SeaWorld gave up after years of fighting with liberals, resisting pressure from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) amongst others, and reacting to the blow-back from public reaction to the movie “Blackfish” which criticized its handling of the Orcas in its care. SeaWorld Entertainment announced it would end its Orca performances in San Diego.
The orca or killer whale is actually the largest member of the oceanic dolphin family, a water borne family of mammals. Considered apex predators they have no animal that preys on them. We have explored in depth the intellectual capabilities of dolphins and easily extend those capabilities to the orcas. They are smart animals that are used to ranging wide in the open ocean (as much as 160 kilometers in a day).
We assume there are plans to continue performances in Orlando, Florida and San Antonio, Texas because there are no reports of a change in its plans. By agreement with the Humane Society of the United States, SeaWorld Entertainment said they are completely ceasing their orca-breeding program. They face a problem and great controversy in the question of what to do with an orca that is borne and raised or has existed almost entirely in captivity.
The two sides of the argument are those who favor releasing the orcas into the open ocean and those who believe SeaWorld should build sea pens in which to keep the orcas until they die or keep them in the same enclosures they presently inhabit. Unfortunately the past history of orcas that have been released or found their way into the open ocean is not good.
A prime example is Keiko who was captured off the coast of Iceland in 1979 and the star of the “Free Willy” movie. After several years performing at a Mexico City theme park, Keiko in 1998 was transported to a sea pen in Iceland. The sea pen was 250 feet long, 100 feet wide and 30 feet high.
On one of its excursions outside its sea pen, while accompanied by its caretakers on a ship, Keiko later swam away. He was later spotted in a deep inlet in Norway where he was playing with fishermen and their children. Keiko later died of pneumonia.
SeaWorld points to Keiko as an example of a whale that while caught in the wild did not survive being returned to the open ocean. Detractors would disagree in the sense that Keiko was close to his natural age and was not in his sea sanctuary when he died.
SeaWorld’s CEO summed up the Keiko experience by saying, “Never in the history of mankind has an orca born under human care survived in a release to the wild. Even though Keiko was born in the wild and millions were spent preparing him for release, after being released he died from pneumonia and starvation. We are not going to take this risk with SeaWorld’s whales.”
While SeaWorld made the right decision to suspend its orca performances in San Diego, it needs to affirmatively suspend all performances of orcas at every facility. It also made the right decision to halt its breeding program at all SeaWorld sites. It has a dilemma facing it now with its decision of what to do with its orcas.
With a lot of people on both sides of the argument, it faces a real quandary as to what to do. The writer believes that continuing the performances at SeaWorld should not happen and that the orcas should be housed in sea pens that are specially designed for them. I don’t believe the Keiko pen was big enough for orca health and satisfaction but I also do not support release in the open ocean since it would mean certain death for many of SeaWorld’s orcas.
What is your opinion about what should be done with the remaining 23 or so SeaWorld orcas? Should SeaWorld keep having orca performances? Should SeaWorld continue their confinement to their present facilities? Should sea pens be provided or should they be released to the open ocean? Please let us know your views by appending your comments and questions to this article.
Use the following links to obtain more information about the orcas or access the original stories that served as the basis of this article.