Why would we go to SeaWorld? You might catch yourself asking this. Well, there was a time where people believed it was an up-close educational experience for children who had an affinity for animals. They could visit the park and experience these particular mammals where they would otherwise be located in the wild. The point that has come up since those simpler times is that these animals should remain in the wild. The conditions that the animals have historically been exposed to are not always great and it has led to some unfortunate instances.
While in the past, a number of people would rather carry on enjoying without knowing the truth of these living conditions, 2019 is all about staying informed, getting things out in the open, and making the right choices about where we invest our time, money, and energy. We aren't saying that it's all bad at SeaWorld, but there are certainly some questionable points on the list that beg us to ask the question can we do better?
Have a look below at the 25 things that happen behind closed doors at SeaWorld and decide for yourself:
21 They Animals Perform for Food
The tricks that many have become accustomed to expect in these types of SeaWorld dolphin shows are not natural to the animals and can cause them stress. Since the animals are being conditioned to perform for food, meaning for survival, they will do almost anything for their next meal.
SeaWorld has claimed that their new shows take a more educational approach but there has been video documentation as recently as April 2017 that suggests otherwise.
20 Trainers Are Historically The Most at risk
SeaWorld has made every effort to brand itself as an educational platform that brings humans closer to understanding these astounding sea creatures. The fact is that often the realities of working closely with animals like killer whales are not often revealed to the trainers in full upon their hiring, and SeaWorld does very little to protect them.
In 2015 U-T San Diego, OSHA fined the aquatic amusement park $25,770 for 4 safety violations, two of which stemmed from its handling of orcas (washingtonpost.com), citing specifically that SeaWorld does not have the infrastructure in place to protect their trainers and employees from the animals.
19 SeaWorld "Trainers" are Mostly Performers
Many people reading the point above might assume that the trainers should know the dangers of working with orcas seeing as they are marine professionals who are highly-trained and educated on such matters, right? The truth is that the qualifications for "trainers" are heavily focused on swimming ability, communications (with audience) and general experience with animals. As in all of the animals - not specifically marine animals which are complex in their own right!
No formal marine biology diploma is required although it is preferred which begs the question are why isn't this mandatory? Perhaps it's that it would be too costly (or difficult) to hire a marine biologist that also has a flare for the performing arts. In either case, it definitely seems like one of many ways they could greatly improve the safety of animals and trainers alike.
18 Q&A Time Is Scripted (And Not Always Honest)
SeaWorld has been called on to defend its practices for years, decades even. You would think that since their main focus is education that the audience question and answer period during shows would be a somewhat sacred opportunity for the general public to understand about these amazing creatures.
Sadly, so much is kept under wraps that the trainers' responses are heavily scripted and designed to skirt difficult issues in order to ensure that SeaWorld is always shown in the best possible light. They even go through a rigorous training program where they are taught to replace words like captivity with words like Human Care.
17 When Everyone Goes Home, The Dolphins Keep Performing
Our dolphin friends are so adamantly programmed into their routine that they often continue performing long after lights out when everyone has gone home. Dolphins have a very complex emotional capacity much like humans and it can turn into a form of strange behaviour.
When they're not going over their routines, they are often just swimming in circles in tanks. It seems that the animals are able to recuperate fully from the hustle and bustle of their performance lifestyle.
16 Those big pools are questionable
There are two schools of thought on captivity: there are those that believe that it protects animals and provides endangered species the appropriate conditions with which to thrive, breed, etc. Then there is another school of thought that believes that keeping whales in tanks is makes them act uncharacteristically.
To the audience, it can appear that these animals are joyfully living in a clean environment, but we don't get to see everything that happens behind closed doors.
15 They Often Get Passed About from Park to Park
It's not always about what goes on in the park, but what is going on between parks as well. SeaWorld has been known to move, loan out, or rent animals.
Carting these animals between parks and aquariums is risky. If you think about the physical toll an airplane ride takes on your average human, you can understand that taking a 12,000-pound aquatic animal (whale) on a plane is simply a bad idea.
14 Scientists Rely On The Park for Research
SeaWorld has vowed to stop breeding partly due to the scrutiny they have come under since the release of films like Blackfish and The Cove. This has been considered a victory for activists but scientists aren't so happy.
In the past 50 years, SeaWorld has housed more than half of all captive whales in the world, tracked by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. SeaWorld was the only facility with such experience breeding, and with the remaining population of whales in their care aging, it seems that the opportunity for scientists to monitor their blood, heart rates, diet, lung capacity and growth will inevitably dwindle.
13 They Are Put Away After Closing
SeaWorld whales are locked away and separated in tanks, but when in the wild, whales are quite social and spend their time in whale groups - or pods of up to 40 whales (Live Science). The pod of whales does everything together from hunting to migrating.
They are at the top of the food chain and have no known predators other than man. Therefore they are quite confidently active in the wild and enjoy swims of up to 100 miles a day.
12 The Documentary Blackfish Caused a Serious Decrease in Visitors for SeaWorld
Released in 2013, the movie Blackfish tells the story of the controversial choice for SeaWorld to keep animals captive. It highlights the story of one orca in particular named Tilikum. It tells a very effective story on the resulting stress that occurs when they are removed from the wild. The film was a huge success even earning a BAFTA nomination for the best documentary.
Naturally, SeaWorld sales dropped as a result and they did their best to cover up the $15.9 million in losses (cnbc.com). Unfortunately, they were forced to pay $5 million to settle federal fraud claims from lying about the impact that the film had on their bottom line.
11 The Animals have a wide range of emotions
There is no doubt about the effects that occur in captivity. Whales and dolphins are particularly complex animals that have been proven scientifically to exhibit a wide range of emotions.
Often the animals are placed together with others where they are not a match and there can be a conflict between animals without any escape, wherein the wild they can simply swim away.
10 17 Countries Have Outlawed Orcas in Captivity (Including Canada)
A true testament that captivity is not a nice way for these majestic mammals to live. 17 places have banned orca captivity including California, New York, South Carolina, Hawaii, Bolivia, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Greece, Hungary, India, Nicaragua, Slovenia, Switzerland, Canada and the United Kingdom (where it's been banned since 1993). With an estimated 2,000 dolphins, over 200 beluga whales, 30 porpoises and 60 orcas held in captivity across the world (born free), it is amazing that these places have taken a successful stand against using animals for human amusement.
Many believe that the messages held throughout Blackfish helped to accomplish this movement.
9 Guests Aren't Always So Lovely To The Animals
The difficulty of sharing these animals with the public is that the environment is not conducive to protecting them from maltreatment. Sometimes audience members can be unintentionally rough or throw garbage into pens.
The trainers are also not always the best at defending the animals from people who have over-indulged in drinks and are behaving poorly on purpose.
8 Employees Are Hesitant To Discuss Their Work
Employees are asked to sign confidentiality agreements upon landing their dream job at the organization. Much of this strictly prohibits them from sharing any controversial information that would raise any red flags. They are not allowed to take photographs at work or share any particular details of the goings on when it comes to the work they do. Many of the staff abide by this for they are worried about repercussions if they do not comply.
A large part of the success of film Blackfish is due to these elusive interviews with former employees that help to set the record straight,
7 Animals Have a busy schedule
Can you imagine how much energy and strength it takes to perform a show at SeaWorld? Some of these animals were regularly performing up to eight shows a day for the visitors to the park. Then, of course, we have to consider their training periods, and the in-between shows when they are on display in viewing tanks for the park guests to view them, point fingers, and snap a selfie for social media.
6 Trainers Have to Share Wetsuits
You would think that since SeaWorld was in the million dollar whale business, that they could afford some decent gear for their staff who are on the front lines day in and day out working with the animals. Unfortunately, trainers are expected to share wetsuits which can be pretty darn uncomfortable - not to mention unhygienic.
Since wetsuits are like a human sock, they're so tight, and many trainers have claimed to use special creams or tape down sensitive areas to prevent any rashes or burning. Talk about getting up close and personal with your coworkers!
5 Two Polar Bears Were Separated After 20 Years
It's a fact that Polar bears are the only type of bear considered a marine animal, according to hurtigruten.com. Two of the aqua park's beloved polar bears, Szenja and Snowflake, were made to go their separate ways after spending 20 years together in captivity.
We still aren't sure about the reason for this move but it did turn a lot of heads.
4 Penguins were sent via FedEx
For these tuxedo-adorned animals, this journey was anything but a regular one. Twenty penguins took a journey from California to Michigan.
It's truly bizarre that FedEx would even consider such a feat but luckily all twenty penguins arrived safe and sound. There have been other questionable instances involving the penguins like when SeaWorld shipped 10 baby penguins from Antartica to California for 'research purposes.'
3 Marine Parks are On the Rise in China
There are over 44 marine parks in China with another 20 opening. Many believe that this could re-open discussion around ethics, or even see an uptick in issues with trainers since the popularity is causing parks to open at a record rate.
SeaWorld has signed a consulting deal that allows for collaboration though they solemnly vow to keep orcas out of the picture.
2 The Animals Are Used In Promotional Displays
SeaWorld might eat a slice of humble pie upon remembering the time they 'loaned' out their penguins as part of a promo at the New York stock exchange. PETA felt strongly that these animals should be kept out of any kitschy promotional runs. They claimed that due to all these people clambering over each other, combined with the noise, the birds could be easily spooked.
1 Orca Shows Are Soon Coming to An End At SeaWorld in 2019
SeaWorld has vowed to take a more respectful approach in their orca shows. Doing away with the theatrics and tricks they vow this is a far more educational experience. It is estimated that shows will stop this year in San Antonio and Orlando. Perhaps this will be their way of turning over a new leaf and addressing the concerns while starting a new way forward. It's hard to say for certain how "educational" the program will really be but it is definitely a step in the right direction.
References: peta2, theodysseyonline, rollingstone, livescience