Seaworld's Harmful Practices
By: Clare Gillis
With an entire day dedicated to environmental protection, it is no surprise that the topic of endangered animals and their protection is a popular conversation topic on Earth Day. Many seek ways to help these beloved species nearing extinction, hoping to pursue avenues that will provide endangered animals with a safe space to live and reproduce in order to increase their population. However, many places who have vowed to protect endangered species have failed in the past, causing public outrage at the dangerous conduct of animals. Perhaps the most notable of all of these is the incidents that occurred at Seaworld with their Orcas. Orca whales suffered due to the popularity of whale hunting, a dangerous practice that would alter travel patterns of whales, separate mother whales from their babies, and often kill Orcas. The goal of these hunters was often to capture whales for profit, whales that were often sold to places like Seaworld. Seaworld claimed that they specialized in caring for Orca whales, stating to the public that they understood how to care for these animals while also using them for entertainment. Despite these claims, after a series of horrors it became quite clear that Seaworld was lying to the public, and running an extremely dangerous organization that was harming a species that was already scarce in the wild.
Seaworld had several notable incidents surrounding their killer whale shows, but beyond the lawsuits and gruesome events to occur, behind the scenes the Orcas were being abused and living in an environment not suitable to their needs. The whales were kept in pools that were around 20x30 feet at night, and were later taken to steel tanks which they lived in for most of their lives if they outgrew the pools. One Orca named Tilikum was living in similar conditions at a place separate from Seaworld, but after publicly killing a trainer he was sent to Seaworld. His violent actions, likely as a result of his treatment, were not addressed and were covered up which lead to his ultimate integration into the killer whale show at Seaworld. Tilikum was isolated from other whales during his time at Seaworld, and faced with the same inhumane conditions the other whales also experienced. Tilikum later continued to harm humans as a result of his captivity, the most notable instance being the public killing of trainer Dawn Brancheau. Tilikum was forced to participate in the shows despite his temperament, was not given any positive reinforcement, and ultimately acted out. Despite this, Dawn was blamed for the altercation because she was wearing a ponytail that Tilikum grabbed, and he is still performing at Seaworld today.
Stories surrounding problems with Orcas go similar to Tilikum's, either with violent outbursts from the whales, or injuries resulting from forced participation in shows with the blame wrongfully falling on the trainers. One whale was rammed against the wall at one of the shows, and died soon after breaking his jaw. In another instance a whale landed on a human, in another separate instance an Orca fractured a trainer's arm, and despite the clear and consistent aggression from whales stemming from their environments both instances were blamed on the trainers.
Seaworld lied to its patrons and to the world, and continues to today. Seaworld claims that Orcas live to their mid twenties to mid thirties but can live even longer with the care provided by them, but in reality Orcas in the wild have a similar lifespan to that of a human. When the public was alarmed at the flopping of Orcas fins at Seaworld the company claimed it happened often, yet it actually happens to less than 1% of wild Orcas. While in 2012 there was a ruling that claimed trainers must be separate from Orcas, this does nothing to help the animals that are suffering. Seaworld has announced that they are phasing out the Orca shows, following ridicule caused by the release of a documentary known as “Blackfish”, but the shows are still going on in a different format even in 2022. Orcas are wild animals, who live in the ocean with a vastly different habitat than the small pools seen at Seaworld. They are not meant to be tamed or used for entertainment, and the actions seen at Seaworld represent the danger of false information when it comes to the preservation and aid of endangered animals.