld would need to swim over 1,400 times around the main pool to reach the daily distance an orca swims in the wild, approximately 100 miles. We cannot expect these animals to be healthy when they are not getting an adequate amount of exercise.

If SeaWorld is rescuing animals, why not focus on keeping them healthy instead of keeping trainers safe? Orcas are naturally not as friendly as dolphins, (who are extremely friendly animals) and giving animals drugs will only make them more aggressive.

During an interview with CNN, Jane Goodall responded to this issue by observing the fact that whales use echolocation to communicate. When these sound waves bounce off the walls off the enclosure, it is extremely noisy to the whales. This must have an effect on a whale’s mental health, with the cacophony that is caused by communicating.

Although all this may be true, a handful of people still believe that SeaWorld has done more good than harm, and should not be shut down. More specifically, the fact that SeaWorld donates money to conservation, and has a good record of rescuing animals. However, they only donate roughly $600 for every $1,000,000 they make!

That’s practically nothing compared to the amount of money SeaWorld makes in a year, which is about $1.37 billion.

SeaWorld attendance rates have gone down by 353,000 fewer visitors since the documentary “Blackfish” premiered in 2013. That’s about $17,650 less going to conservation.

Blackfish is a documentary about the killer whale Tilikum, who has killed 3 people at SeaWorld, and was made in response to the 2010 death of trainer Dawn Brancheau.

The 40 year old trainer was performing in a live performance with Tilikum when he pulled her under the water and trapped her there, drowning her. Tilikum had killed another trainer in this way and a trespassing man in an unknown way.

Another reason people will fight against the closure of SeaWorld is the fact that these animals have lived in captivity their whole life and are not adapted to the harsh environment and predators in the ocean.

On the other hand, SeaWorld would be worth about $2.5 million if sold. With that money, we can build sea pens, large ocean coves separated from the open ocean by netting. The whales could live in these pens until they have adapted to the oceanic environment.

Sea pens are different from captivity because the orcas can eat the food that they want, and swim as much as they want without restrictions. It’s basically like living in the wild, but safer, and away from predators.

In the final analysis, SeaWorld should be shut down for the health and safety of our marine wildlife. An animal’s health deteriorates while in trapped in captivity, mentally and physically. The fact that killer whales never attack humans unless provoked shows how much being in captivity affects an animal’s behavior.

That one orca would kill 3 humans is astonishing.  

With pools only ¼ of the size of an Olympic-sized swimming pool, animals suffer harshly from the mental stress of living in a confined space. Even though SeaWorld has made considerable benefits to wildlife conservation, and we might not know this much about the marine wildlife on our planet without their donations, it does not make up for their mistreatment of the significant number of marine mammals held at SeaWorld over the years for entertainment purposes.

With more and more animals going extinct each year, we need to protect the species that are alive, and sustain the unique aquatic ecosystem that is currently thriving on our planet, and only our planet. Their numbers are dropping each week, and the animals held in captivity will only speed up the dropping of those numbers, since half of the wild-caught orcas have died before the age of four.

Can you imagine life without ocean life? There are so many ways to donate to wildlife conservation. Organizations such as The Wildlife Conservation Society, The Wildlife Alliance, The World Wildlife Fund, The International Fund for Animal Welfare, and The World Society for the Protection of Animals, are committed to maintaining the health and safety of our wildlife.

Of course, these are just a few of the many animal welfare activist websites. What can you do to help?


Bibliography

“11 Wildlife Organizations You Should Know.” Goodnet, 17 July 2016, www.goodnet.org/articles/512.

Martin, Hugo. “Are SeaWorld’s Whales Better off Staying in Their Glass-and-Concrete Enclosures?” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 3 Jan. 2016, 3:00 AM, www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-seaworld-whales-20160103-story.html.

Rooney, Ben. “Jane Goodall: SeaWorld ‘Should Be Closed down’.” CNNMoney, Cable News Network, 28 Apr. 2015, 11:14 AM ET, money.cnn.com/2015/04/28/news/jane-goodall-seaworld/index.html.

Schelling, Ameena. “Ex-SeaWorld Employee Gives Chilling New Details About Orca Mistreatment.” The Dodo, The Dodo, 8 Dec. 2015, www.thedodo.com/seaworld-orcas-peel-skin-off-each-other-1498617162.html.

Schelling, Ameena. “SeaWorld Says ‘The Facts Are On Our Side.’ Let’s Look At The ‘Facts.’”The Dodo, The Dodo, 8 May 2015, www.thedodo.com/seaworld-orca-abuse-lies-1131606033.html.

Tonight at Dawn Media. “Life in a Bath Tub: Orca Entertainment at What Cost?” Life in a Bath Tub: Orca Entertainment at What Cost? 19 Aug. 2014, tonightatdawn.com/2014/05/25/life-in-a-bath-tub-orca-entertainment-at-what-cost/.

Wagner, Meg. “Tilikum, SeaWorld Killer Whale in ‘Blackfish’ Documentary, Dies.” NY Daily News, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS, 6 Jan. 2017, www.nydailynews.com/news/national/seaworld-killer-whale-blackfish-documentary-dies-article-1.2937265.

Couwels, John, and Brian Todd. “SeaWorld Trainer Died from Traumatic Injuries, Drowning, Officials Say.” CNN, Cable News Network, 25 Feb. 2010, www.cnn.com/2010/US/02/25/florida.seaworld.death/index.html.

Weisberg, Lori. “SeaWorld Attendance Sinks, Rivals Thrive.” Sandiegouniontribune.com, 3 June 2015, www.sandiegouniontribune.com/business/tourism/sdut-seaworld-attendance-sinks-universal-soars-2015jun03-htmlstory.html.

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