After recently watching a documentary that exposes the truth about SeaWorld, I am compelled to share the truth as well. Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s documentary Blackfish centers on a captive orca name Tilikum (Tili). Tili was 2 years old when he was torn away from his family and the ocean to be held captive for entertainment and tourism first at a sea park called Sealand of the Pacific in British Columbia, and then later sent to SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida. Out of frustration caused by many years of intense confinement, isolation, and lack of emotional and intellectual stimulation, Tili has killed three humans. Cowperthwaite pieces together Tili’s story with film footage, expert testimonies, and interviews with the orcas’ former trainers to reveal the true nature of these intelligent mammals and how it really isn’t all that “peachy” at SeaWorld like they claim so.
Besides Tili, there were 10 other orcas captured from their ocean home in the Puget Sound between 1970 and 1971, and half of them were sent to SeaWorld. Some only survived a few months; all died prematurely except for Lolita who resides at the Miami Seaquarium. During the 15 years of capture in Washington and British Columbia:
- 275 to 307 whales were caught
- 55 transferred to aquariums
- 12 or 13 died during capture operations
And here are additional things that you may not have known about SeaWorld:
- In the wild, orcas spend most of their time in the depth of the ocean. They are sensitive to the sun and are capable of sunburn just as we are. At SeaWorld, their tanks are too shallow to provide them shield and their sunburns are covered up with black zinc oxide.
- During Shamu’s hunt and capture, her mother was shot with a harpoon and killed. To cover up the deaths of other orcas that were slaughtered, the hunters had their bellies slit open and filled with rocks, and anchors wrapped around their tails so they would sink to the bottom of the ocean.
- In nature, orcas choose their own mate. At SeaWorld, trainers masturbate orcas to force breed them.
- In the wild, orcas have an average life expectancy of 30 to 50 years—their estimated maximum life span is 60 to 70 years for males and 80 to more than 100 for females. The median age of orcas in captivity is only 9.
- Because of the unnatural environment at SeaWorld, the male dorsal fins are collapsed and is not normal. This number in the wild is only 1 to 5 percent in some populations.
- The trainers at SeaWorld are performers and not biologists. They have no training in marine biology.
- SeaWorld has been cited by the USDA in violation of the Animal Welfare Act, failing to care for the animals there.
Moreover, orcas swim up to 100 miles per day in their wild. But at SeaWorld and other marine parks around the world, orcas are forced to swim in tiny circles, contained and confined in a space like a concrete bathtub. They are forced to “work” by performing, doing tricks for food. If they don’t cooperate, they don’t get fed. This creates frustration and bad behavior in some whales as they are known to be sensitive and emotional creatures. They are imprisoned to entertain tourists and lack social bonding that they are used to in their natural environment. Mother orcas’ matriarchal bonds are broken when their babies are taken from them and sold or transferred to other parks. In the documentary there is heartbreaking footage of a mother’s reaction to this — just like how a human mother would react when her child is taken from her.
After the release of Blackfish, SeaWorld has refuted the claims in the film, saying it is propaganda and that the people involved are all biased. They say they do not collect whales in the wild but then go on and say they have not collected whales for over 35 years now. (It sounds contradicting to me.) And while it is true that they don’t collect whales from the wild anymore, because they force breed the whales themselves, it doesn’t excuse the unjustified confinement of the orcas for their own profit.
There is an abundance of truth and information aside from what I have shared, and by watching Blackfish you can learn more about this eye-opening topic. Below is a trailer of the documentary.
As a child I didn’t know any better when I visited SeaWorld, but having recently visited last August and was told by SeaWorld’s workers that the company “saved” the orcas and having also learned the truth about the captivity of these orcas and their poor confined conditions, Nick and I regret our visit. Everything about what SeaWorld is doing is now clear to us. We wish we could have learned about this before supporting SeaWorld with the hundreds of dollars we spent there. I hope to have shed some light on this matter, and urge you to do some research for yourself before spending money at SeaWorld as well.