SeaWorld is a nationally loved theme park that has been thrown into the public eye for less than desirable reasons – a true view into the park’s treatment of its animals. The park, other than having water-based rides, has shows that include trained animals and exhibits showing animals in their ‘natural habitat’. On the outside it all looks very sweet, but behind the scenes, the way the animals are treated has surfaced and people are outraged. What set all of this off was the death of the park’s beloved Orca whale, Tilikum, after he killed a veteran trainer during a show. This is just the tip of the iceberg, here are secrets about SeaWorld that they never wanted out.
SeaWorld Employees Are Advised To Lie
The animals that are kept at SeaWorld are obviously not in their natural habitat, despite having their surrounding look very similar. These animals are not meant to be in a confined area, being looked at by million of people each year. SeaWorld employees are given a scripted explanation to give whenever an animal isn’t behaving the way it should be, so as to make sure the audience is not concerned; basically lying to the visitors.
Just like in any form of training, giving rewards to the animal as a way to condition their behavior is a classic move. At SeaWorld, however, they take that notion to a whole new level. Trainers are instructed to starve the Orcas if they do not perform well, and do the exact opposite when they do, so as to teach them the proper way to behave in front of the audience in a show. This form of training is unacceptable to proper trainers worldwide, so when this came out, you can only imagine how people felt.
Tilikum Killed Three People
Tilikum the whale was in captivity at SeaWorld for 33 years. During those years he has been linked to the death of two trainers and a man who was trespassing. The two trainers were Keltie Byrne and Dawn Brancheau. A whale like Tilikum is not meant to be confined to a space as small as his, although to us humans it looks massive. A whale is meant to be in the wild, without constriction and shows; his behavior, although tragic, is understandable for a killer whale.
Orca’s Lifespans Are Shorter In Captivity
Male Orca whales have a life expectancy of 60 to 70 years in the wild, where the females can live up to 100 years! In captivity, however, their life expectancy drops dramatically to only 13 years. If that is any indication to the fact that they are not meant to live in those conditions and therefore should not be there in the first place, we don’t know what is. Their deaths in SeaWorld is announced to the public, but their life expectancy fact is always hidden.
Dorsal Fin Collapse
If you look closely, the whale’s dorsal fin is bent. To the untrained eye, you wouldn’t think this an issue. However, a collapsed dorsal fin indicates that the whale is unhealthy. SeaWorld is trained to say that the bent fin is normal, but that is an outright lie on their behalf. Nearly all of the Orca whales in captivity have this condition, clearly marking their displeasure at being held against their natural state.
Orca whales are meant to be swimming in a very large oceans, interacting with other whales of their kind. When they are in captivity though, they behave differently and as such you see their worn teeth from constantly chewing on the metal cage they are put in, or see them floating about the tank with no purpose. They are known to be a danger for humans, for this reason exactly – they are not meant to be held by them.
Zinc Oxide For Sun Burns
Orca whales in nature go deeper into the water when the sun is in full force because their skin is rather sensitive. In their tanks at SeaWorld, they don’t have the option of going deeper into the water, at least not deep enough to shield themselves. In order not to freak out the visitors and have them ask questions about the whales unusual look, the park’s trainers put black zinc oxide on the whale’s skin to cover up the burns.
Trainers Are Performers
Visitors are encouraged to believe that the SeaWorld trainers are professional marine biologists, due to their amount of knowledge of the animal. That is, in fact, totally wrong. Trainers at SeaWorld are nothing but performers and have no academic knowledge or otherwise about their show’s animal. Their purpose is to entertain the crowd and keep them as happy as can be so they continue to flow through the gates. Most of the trainers know nothing of the intricate life form in front of them.
The film Blackfish, that came out in 2013, was about Tilikum the Orca specifically, and the water park industry in general. It portrayed the terrible conditions and behavior these animals are exposed to to the public for the first time. As a result, SeaWorld’s attendance plummeted drastically in 2013. Their numbers went down by 13%, which cost the park $15.9 million in just three months. To this day, SeaWorld is still trying to do damage control over this documentary.
SeaWorld San Diego Cited By OSHA
In April 2015, SeaWorld San Diego, one of the many SeaWorld parks internationally, was cited by OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) FOUR times, giving the park a $25,770 fine as well. These citations are to mark the lack of protection for employees with the animals they are trained to be with, as well as criticizes their teaching methods of the trainers themselves. This is the root of the behavioral issue of the park, other than the obvious fact that these animals shouldn’t be in captivity to begin with.
After a lot of the ill-treatment on behalf of SeaWorld came out, people were beginning to protest the park’s motives and conglomerate type of handling. There were marches and picketers throughout the parks, all over the world, as well as a Twitter war over the park with hashtags such as #emptythetanks and #downwithSeaWorld. Back in 2013, a 12 year old girl was arrested after trying to get the to SeaWorld T-Day float a the Rose Parade. Needless to say people were beginning to get very restless about knowing how these whales are treated and doing nothing about it.
Covering Up The Real Issue
After Tilikum killed Dawn Brancheau, his trainer, SeaWorld advised that they were changing their safety regulations, despite the fact that it was covering up the real issue, which was the whales themselves and their behavior due to boredom. Orca’s are not violent creatures to begin with, but put in a tank with nothing to do, they go stir crazy and begin to act in random ways. Changing safety regulations is not going to help that issue in the least.
SeaWorld is dealing with a very large animal in a very irregular surrounding. As such, trainers that are around this animal are in constant danger. According to the corporate incident reports, there were more than 200 serious injuries sustained by SeaWorld trainers. The damage an Orca whale can do to a human 1/8 of it’s size, is immeasurable. The injuries vary from bites to bruises, to much more serious situations of internal bleeding, and as we know, death.
The non profit organization, PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, was at the head of a scandal when it was revealed that SeaWorld sent in their own employees to spy on the organization from within. This was revealed in February 2016, and the investigation into the situation is still underway. It is said that SeaWorld went into the PETA organization because of the non profit’s law suit against them dating back to 2011, with the purpose of releasing the Orca whales from SeaWorld custody and back to the wild where they belong.
A Whale In A Captive Tank
While in captivity, Tilikum lived in a tank that was the equivalent to one day’s worth of swimming in the ocean. The tank he was held in is approximately 0.0001%, or one one-millionth, of the amount of water he’s able to cross in the wild. The average orca can swim up to 29 miles per hour. For Tilikum, he was never able to accelerate at high such a high speed while in his captive tank and therefore, never received the approximate amount of exercise a whale of his size should require.
SeaWorld’s Orca Monopoly
Globally, there are 58 orcas that live in captivity and SeaWorld currently occupies at least 23 of them. The orcas work at the parks as performance animals and suffer as a result. The average life span of an orca in the wild is 30-50 years but due to captivity and a life of trained performance requirements, SeaWorld’s orcas have a life span of about 13 years. The generation of orcas performing at SeaWorld today are the last generation they plan to own.
Large Whale, Small Tank
As advertised on their website, Tilikum was a record-breaking 12,000 pounds when he lived at SeaWorld. Why is this so disturbing? Because the average tank size at SeaWorld that holds the performing orcas are about 350 feet long or, one seventh of a mile. The stifling size of the tank eliminates nearly half of the swimming activity an orca could complete in the wild, which is essential to their health. In comparison to the ocean, the tanks at SeaWorld were the size of kiddie’s swimming pool to Tilikum.
Conditioned To Entertain
When Tilikum was in captivity he adopted what marine biologists call ‘stereotypy‘; this means that the orca would pace, swim, and rock back and forth in his tank (the minimal movement he could achieve while be watched by park visitors). The lack of space in these tanks often contributed to the collapse of the whales’ dorsal fins, which is not a common aging effect of the wild orca. In the past, SeaWorld has insisted that a collapsed dorsal fin is a natural occurrence in the life of an orca but in actuality, the result of a damaged fin is the scientific symptom of an unhealthy or malnourished whale.
Tilikum Fights For His Life
In early 2016, Tilikum was diagnosed was a bacterial lung infection that was rendered as terminal. The 35 year old orca lived for the next year in continued captivity before passing away in January, 2017. As the star of Blackfish, Tilikum was responsible for spreading awareness regarding the poor treatment and unnatural diet whales in captivity have to endure. He was the first orca in SeaWorld history to grandfather future generations before his death, beating out the average lifespan of most whales held in captivity.
Nakai Sustains A Tank Injury
It isn’t just the size of SeaWorld’s tanks that induce severe health hazards to the captured whales. In 2012, an orca named Nakai at the San Diego park was injured by a sharp, metal edge inside of his tank. Nakai was trying to remove himself from an altercation that occurred between two other orcas and was seriously hurt during his attempt to flee from the other aggressive whales. Wild orcas are not violent by nature, those who are held in captivity and in closed quarters are likely to fight and injure one another.
Improper Drug Use
Orcas in captivity are already subjected to an unhealthy diet that contradicts that nutrients and supplements they would consume if they were living in the wild. Unfortunately, thawed dead fish aren’t the biggest threat that’s entering the body of a SeaWorld whale. If a trainer is unable to get a rowdy or overly-excited orca under control, they force feed them sedative drugs to put them under. These drugs usually include benzodiazepines, antipsychotics, and at times, contraceptives. These types of medication are foreign to the physiology of a whale and therefore, should not be used.
Born To Be Bullies
As we learned after the terrible injury Nakai sustained when fleeing a fight, orcas become aggressive and charge at one another when kept together in small spaces. The orcas are taken over by an overwhelming amount of stress and anxiety that produce an abnormal burst of anger. Consequently, they also bully the smaller marine mammals they’re locked up with. Dolphins for example, are far too commonly bit by upset orcas while in captivity. Social rules in the whale world dictate that violence is a no-no but when held captive in tanks, they have nowhere to swim off to when they need to calm down and avoid physical outrage.
Artificial Insemination To Breed
To continue the orca generation within the SeaWorld family, the parks began artificially inseminating female whales at a surprisingly young age. The women would be inseminated, become pregnant, and after giving birth to their calves were immediately separated from them. Taking a new-born calf away from it’s mother directly from the womb leads to mental health implication in the mothers; they experience a form clinical depression and their babies may live unhealthy lifestyle without their parent around to raise them.
Chlorine Kills Silently
The chlorine levels in the tank water at SeaWorld have been known to affect the physical health of their orcas. The spikes of chlorine in tanks are so high that they’ve produced mucus streams from their eyes, caused the skin on their backs and head peel off, and they’re more likely to develop eye sight problems. The water, which is described as allegedly being stronger than the average household beach, also damages the eye sight of the trainers. Trainers commonly experience burning eyes when training the animals.
Support For The Parks Is Gone
Since the release of Blackfish, SeaWorld’s reputation has become increasingly tarnished and they’ve lost support from big name musicians who were once previously booked to perform at the parks. The BareNaked Ladies, Willie Nelson, Cheap Trick, and The Beach Boys are just a few of the bands who have cancelled their shows and refused to play on behalf of the cruel treatment Tilikum and other marine animals endure in captivity. A majority of the organization’s corporate sponsors also cut the SeaWorld brand name loose after they were exposed in the eye-opening documentary.
Lawsuits Gone Wild
Seaworld park visitors take animal care seriously and couldn’t believe the horror that was exposed in the Blackfish documentary. As a result of public outcry and empathy for the animals, three class action lawsuits were brought against the parks for fraud and manipulation; all three suits claimed that the parks consistently ensured their customers that the well-being of the orcas was their first priority and that they were well taken care of. The public’s choice to act on behalf of the mistreated orcas demonstrated a stance of solidarity and the lack of approval Seaworld now recieves.
Partners Quit SeaWorld
It wasn’t just financial sponsorship and musical support that SeaWorld lost; they lost many big-name partnerships after Blackfish went viral. Southwest Airlines, Virgin America, and British Airways are just a few of the names that abandoned their contracts with the popular tourist company. Barbie creator and manufacture, Mattel, also chose to part ways with SeaWorld. The veteran brand discontinued their popular SeaWorld Trainer Barbie item. This must be the first time in history Barbie ever quit one of her jobs.
Kids In America Take A Stand
Upsetting the general population was an obvious consequence that SeaWorld had to fave once Blackfish was released, however, the child demographic also wanted to sever ties with their once favorite place to visit. High school students have pleaded with their principals to cancel class trips to SeaWorld and teenage animal activists began a petition movement to discontinue class trips to the parks indefinitely. Children, who used to love visiting their marine friends at the parks, are no longer condoning or supporting the poor treatment of these animals under their watch.
When taking the grand tour of the park, you may come across many attractions and fun sites that have something to do with the world of the sea. One of them is the Magic Landing Penguins pool where people a lot of time mistake for a feeding zone. These unprotected area leave those poor birds pretty much unguarded which could be extremely dangerous to them with all that food tossing. They don’t only get physically hurt from the litter thrown at them, but they can also get very sick to the point that they could die. They can only use their flippers to a certain extent, but definitely not to protect themselves from the food that has been thrown at them.
Obie Died Too Soon
It’s one thing to take a wild animal out of its natural habitat in order to save its life, but it’s a whole different story when the poor animal is kept in the most horrifying conditions, allegedly. Obie was the beloved walrus of the park and was 28 when he died at the place that saved his life. However, according to PETA and other animal rights organizations, Obie was kept under the worst conditions and was bored to death, literally, after he suffered from distress which led to his severe health problems.
Wrong and Unnatural
Just like humans wouldn’t want their love interest to be forced on them, then Orcas wouldn’t want to be forced to breed. Apparently, the SeaWorld trainers would impose an unnatural breeding on the poor Orcas who are used to choosing their own mates when at sea. Not only were they forced to breed, but also at a much younger age than they are supposed to and with the same family members. Thankfully, after much criticism and objections, in March 2016, SeaWorld made an announcement the they were stopping their horrible breeding acts.
In The Sea of Employees
SeaWorld has been accused multiple times for their unfair prejudice hiring. According to allegations that were made against the park, over 1,000 of minority applicants, especially Hispanics and African Americans, were turned down just for their ethnicity. Besides being extremely discriminating, this is also problematic in the sense that there are no professional representatives for minority children who come to visit the park and want to have their own role models. That is just wrong and almost unbelievable to grasp in 2017.
When Orcas are in their natural environment, they obtain water and keep themselves hydrated from the prey they hunt. However, in captivity, the whales don’t have the opportunity to do that, and so SeaWorld stuffs the mammals with gelatin, a thickening substance that is obviously not healthy for them, just to keep them hydrated. Tilikum for instance, before his sad death, would consume 83 pounds of gelatin alone on a daily basis when he weighed around 12,000 pounds.
The Deep Blues Sea
There are endless and sometimes simply unexplainable bonds between a mother and her newborn baby. One of these bonds has to do with nursing the baby, or in this case, the calf. It’s one of those instinctive and very natural things that take place, but as beautiful as it may be, it can also cause depression, at least among human females. However, when this kind of depression occurs amongst an orca mom, it’s simply abnormal. This orca named Kasatka was too depressed because of her captivity to the point that she ignored her calf’s please to be nursed. She pressed her stomach against the glass so the baby whale wouldn’t be able to nurse off of her. There’s really nothing more sad than a crying baby wanting his mother to feed him or take care of him, while she is too depressed to do so.
It’s a Dangerous SeaWorld Out There
Much is talked about the dangers that the orcas are faced at SeaWorld and their mistreatment, however not enough is said about the danger that the trainers are faced with. In fact, their working environment and conditions are unsafe, to say the least. Although the Orcas, or the Killer Whales, are not considered dangerous to the human beings, still, when they are captivated they might possess some unexpected aggressive behavior which can have fatal implications on their trainers. In fact, it has been reported over a hundred times that Orcas have led to severe injuries, and even death at times.
The Haunted Belugas
There’s no doubt that the Belugas at SeaWorld are one of the park’s best attractions due to their kind and sociable nature. However, what people may not know is that SeaWorld has joined the hunters from the Arctic regions in order to hunt these poor mammals and get them to reproduce as part of the park’s breeding program. These endangered animals’ thick skin is apparently in high demand for the leather industries. The trainers at the park literally obtain the Belugas’ semen and use it for reproduction purposes.
They Are Killer Smart
One of the most kept secrets at SeaWorld is the fact that the trainers and the staff hide from the guests how smart and intelligent these Killer Whales really are. It might come as a surprise, but the Orcas actually have the second-biggest brains when compared to other mammals. Their intellectual skills are so advanced and they include teaching their calves how to imitate other animals, and they can pick up on different dialects easily. Their emotional intelligence is also amongst the highest. All of that would have been wonderful to watch if the people at SeaWorld would have wanted the audience to see it, but instead they are doing everything in their power to keep this fact unknown and keeping those poor animals in those small tanks unable to fulfill their potential.
A Drowning Marketing Strategy
With all the harsh criticism and accusations that SeaWorld has been charged with, one of the stories it had to face with was the Blackfish documentary which really put the park in a bad light. The documentary followed the story of Tilikum and how he was pulled away from its family and kept under poor conditions and suffered from lack of emotional stimulation. In an attempt to save their image, SeaWorld came out with a public marketing campaign including posts about how they were lowering prices and showing video segments of their vets were taking care of the Orca calves. This campaign basically went down the drain as they didn’t do a good enough job convincing the public of their good behavior.
We are led to believe that the Orcas are considerably happy at their new ‘homes’ with the other killer whales and the staff surrounding them 24/7. However, the harsh truth is that these animals couldn’t feel more isolated and so far away home. Five of the killer whales that live in captivity at SeaWorld today have actually been kidnapped and stolen away from their families when they were just two years old. They have since been literally trapped in a water tank away from their natural environment and been used as sea muppets to entertain the audience.
A Sea Mafia
The Killer Whale shows go back to 1965 with the first being performed by an Orca named Shamu. But behind all that jumping and flipping, there’s actually a very sad story. When Shamu was captured and taken away from her family in the waters of Puget Sound, a hunter named, Ted Griffin killed Shamu’s mother right in front of that poor baby’s eyes and You can only imagine the psychological implications that this must have on a living creature and there’s no wonder that as the years went by, Shamu had gotten quite aggressive with her trainers and even in one incident in 1971 she bit on one of the employees legs. Shamu sadly died four months later.