So long and thanks for all the fish

I was terribly saddened to read the news yesterday that a trainer was killed at a Sea World park in an incident with a captive orca. It’s not the first time this sort of thing has happened- it’s not even the first time it’s happened with this exact same orca.

We live fairly close to a Sea World park, and I view it with an uneasy apprehension. We went a few times in school when I was a kid, and I remember the focus at the time on Sea World’s conservation efforts and education. At least they kind of made an attempt to be educational. My friends are used to my moue of distaste when the suggestion to go comes up, so they don’t bother inviting me. But it’s hard to be the killjoy all the time, especially with little kids- so against my better judgment I agreed to go with them, hoping the experience would be a positive one for all of us.

As I sat in the audience, watching the whole “Shamu likes to play beach ball and do the hula!” shlock, I knew I screwed up. It felt wrong. It was the same feeling in the pit of my stomach that I got the one (and only) time I went to a circus as an adult, the horrible feeling that simply by being there, you were complicit in an exploitation that was just not right.

This comes just one day after watching the astonishing documentary “The Cove.” I don’t want to give up too much of the premise, but it is an incredibly thought-provoking movie about a very well-hidden cottage industry in a small town in Japan that captures thousands of dolphins every year. A small amount are sold into captivity. The rest are slaughtered for meat. It’s up for an Oscar. You should see it.

The most arresting visuals in the movie juxtapose the cartoonish happy images of orcas and dolphins that permeate the town with the sight of packages of dolphin meat for sale in the same building as the stuffed animals. We hold them in awe and reverence yet have no problem sentencing them to lives of captivity so we may experience them more closely. And make money, of course. Dolphin lovers sure will shell out a lot of money for a “swim with the dolphins” experience. The irony of loving something to death is pretty painful when you think on it too much.

Every time an incident like this trainer tragedy happens, there is a chorus of “these animals don’t belong in captivity” and references to Free Willy and maybe a protest or two from Peta. They’re correct, of course. Solitary confinement is viewed as one of the most traumatizing psychological punishments we inflict on criminals, yet we do the same to blameless sentient beings and expect them to exhibit normal behaviors?

There is no noble cause behind these animals’ capture and captivity, no greater good for the benefit of mankind. These wild animals are captured and exploited solely for our amusement and financial gain. And it will continue as long as we continue to pay to be entertained by them.

I’ve talked in the past about my issues with my daughter’s school and the zero financial support for an arts program. I just found out this week that this same school is paying for the entire kindergarten class to go to Sea World later on this spring. I think I’m about to become (yet again) an annoying thorn in someone’s side. My poor daughter. I must be so embarrassing.

Filed: Daily Life
  • Arwen

    [callous] Gosh, creatures like this should come with a warning that they’re dangerous. Like, a statement of their intent. Maybe we could call them Killer Whales? Wait![/callous]

    It’s very sad that this happened and that somebody died – I mean that. It’s just strange to me that so many people are so surprised – has nobody seen footage of what killer whales do when they’ve caught a seal? They’re gorgeous and playful, yes, but that doesn’t mean they’re cuddly, no matter how many stuffed animals we make to resemble them.

  • I had the exact same reaction as you, and lo and behold, everyone jumped on me for ‘villifying Seaworld,’ and I clearly didn’t know what I was talking about cause I was just a ‘PETA lackey.’ Gonna go ahead and say it right now, I don’t now, nor will I ever, support PETA. I view them as a greedy two-faced domestic terrorist organization, but that doesn’t mean I don’t stand up for animal rights and welfare.

    Cetacean life is wonderful, fascinating, and fully sapient. I don’t know why people assume that if it swims in the ocean, it’s stupid. They’re fully self-aware and capable of as many emotions as humans, and yet we pen them up in little tanks for the amusement of all. How is that right? I don’t see children being shoved into tanks, isolated from their own kind, and expected to perform on a daily basis for the merriment of slack-jawed yokels. Why is this okay to do to a dolphin, an orca, hell, an elephant?

    Someone brought up the rescue operations that Seworld has, and that’s all well and good, but at the end of the day Seaworld is a company, not a non-profit animal rescue operation. Their bottom line is money. They get money by exploiting animals. I have a hard time separating that from their rescue efforts.

    I’m very sad that this woman lost her life, but these things wouldn’t happen if we didn’t treat animals like our goddamn playthings.

    • I have a friend who has worked with SeaWorld’s research arm- I’ll have to ask her opinion about that. They do excellent research, but it has not and has never been the driving force behind the park. To me it seems like a justification for the rest of the stuff.

    • Oh, and ITA about Peta. Just because I agree on this one point certainly doesn’t mean I agree with the rest of their extreme viewpoints.

  • Give them heck, J!

  • Very insightful post. Thank you for sharing. I consider myself to be a true animal lover, and I never thought of visiting Sea World from this viewpoint. I went once during childhood, but I will definitely think twice about going again and/or seizing an opportunity to swim with dolphins if it ever comes up. Thank you once again. I totally agree with you.

    Good luck with expressing your opinion to your daughter’s school. Your daughter may think you are embarrassing now, but what you are teaching her is priceless. She will appreciate it later in life.

  • Kim

    Give ’em hell, J. One trip to Seaworld versus a year or two of art classes. I wonder which would stay with them longer…

  • I love your honesty – that you went to Seaworld and then thought better of it. That is what makes you such a great writer. (And I understand sometimes doing things for the sake of kids’ experiences and later thinking twice about it heh) I hope with such thoughtful commentary as this that it will plant the seeds of change, and our kids won’t have seaworlds to take their kids too!

    Go get them on the school thing. Art is a way more valuable developmental/lifetime skill. Or, turn that bus around and go to a hands-on art museum. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • I would so love it if that money were spent instead on a trip to one of San Diego’s MANY lovely museums. Or even the aquarium, which is great and has no captive mammals.

  • The last (and only time) I went to a circus as an adult I experienced the exact feelings you expressed in your second paragraph, a sense that just by being there I was complicit in something terribly wrong. Unfortunately, in the case of creatures who are already in captivity, righting the wrong isn’t as simple as “freeing Willy”. (By many accounts, the returning of Keiko to the ocean was a huge mistake. Given his actions after release, it’s pretty hard to refute that.)

    There are opportunities to swim with dolphins and whales in the wild, where they are able to choose whether or not they want to be around you. That kind of situation is completely different from swimming with them when they are captive and have no choice.

    I’m glad you got to watch “The Cove”. It’s an incredible movie. Hard to watch at times, but that’s why it’s important to watch it. (If you haven’t read it yet, you should also read Ric O’Barry’s book “Behind the Dolphin Smile”, which describes his journey from being a dolphin trainer on Flipper to his ongoing fight against dolphin captivity.)

    Good luck with your daughter’s school. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Agreed. We created a bizarre unnatural situation with captive breeding, and those animals are unfortunately pretty screwed.

      One of my favorite memories as a child was being on a sailboat, when a school of porpoises started swimming alongside us in our wake. It was amazing. And REAL.

  • Megan

    I’ve actually worked with the vets at Sea World Florida and I indirectly worked with the whale in question in this incident. Without getting into a debate too much, I can say that all the trainers and veterinary staff genuinely care about these animals, and for as much as people pay to see them in captivity performing tricks and whatnot, these animals are advocates for their wild counterparts and Sea World does do a decent amount for the greater good of all wildlife. They have a very active rescue and rehabilitation program, and I was able to do some really awesome things with some sick wildlife while I was there. They do have educational programs and try to advocate for the animals. That being said, yeah, they shows are pretty much for entertainment purposes, and the “Believe” show is pretty hokey (not as bad as the Shedd Aquarium’s FantaSEA program, but that’s for another rant). Having said all that, going to Sea World as a kid inspired me. Because of my trip there, I wanted to learn all I could about killer whales (my favorite animal, btw) and become a vet so I could maybe some day care for them. My trip to Sea World did inspire me to become what I am today somewhat (I’d still take a job as a vet at Sea World in a heartbeat if it were offered to me), so I don’t think it’s all bad. I do understand where you’re coming from though, Dr. V. Just though I’d put my opinion of the situation out there.

    • I absolutely 100% believe without a doubt that the trainers, researchers and vets love and respect these creatures. Was SeaWorld founded as a benevolent park for the purpose of research? I doubt it. That the research and rehab is impeccable is not in question, but I doubt its motivation. It seems like a convenient excuse to justify the rest of it. I am sure the majority of the profits are not being funnelled back into research, kwim?

      • macula_densa

        You know my history with SeaWorld, and I’m with Megan. My experience (in spite of SWP) was very much the same. I think you also have to somewhat remove the founding purposes of an institution from what it is becoming or has become. The San Diego Zoo has tiny little enclosures built in the 1920’s that very much reflect the typical situation in captivity back in that era when animal welfare was not at the forefront. However, they have made great strides to become one of the leading institutions in wildlife conservation, and guaranteed their focus is very much on animal welfare in modern times. While SeaWorld is a for-profit corporation and not a not-for-profit the way the zoo is, they are also spending a large portion of their income to contribute to education and conservation. No, that wasn’t always true. However, I think the people that matter in that institution (i.e. the ones making the decisions) make a genuine effort to make a difference and to do more than just make Shamu do tricks. That’s always been a way to draw in kids, where educations starts.

        I also do not believe that the animals at SeaWorld are somehow gipped or unhappy. It is not really fair to compare their captive situation to solitary confinement; these animals are given enrichment to no end and are constantly engaged so they have enjoyment to their lives. They are kept together in their pods.

        The trainers are well aware that these, like all animals, are unpredictable and dangerous due to their size. They accept the risk that comes with the job. Killer whales display the type of behavior described (i.e. pinning underwater) as a dominance behavior, not as some kind of attempt to kill people. It’s just that people are not killer whales and can’t stay underwater for long periods of time (not to mention we’re a lot more fragile).

        I’m pretty sure you know some of this already, but I’m not just writing this for your benefit, but for the benefit of others to provoke some thought here. I know SeaWorld often leaves a bad taste in the mouths of many animal welfare activists, but I cannot help but feel that they genuinely do their best to do right by the animals. I also would like to point out that quite a few things behind the scenes have changed since they are no longer owned by Busch Gardens. They are no longer a subsidiary of a huge for-profit corporation.

        There is just too much to the story that people to not know or care to understand. All people tend to hear is that a killer whale killed someone, so it must be angry about being in captivity. That is such an oversimplification, at best.

        • I was hoping you’d chime in!
          So here is where I struggle:
          1. I do recall a time, before they were bought by Anheuser, where there was a STRONG push in the park for education and conservation. The Shamu show was devoted to demonstrating how the tricks mimicked natural behaviors, and truly getting people interested in their natural environment. I just don’t see that now. Maybe it’s better with the new owners- but who are they? Are their motivations that much better?
          2. What is the purpose of having captive marine mammals (limiting my discussion of SW to these guys)- the actual purpose. Research, or profit? They both exist, but if one had to go, which would it be? And specific to orcas, how is their species benefitted from having these guys in a park?

          I agree that the comparison to solitary confinement is unfair, but I stand by the belief that enrichment doesn’t make up for removal from natural environment. I spent a lot of time studying this in captive primates- you know I did an individual track in lab animal medicine, right?- and it’s a pretty measly compensation, at least based on my own experience.

          I don’t think (and I know you were addressing people in general, not me) that this orca did what he did out of malevolence. It probably was exactly what everyone said, an accident. What I question is not his motives, but the motives in having this captive breeding program. I would dearly love to have solid examples of how the Shamu show has benefited the wild orca population and conservation- if they exist, SW has done a piss poor job of making that apparent. As opposed to say, the SD Zoo.

        • macula_densa

          Weird — for some reason it’s not giving me the option of replying to your reply…


          1. After Anheuser-Busch was purchased by InBev last year, InBev didn’t really take much of an interest in the SeaWorld parks or the other zoos owned by A-B. They chose to sell them instead to a place called the Blackstone group. I personally know little about this company, but what I do know is that they seem to think more along the same lines as the people in animal care, versus the previous corporate giants. I have absolutely no idea what the changes will be and how long it will take for them to become apparent. Change is slow, and you have to remember that those parks were owned by A-B for 2 decades; it will be difficult to switch their routine up from what it was.

          2. Heck, I don’t think I could argue that the original purpose for owning them was research. It would be downright naive to assert otherwise; obviously the original intent was profit. However, you wouldn’t believe the massive amounts of data SeaWorld has accumulated on these animals over the past few decades. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind whatsoever that SeaWorld has contributed more than any other single entity to our understanding of orcas. On top of that, I think the focus has really shifted. Research has become a major objective of that institution. I don’t think it’s just something for show — it’s the real deal. Now, what I could not really answer at this point is how to weight motives for profit vs. research — I’m not really sure about that one. How does the species benefit? Heck, look at my own research and that of some of the people I work with. We are understanding more and more about their infectious diseases and pathologic processes that are particular to the species. It really helps us to discern some of the issues that they are having in the wild (and they are having some major issues in the wild, which was a driving force behind the funding for my project in the first place).

          I wouldn’t argue with you about enrichment being a poor substitute, but bear in mind these aren’t laboratory animals. The objectives with them simply aren’t the same, and therefore I think there is more freedom to allow them more interaction than is typically allowed in a lab animal setting.

          SW does a piss poor job of making a lot of good things they do apparent. When I was flying back from Texas recently, I sat next to a man who works for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. He was telling me all about how SW is one of their biggest contributors, how they work with them routinely, and how they say nothing about it to the press or the public. I was quite amazed — I worked for them, and yet I’d never heard anything about it either. They don’t really seem to focus on the things they’re doing with any sort of PR objective.

          I’d also like to comment on the loss of SeaWorld’s permit to capture animals in the 70’s. It was an entire generation ago — there are different people with different mindsets and different attitudes that run those parks now. Even if someone walked up and handed them a permit to start capturing animals again, I highly doubt they would do it. All the samples I worked with from the SeaWorld parks were from captive-born animals. Sometimes SW trades with other institutions as well. I have heard conjecture recently that SW secretly captures animals out of the wild, and I find those claims pretty dubious. I’ve seen their captive breeding program first-hand and don’t see what the point would be now.

          How is the breeding program benefiting orcas? It’s a fair question that I can’t give you a good answer for at this point. If they were actually releasing them into the wild I could make an argument, but obviously they’re not. I think it’s difficult to release these captive-bred animals into the wild because they are lacking suitable skills to survive. Take the example of Keiko, where it was attempted and failed. Pods of orcas didn’t pick him up, and he came close to starving when the attempt to release him was made.

          I think there is some very solid research being done as a result of the SeaWorld orca programs. I wouldn’t argue that the initial program had pure objectives, but I really believe that what it is turning into will benefit the species in the long run.

      • elephant

        No, why no, they weren’t. In fact, last time I lived in SD, they were owned by Anheiser-Busch. Yeah. The beer company. And were bringing in “rescued” marine mammals from Europe who were paid to capture them so they would need rescueing.

        • elephant

          Sorry, really, my typing AND my grammar, all shot to hell tonight. Way overtired.

  • cheap pet insurance

    this is awful. i dont know whether i should feel awful for the orca or the trainers. you cannot blame the orca for this. it shouldnt even be there in the first place.

  • pikachu

    Dr V , Well said, you go girl. You have amazing insight and hit the nail on the head. Its awfull that someone died , but your right .. we shouldnt be too surprised.
    Last week here in Atlanta , we had 2 circus events in town and a Zebra escaped running through parts of downtown and a major highway blocking traffic for hours . You could see the poor thing was terrified and exhibited his natural fight or flight instincts. The story had a happy ending with the traumatized Zebra being safely captured without major injuries. It was on the news for hours. It took a long while to capture him as he eluded the rescue team . Even escaping a second time once they had initially corneredd him, I guess he didnt want to go back. ๐Ÿ™‚ Hmm I wouldnt want to go back either . Its not the first time this has happened . Seems to happen every year and some have not had as happy an ending .
    I Have been to the zoo, circus , Sea World and often wondered what conditions these “captive” animals have to endure once the lights go down. Let alone the stress of “having to train and perform ” in front of a crowd with all the distractions and I am sure at times mass confusion . Then I feel sad and angry at the fact I bought into the wonder and amazement of it all. I just dont go anymore and try to do what I can for the betterment of animal wellbeing, its a small step but worth it . Thats why I changed careers ๐Ÿ™‚

    • I saw that zebra incident! We had something similar when I was in vet school- I believe it was a lion running down the freeway (!)

  • As a former aquarium employee, I find this issue as something often personal and difficult. (There have never been cetaceans at the facility where I worked, Denver’s Downtown Aquarium, btw. I worked with the fish.) I was involved in the aquarium’s first (and to my knowledge, only) safety violation involving humans and tigers together in one place; fortunately the tiger was young and probably too afraid himself to make a move before we realized he was on exhibit with us and skedaddled out of there. One of my former coworkers, a big-cat trainer named Ashlee Pfaff, was later killed at the Denver Zoo by a jaguar.

    Working with powerful wild animals is dangerous.

    I support the mission of zoos and aquariums in conservation and education efforts. Entertainment goes along with that, both to draw in visitors (who hopefully will learn something) and to financially support the nobler efforts. I don’t support the use of large wild animals for the primary purpose of entertainment. It diminishes us as human beings to treat animals that way. And I am not at all convinced that even the best-intentioned zoos and aquariums should keep cetaceans or elephants. Their needs in terms of physical space and social interaction are so hard, perhaps impossible, to meet in captivity. Hey, it’s hard for many human families to always meet their own dogs’ needs for social interaction, and dogs co-evolved with humans. Wild animals are aliens in a sense, and I don’t think the companionship of human keepers can meet their needs.

    • Thank you so much for your insight. I definitely find it interesting to see how polarizing the opinions are of people who actually have worked behind the scenes in these types of environments.

    • macula_densa

      I think this is probably one of the more insightful comments I’ve seen about this issue. I do feel much the same way about elephants — not sure about cetaceans. I don’t think this incident somehow underscores that orcas are unhappy in captivity (and I’m not suggesting that’s what you’re saying, but it’s what many others are saying). To me all it shows is that those who work with them and other wild animals always need to be mindful that they are wild animals and very dangerous. It’s something we have to accept that comes with the job.

  • Great Post, I also think that they need to be in the wild where they belong.

  • Lisa W

    Amen!!!! I’m in a class now where we’re talking about animal abuse and how we treat our pets one way yet condemn other animals to incredible suffering – whether for consumption or “entertainment.” Just wondering how people fail to see the cognitive dissonance here… I’m sad for that trainer and her family, as she obviously loved these animals. But I really love elephants. Doesn’t mean I’ll bring one home with me!

  • Chile

    I think I went to Sea World once as a child in Orlando (we visited Magic Kingdom a few times per year due to my grandparents). I was too young to remember much but I do have my prized Shamu animal. And then I went with V when I visited all of you in San Diego. And while I enjoyed spending the time with V, I can only think of one of the whales and how unhappy he was. He just kept doing circles in his tank and as I watched him, an overwhelming feeling of sadness came over me. It’s one reason I will probably never go to Sea World again and will have a hard time even visiting a zoo that isn’t actively involved in animal welfare, conservation and rescue.

    • You totally need to see the Cove. And e-mail me when you do.

  • In a perfect world, all animals would run free, have plenty of room, and live as nature/God intended them to. Alas, we do not live in that world. I do vote with my money on issues that are important to me. I refuse to go to any circus that uses animals. The cruel ‘training’ methods, the confinement and isolation, and esp for elephants, the breaking up of family groups is horrendous.
    In today’s world, with breeding programs at every zoo and aquarium, there is no need to capture wild animals for any program. We have enough captive bred.

    With shows like Sea World, where they are all treat trained, there is at least an illusion of choice. You can’t make them do the trick if they don’t want to. If they are captive bred or injured to where they cannot be released, I don’t have a problem with them being trained for shows if the animal shows an interest in the training. The money pays for their meals, and many animals work for a living. Some people really enjoy these shows. I do not.

    I have seen animals enjoying the attention and applause, and adding their own bits to the show (splashing their trainer by surprise, or stealing a toy) But more often I see an animal just doing the motions to get the fish. These animals are about the intellectual level, and emotional level of a non-verbal 3/4 year old child, and this is what I see. Can you really enjoy the sight of a 4 year old child, torn from their family, put in a cage or pool, and having to perform tricks to eat? That is basically what is going on. Give me a supply of M & M’s and I can have any 4 yr old doing tricks, they may even seem happy and contented, but eventually they are going to miss mom, want to go outside, whatever and have a meltdown. Put that 4 year old in a Killer Whale’s body, with all the instincts, behaviors, and sharp teeth and someone will get hurt.

    • When I was, hm, 25? the circus came to town. Some people were outside protesting their treatment of the elephants. About 30 minutes into the show, I realized I should have been out there with them. I will *never* patronize a circus again.

      And there is definitely as you say a distinction with the animals- the ones who seem to suffer the most are the large mammals, where the confinement is just so antithetical to how they are supposed to live.

      My understanding is that SeaWorld uses a breeding program for orcas because they lost their license to capture ones from the wild in the 70s. It’s not like their program has somehow benefitted the worldwide orca population in any way…

    • “These animals are about the intellectual level, and emotional level of a non-verbal 3/4 year old child”? That seems like an odd thing to say. What makes you think that an adult non-human is any less intelligent or emotionally mature than an adult human? I think you do them a disservice by comparing them to a human 4-year-old — put a human adult in that same situation you describe and they’d have very similar reactions to the child. It’s not a child thing or even a human thing; it’s a sentient being thing.

      • Because according to scientific studies, that is the level they are at. They are capable of complex social behavior, they can learn, reason, have a sense of self. In intelligence tests they test out at the level (according to species) of a 3-4 year old human child. (yes some test a bit higher, dogs, pigs, chimpanzees) This is of course in our ‘type’ of intelligence and emotions, in their own species/society this is different. (and I have to wonder how we would test in THEIR world)
        I make this point because people tend to over or under estimate their intelligence. We have people who are anthropomorphizing, putting human thoughts and feelings in the animals (thinking they can reason with a bear or whale like it was your next door neighbor), and those who consider them no more thought or feeling than a machine. The truth is in the middle, and using a 4 yr old human child as a comparison helps people to put a face they can understand on the animal. I use this analogy a lot when I am teaching. (I train horses, and give lessons)

        For example: if you had a classroom of 4 year olds, and one candy bar, would you walk in and give that one candy bar to your child? No. But I have people all the time walk in a pasture full of horses with a bucket of grain and wonder why they get knocked down. 4 year old mindset, 1200 pound body. Never forget that!
        Ok, take that 4 year old, hype them up on candy and rich treats, then confine them in a 4 x 4 room with bare walls, day after day. Now imagine that reaction in the body of a whale.
        It is my responsibility as a trainer to help the animal by presenting the learning in a way in which they can understand it, at a pace that they emotionally can handle it.
        I also feel it’s my responsibility as a pet owner to always keep in mind what level they are, so as not to frustrate them by asking for too much, or for more than they can understand.

        • Intelligence tests are biased towards humans and don’t (perhaps even can’t) really accurately quantify the intelligence of non-humans. (Heck, they’re even problematic in quantifying the intelligence of humans.) We’re a very limited-thinking species in that sense. I respect your background as a trainer, but I still think it’s a bad analogy to use and perpetuate.


    the only places with animals I like to visit are rehab centres where orphans and injured animals go to for recovery then they are released back to their natural habitat.

  • I read this morning that the trainer’s family is advocating that SeaWorld does not euthanize Tillikum because that’s not what the trainer would have wanted – I hope they listen to them (and likely the other trainers) instead of the masses of (as you or someone in the comments section put it) slack-jaw yokels instead.

    And I completely hear you on going to places like the circus and Sea World shows as an adult – I can’t do it; I feel bad inside. We sometimes go to the Oakland Zoo because it’s a rescue zoo and they do a remarkable job rehabbing the animals there but even then, I sometimes question my intent in going.

    • I don’t think anyone is calling for the animal’s head, at least that I have seen- everyone knows it is a wild animal doing what wild animals do. We created this situation.

      If they really want her death to mean something, use it to call into question the reason she was there training in the first place.

    • macula_densa

      SeaWorld isn’t going to euthanize him. I’m not even sure they could if they wanted to… they have marine mammal protection permits to answer for.

  • Well said. When I sat in Cocoa Beach with my bored father in-law as we waited for a delayed shuttle launch, I refused to join him and his friend at Sea World, (or whatever it’s called down there). They were mad but you couldn’t pay me!

    I think it’s appropriate that until your daughter has enough of an understanding to make her own decision on this, that you abide by your standards. You may be bit embarrassing at the moment, but I think you are teaching her a valuable lesson of having standards and not just being a follower without opinions or morales.

    • I think she’s still too young to be embarrassed by me, which is good. I don’t think there is anything wrong with respectfully stating my opinion to the PTA, and in fact is probably an important part of my role as a parent. I’d feel like a hypocrite if I didn’t speak up.

  • I know this wasn’t the biggest takeaway from your post, and trust me, I have an ample amount to say about Sea World, but I am just absolutely enraged at the idea that a school would take money that could go to an arts program and spend it on something so frivolous. Have they not done their research on how the arts is not only a good outlet for children (and, heck, adults) but can help in other aspects of their school career, like in math and science. I understand the want to do one of those “class bonding” experiences where everyone is out of the classroom and doing something fun. But Sea World?! Surely there is something a bit more… educational? In a fun way? I get that Sea World tries to be about educating the public on the woes of the ocean, but come on. It’s really about watching the orca do tricks and splash the audience and oh how funny. Okay.. I’m getting off my soap box now.

    But really, I do hold my special Sea World = Not So Good club membership. And, even though this whole thing is tragic, it’s kind of safe to say that it was going to happen. And it’s probably going to happen again! Why do some of us humans think this is okay? Think we can take the wild out of animals that are not meant to be captive?? Oh.. I’m on that soapbox again ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • Speak Up Dr V.! Orcas are family/group animals and keeping them in confinement is cruel. If you want to see an Orca come here to the west coast wilds or other places to see them in their natural state.

    In this day of the internet and paved roads, zoos and captive animals are no longer “educational”.

    My condolences to the family of the person who was killed.

    • I have a friend who kayaked with orcas off of, hmmm, Northern California? Oregon? She said it was unbelievable.

      • elephant

        Seattle. Unbelievable.

  • Leigh

    As I have grown up in San Diego, I used to be a huge fan of Sea World. In the 80’s-90’s they focused a lot on education and the well-being of the animals. Then when they began building amusement-park rides (river rafts and roller-coasters) their focus went away from educational animal shows and well-being of the animals… that’s when I lost my respect for them.

    However… I wouldn’t say that their captive orca programs have in NO WAY benefited wild orcas. They have invented infant ‘formula’ for a variety of marine mammal species for when they are rescued and are too young to eat fish. I don’t know this for sure, but I bet that they have created orca formula for those in their breeding program whose mothers are not attentive.

    Also, the researchers at Hubbs have been studying orca communication and language acquisition in newborns for years.
    I think there is plenty to learn from captive animals that can be transfered to wild populations, as long as the animals are kept with the highest care, large enclousures, and are mentally stimulated.

  • elephant

    I spent a couple sleepless hours mentally writing time limit laws to phase out marine mammal shows, and then building multiple square mile temporary training enclosures in Norwegian fjords, and then releasing pods ( pod = group that works well together from 1 Sea World or similar park) into the training enclosures, using their old training techniques to train them in pack hunting techniques, and releasing each pod within 1-3 years from the enclosure into the wild.

    And then another hour wondering what unlooked for repercussions that would have on the remaining wild orcas.

    • I would love to hear more of your thoughts.

      • elephant

        It’s really an unexcusably bad situation. If we don’t breed them in captivity, and we don’t euthanize them (which is an unthinkable option – though yes, there were loud calls across the net for the euthanization of this particular orca last week), and we don’t capture more (which we’ve theoretically stopped but only theoretically from what I’ve heard), than these majestic, intelligent, deeply social animals are indeed going to eventually die, one by one, in solitary confinement, as each marine park slowly loses it’s animals.

        And if we continue to breed them, we’re continuing a truly inexcusable institution. And so far, our one experiment with wild release was a dismal failure.

        Well, of course it was. Let’s go back to the highly intelligent social animal thing. Highly intelligent social animals have rules and social norms which govern their behaviors. They have cultures. “Willy” (Keiko) didn’t know those rules. He had no social tools for walking up to a pod of orcas in an orca bar and saying “hey, can I spot you a fish?” What about playground etiquette has ever taught us that the “wierd kid” is going to be picked up and made part of the pack?

        These aren’t animals that do well alone. He needed company, and the only company he knew how to find was human.

        If releasing captive orcas is ever going to work, it’s going to have to be done, at the least, in breeding pairs. Better as pods.

        But that will take the will of the people, saying – no more. This was wrong. We apologize. And it will take millions and millions of dollars, and many years, to put those whales back in the wild. If, if, if it can be done.

        • Leigh

          SO TRUE about social culture. One of the whales in San Diego, Ulysses, was raised in Barcelona Spain with two dolphins. Before he came here here had no idea there were other whales like him, and he didn’t know that he wasn’t a dolphin! In studying orca communication, they realized that Ulysses NEVER “speaks” orca, but he “speaks” like a dolphin all the time. They were also studying whether two of the baby orcas (born within a year of each other) would ever learn to “speak” dolphin from him.

  • i just found your blog, and love it. i agree completely with your opinion on animals in captivity. after you deal with your daughter’s school, please proceed to educate the remaining schools around the USA. they need it. wild animals are just that, meant to be “wild.” give ’em hell and your daughter will thank you when she is old enough to appreciate it. aren’t they embarassed of everything we do regardless of what it is — she will at least appreciate your cause when she is an adult and be thankful for your efforts and appreciate that you took a stand for what you believed in.

  • Jenniferquijano24

    i wish i could see one