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Even years after Blackfish, SeaWorld still has Orcas

Years after promising to end their orca shows, SeaWorld is instead rebranding them.

Seven years after the documentary film Blackfish inspired a backlash against Seaworld and the condition of the orcas in its care, the gates of Seaworld are still open. Earlier this year, Seaworld announced they will be starting killer whale shows once again, but with a new focus. 

In 2016, the theme park stopped all captivity breeding and decided to temporarily stop all shows. These shows will simply be educational sessions about the orcas, instead of the tricks and dances they were forced to do beforehand. SeaWorld claims their intention is to help bring awareness to the maltreatment of marine life, and a positive change to future mammals.

The documentary film Blackfish, released in 2013, showed Orcas suffering in captivity. While in the ocean, orcas range over thousands of kilometres, at SeaWold, they are kept in small tanks. Much like other animals whose instincts lead them to travel by nature, in zoos and theme parks they appear to suffer mentally and physically. Many deaths — including over 62 whales and two people — have happened within the popular theme park.

Former CEO Joel Manby announced in 2016 that Seaworld was working in transition to close all theatrical orca shows by the end of 2019, in California, Texas, and Florida — SeaWorld’s only three locations. Despite this claim of ending the shows by 2019, SeaWorld is still working on the task after closing during the coronavirus pandemic.

Seaworld opened in San Diego in 1959. With rides and aquatic life, it billed itself as every child’s dream. Similar aquatic theme parks started to open after that, all around America. 

In 1965, hunters killed a mother orca who was alongside a young calf. Refusing to leave its mother’s side, this little orca, later named Shamu, was dragged away and sold to Seaworld of San Diego.

The life of Shamu was documented in Blackfish, which also covered some of the deaths due in marine life enclosures all over the globe. 

One incident happened in 1971, when trainer Annette Eckis fell off the whale’s back. Shamu proceeded to grab hold of her leg and not let go. Another trainer had to use a large pole to pry the jaws of the whale open. After the situation, Shamu was retired from all whale shows, and Eckis sued the park.

That same year, Shamu died at just 9 years old. In the wild, orcas often live 50 to 80 years. It was said that she died from blood poisoning and a uterine infection.

Seaworld trainers felt a bond with some of these whales. Training with them everyday, they built a trust between them and the whales. The attacks come without warning. There have been a handful of tragic incidents at the parks in the past. One of the most famous stories was Dawn Brancheau. 

Dawn Brancheau passed away in 2010 at just 40 years old. The experienced trainer was tragically killed in a SeaWorld show by the largest killer whale in all SeaWorld parks, named Tilikum. Although the theme park came out and explained that her death was caused by the whale pulling on her hair, a video taken seconds before the attack shows her arms and legs in close contact with the animal. Witnesses also claimed that the trainer was not pulled in by her hair.

Life in captivity for orcas is drastically different than the lifestyle in the wild. Their physical and emotional health is completely shifted. Killer whales are born and raised in pods, and they form a community within their pod. All these orcas grow old and migrate together, and  swim up to 160 miles per day. With their living conditions, they aren’t even swimming ⅓ of this in a day. 

When an orca is born and raised in captivity, alone in a tank for its entire life, it already changes the overall way they grow up and develop. LSI (loss of structural integrity) happens rarely ever in the wild. This is when the dorsal fin of the whale loses its original strength and causes it to flop to the side, or bend. It is said that around 1% of the wild population experiences this. In captivity, 100% of male orcas experience dorsal fin collapse. The main reason they say this is happening so frequently is a mix of the unnatural exposure of sunlight & water pressure, as well as the depths of the tanks.

The average maximum lifespan for a male orca is 50-60 years. The females can live a maximum of 80-100 or more years. In Seaworld, their average lifespan for each orca was 14 years. The aquarium’s oldest killer whale was Kayla, a 30 year old female orca, who was said to have died from unknown causes. The shortest living was Baby Shamu II, who passed at just 11 days old due to a heart defect. With these statistics, they still are drastically below the average.

To this day, there have been 0 reported injuries to humans by killer whales in the wild.

Image: Wikimedia

17 comments on “Even years after Blackfish, SeaWorld still has Orcas

  1. Dr Kalos

    Seaworld and its greedy execs call this “animal rescue and educational”. As a biologist and an expert, these claims are not only egregiously false but extreme cruelty to animals. Its well documented that whales form families, therefore Seaworld is not catching these whales but committing kidnapping by forcefully separating them from their forever, even by killing other family members in the process. Seaworld then cages them for life in a small space not allowing for a natural ecosystem to exists. Seaworld is comparable to the Nazis when they cages millions of humans and forced them into captivity for all to see. These massive human prisoners were also given then same Seaworld courtesy: food rationing, working under extreme tolerances, separated at birth, to die away from home, to die in captivity, and forced to work til you die. In a world that embraces so much passion for humanness and equality, especially racisms sensitivity, Seaworld continues to strive for brutality, punishment, and animal trafficking. I compel all that read this, boycott Seaworld, then write to State of Florida and California to stop this animal cruelty and trafficking.

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    • Michael Keith

      Anyone who introduces themselves as an expert, is rarely a true expert, but is usually trying to brow beat their opinion.

      Like

  2. I wish they would let all these killer whales go. They are in jail for nothing. God gave us humans dominion over animals but did not give us permission to mistreat them. It’s a terrible way to make them live.

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  3. Pingback: Blackfish – Ty Keenum

  4. Gabriel De Roca

    F Seaworld. If you go there, you promote kidnapping, slavery and torture.

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  5. I went there as a young naive child in the early 1990s. Even then, I felt sad for them that they won’t ever get to experience swimming the ocean. I never went back. After watching Blackfish and seeing them rip the poor baby away from its mother and the grief and pain the mother suffered, I told my kids we will never ever support SeaWorld and what they do. I can not believe they are going to continue Orca shows. They are just shameless and money hungry. I hope people get pissed enough about them continuing these shows, especially after them vowing to end them all by 2019 that there is a large enough movement to stop them. I know it probably won’t happen due to so many people being in denial about how these animals live in captivity, but we can dream.

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    • John Whitworth

      You may be right…but would releasing them…after yeas of captivity be a kind thing to do..I don’t know if whales would even survive in the wild after living in Captivity so long ?

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  6. Margaret Leach

    I’m 63 years old and after having lived in San Diego my entire life, I refused to visit SeaWorld…until 2 weeks ago.
    My son and his family bought me a ticket to go with them, and after Blackfish and Sea World promising to end the Orca program, I decided to go. I was devastated to learn that the Orca trick program is alive and well.
    Liars.

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  7. LDSGMA

    Releasing them probably wouldn’t go well – they are essentially “domesticated” whales and it may not be possible to rehabilitate them enough for release to the wild. The best that one could probably do is penned off sea side habitats where they could get a more natural and larger area to swim but still receive the care from humans they currently are accustomed to – and even that may have risks. You may remember the 1993 film Free Willy. The film lead to a public campaign to free the whale that was used in the film, Keiko. After several years of work and a lot of money trying to rehabilitate and acclimate Keiko to the open ocean in a sea pen and reintroduce him to the wild, he turned up in Norway seeking out humans – the release was ultimately unsuccessful and the whale died. It’s a tricky situation.

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    • The National Aquarium in Baltimore has been trying to find a place to relocate their dolphins to a sea pen, and I’ve read they have been having a really hard time. It’s a shame.

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    • The National Aquarium in Baltimore has been trying to find a place to relocate their dolphins to a sea pen, and I’ve read they have been having a really hard time. It’s a shame.

      Like

  8. If they reopen these shows again there will be hell to pay. People are more aware than ever of the cruelty against animal in captivity

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  9. If they reopen these shows again there will be hell to pay. People are more aware than ever of the cruelty against animal in captivity

    Like

  10. There are so many inconsistencies in this story, Such as one is that the oldest living Orca was 30, yet Tilikum was 2 when he was captured and kept in Captivity for 33 yrs you do the math, Also what about the Orcas that didn’t attack there trainers, and were more human like than whale like, for instance, Keiko (Willy) I am not condoning witholding food to get them to do tricks, which may be why Tilikum lashed out the way he did, but what about building them bigger and deeper tanks, and if they don’t want to perform then so be it, I am not going to lie I love the Orca shows, have always been fascinated by them, but lets advocate for better treatment of the Orcas

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