As of Thursday, SeaWorld of Orlando, Florida announced that their captive breeding of orcas has come to an end. The generation currently in captivity will be the last one. After years of pressure from social groups and campaigners, they’ve finally shut down their corporate theatrical cruelty.
If you’ve watched Blackfish (2013), you’ll understand how colossal this is. After all, the documentary is one of the main propagators for the awareness of the cruel conditions at the much beloved water theme park. The film’s effect on the park was shocking: profits dropped a humongous 84% between 2014-2015 as sales and attendance plummeted.
The documentary told the story of Tilikum, a SeaWorld whale who was involved in three deaths of trainers, which propelled the theme park’s treatment of orcas into the public eye. Some of the scenes are truly shocking. Collapsing fins, drilled teeth and violent, bloody rake marks. Kept in tiny tanks and forced away from their families way too young. It leaves much to be desired. The comparison of healthy, wild whales to the ones in captivity is an eye opener. Why they kept showcasing Tilikum and letting trainers dive with him is beyond common logic. It was argued by many that his violent and aggressive attacks were directly caused by the stressful conditions he was living in.
The film propelled SeaWorld to make some changes. Rather than training the whales to perform tricks for food, the theme park will allegedly introduce ‘natural orca encounters’. The end of the circus-like shows was announced last November as part of the company’s overhaul.
Although the massive changes have been welcomed, the director of Peta, Mimi Bekhechi, still called for those in captivity to be allowed ocean access: “SeaWorld must open its tanks to the oceans to allow the orcas it now holds captive to have some semblance of a life outside these prison tanks.”
SeaWorld also stated that the remaining whales – including a pregnant whale, Takara – will live the rest of their lives under veterinary staff. As the animals have lived most, if not all of their lives in captivity, releasing them into the wild would most likely kill them. As orcas have an average lifespan of a human being (considerably less in captivity), it looks like SeaWorld will still have whales in their care for many years to come.
Timeline to the ban (via Guardian):
- 24 February 2010: SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau killed by Tilikum.
- January 2013: Blackfish premieres at Sundance.
- July 2013: Blackfish released nationally.
- December 2013: SeaWorld attendances drops 5% by the end of the year.
- 2 December 2014: Orca Amaya is born at SeaWorld San Diego, currently the youngest whale at SeaWorld.
- December 2014: Attendance at San Diego SeaWorld drops17% compared with 2013. Shares have fallen 51% since Blackfish’s release. CEO Jim Atchinson steps down.
- March 2015: Former SeaWorld orca trainer John Hagrove released a book condemning SeaWorld’s treatment of orcas.
- 5 October 2015: California Coastal Commission says it will only approve SeaWorld’s $100m renovation plan if the theme park ends captive breeding.
- 6 November 2015: Congressman Adam Schiff introduces the ORCA Act to end the breeding and keeping of orcas in captivity.
- 9 November 2015: SeaWorld announces an end to its theatrical shows with orcas.
- 19 February 2016: Two major executives fired as part of company rejig.
- 25 February 2016: SeaWorld admits it made employees infiltrate animal activist groups.
- 9 March 2016: Announcement that Tilikum is dying
- 17 March 2016: SeaWorld announces an end to orca breeding program and says this generation of whales will be its last.
Let’s hope that Sea World keeps their promise to aid education and conservation. However we must remember, entertainment and selling tickets are their primary concern. Anything else comes second. I hope these developments aren’t smoke and mirrors to distract us from the depressing revelations. It seems odd that they’ve released these changes just after the announcement of Tilikum’s declining health…
Overall there’s still a long way to go, but this is a step in the right direction.
Save the whales.