Allegation (A): SeaWorld is too concerned with entertainment
Yes, SeaWorld is a highly profitable and successful force in the entertainment arena. “Blackfish” does a fantastic job at demonizing all forms of animal entertainment and depicting an evil corporation that is nothing more than an aquatic circus revolving around dollar signs. We find this to be a highly ignorant and unfair inference. There is true value in education through entertainment. We truly believe that the most effective conservation is obtained through connecting individuals with species in a meaningful and personal manner. Yes, in theory Orcas can be observed by way of eco-tours in their natural habitats. Yet how many families possess the money and means to travel to these natural habitats? It just isn’t realistic. The bottom line is animal related shows of all kinds bring biology and zoology books to life. They enhance education and inspire people to become involved on a personal level. There is one quotation by Baba Dioum that we reference in our ODCA core values that states “In the end, we conserve what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught”. Countless children were taught to love Orcas through SeaWorld “entertainment”. Many of whom grow up to be pioneers in marine biology! Entertainment is not heartless and does have a place in conservation when done responsibly.
A: Orcas do not belong in captivity
We are strongly against taking Orcas out of the wild. In this day and age, there is absolutely no reason to remove these animals from their natural habitat. With that said, we are NOT against keeping Orcas in captivity if done PROPERLY! “Blackfish” leads the general public to believe that SeaWorld makes a habit out of taking animals from open oceans. That simply isn’t true. The vast majority of the killer whales in SeaWorld parks were born in captivity. In fact, it has been 35 years since SeaWorld has collected an Orca from the wild. We will agree that once upon a time the methods utilized for such acquisitions can now be considered barbaric in nature. No argument there! The reality is that with very little knowledge on an animal that had yet to be studied in any detail and with limited technology these were the industry standards at the time. While it does not justify the practices, we do not feel that an organization should be punished decades later for choices that were made based on the science available at the time those choices were made.
Captive Orcas have enabled a more sophisticated understanding of animal behavior and health that far outweighs what could have been accomplished by naturalistic observations in wild habitats. Any true scientist can testify to the unpredictable and difficult nature of field studies. We do not wish to minimize the importance of such work, but feel it is important for the general public to understand just how unreliable executing such studies can be. This is especially true when considering the waters in which these particular animals dwell. You can wait days or even weeks before finding a group of whales. Don’t even get me started on trying to fund such research projects! Projects are extremely expensive and funding sources are highly competitive with fewer and fewer options available during a tight economy.
I personally know a number of former and current SeaWorld trainers. Each one is dedicated, passionate, and puts the animals entrusted to them first. It is our stance that SeaWorld personnel does an effective job at properly caring for their animals. We are not claiming perfection. I do feel that as an industry, there are opportunities for improvement in certain areas. The reality is that accidents happen. They are tragic, and our hearts go out to the families and friends of anyone who has faced a loss of this kind. Yet when you consider the magnitude of an animal that size, there are inherent risks. Trainers are not forced into this profession and each is fully aware of the risks associated with this line of work before embarking on their chosen career path. Take another animal industry for example….equestrian accidents occur regularly and often involve injury or death. Does this mean we should ban all riding interactions?
A: The tanks are like bathtubs and that is just cruel.
In comparison to the ocean obviously the tanks are substantially smaller. The reality is that they do provide ample space for an animal of this size to lead very healthy and stimulating lives. They have room to exercise and swim and are by no means cruel. Did you ever stop to compare the proportions of an Orca tank to the enclosure size of other exotic animals in captivity? Do you think a zoo’s elephant enclosure parallels that of it’s natural habitat? They can travel much farther on a daily basis than what an enclosure permits. What about those of you who possess a pet bird? Do you really think that clipping wings and putting a bird in a cage is any different? What about your child’s pet guinea pig? Ever see the sizes of “standard cages” for most domestic pets? How about those of you who own aquariums? I can guarantee that in the wild those fish would swim much farther distances than the space your aquarium allows. As a side note, how many of you ask your local pet retailer if your fish were collected from the wild or if they were hatched in a sustainable fish farm? I bet that thought didn’t cross most of your minds. These animals must undergo the same potential stresses as any other during this collection process. Does that make you a cruel person? What really bothers us about this claim is the utter lack of consistency in beliefs and pure hypocritical nature of this allegation. There is a massive double standard with this thinking. If you are going to take a stance about something, then at least do the courtesy of being consistent with it!
A: SeaWorld forces these animals to act as slaves, performing in shows and doing stupid tricks.
Again, this is a false allegation. SeaWorld does not FORCE any animal to perform. They are not deprived of food or starved because of failure to comply. Yes, some of the “tricks” are not natural behaviors but that does not make it cruel. It is a form of enrichment and contrary to what “Blackfish” would have you believe, the animals actually enjoy it. These behaviors are taught based on a number of scientifically evaluated psychological principles including reinforcements and conditioning. Don’t believe me….how many of you possess a dog? When you teach your dog to shake is that a natural canine behavior? Nope, but that doesn’t mean you are enslaving your precious pet. I possess a number of pets (both exotic and domestic) and each are treated like children. My Sheltie loves doing tricks and finds engaging in such behaviors to be fun. There are times she will come over and give me her paw completely unprompted. How many of you dress your pets up from Halloween, or put a sweater on your animal for walks on cold days? That is definitely not natural but it doesn’t make you an irresponsible pet owner either! Why is it okay to teach a canine a trick but not a cetacean? So for those of you wanting to jump on the “Blackfish” bandwagon, consider if you are violating the very premises that you are supposedly taking a stand for! Instead of allowing yourself to be manipulated by illusions, consider what the underlying message truly are.
A: The scene regarding separating a mother from her calf!
We will agree that this footage was heartbreaking. It will more than likely make you cry which is exactly what it was designed to do. The “documentary” provokes strong emotion but this is merely a clever disguise to hide the lack of actual research and facts! It using such gut wrenching images to build a case for a very subjective agenda. It is extremely effective at accomplishing the intended reaction, but tears do not equate to truth. With that said, we do not condone separating a mother and calf. This is absolutely wrong and can do a great deal of psychological damage to the animals. It is not acceptable practice! Yet SeaWorld does not condone separating mothers from their calves either. This is NOT their standard practice and is only done so in the event of a health emergency. Every reasonable effort is made to reunite mother and baby as soon as possible upon rehabilitation.
A: SeaWorld is not educational
SeaWorld is a world leader in education and research. Their parks are filled with opportunities for learning including many interactive experiences. Much of the park learning does require an individual to take the time to actually read the posted messages accompanying an exhibit but we live in a culture where people want to be passive observers, having information spoon fed to them. Laziness does not constitute lack of education. SeaWorld also does a fantastic job at creating curricula that is FREE to educators from PreK all the way through high school. The vast resources and lesson plans publicly available for download are incredible and utilized by teachers worldwide! A lot of time and money goes into this endeavor. There are also practical trainings and seminars available for educators at all of the parks. What about the more than 9 million dollars that SeaWorld has spent since 2003 alone to fund external research projects aimed at education and conservation? “Blackfish” fails to mention any of this!
A: We should just release them back into the wild
This belief really embraces just how uneducated the views from this “documentary” truly are. As highly social creatures, it would be cruel to sentence these animals to a life of solitude in an open ocean. These are animals that possess a high level of intelligence and teach behaviors to younger members of the group as they reside in tight units. Are we really so naïve as to believe a wild group of killer whales will simply adopt a new and strange animal into their group? The reality is they would more than likely be bullied or killed. Still in denial? Let me give you a side of pixie dust to go along with your fairytale! Then there is the whole sea pen argument. Captive Orcas dwell in highly filtered water. They are provided with restaurant quality food, and closely monitored by a team of veterinarians, marine biologists, and trainers. Our oceans possess pathogens, parasites, and contaminates that these animals have never encountered before. Chances are that the immunity levels are just not there. Seems like a death sentence to us. Do we want to discuss the overwhelming new stimuli (vibrations, sights, sounds, etc.) that these Orcas would suddenly be subjected to or should we just move on to the next point?
It is very alarming to me to witness the number of people suddenly boycotting SeaWorld because of this “documentary”. The other pet peeve that I have is the sudden number of Orca experts popping up all over the place. Watching a documentary does not make you an expert nor does it furnish you the luxury of being qualified to suddenly speak on behalf of the subject matter. We mean no disrespect in that statement, but it truly undermines those who have dedicated countless hours to hands-on experience with the species, or those who have dedicated years to pursuing an academic degree learning the intricacies of specific animal behavior and medicine.
Before you continue on your ‘”let SeaWorld suffer” campaign please stop and consider the ramifications of your actions. You are not hurting the higher ups or management teams. You are not teaching anyone a lesson. You are, however, hurting thousands of innocent animals. Animals like JJ the orphaned gray whale calf that required 14 months of expensive rehabilitation prior to being stable enough to return to the wild. By the way, this successful release marks one of the largest rescued animals ever returned to the wild. You are dismissing the more than 20,000 oil victim penguins that were assisted in 2000 after the Treasure oil spill in South Africa. This does not even account for the more than 700 orphaned penguin chicks that were given a second chance after this tragedy because of SeaWorld efforts. Who was there to assist after the BP oil spill? Yup, that was the SeaWorld Animal Rescue Team! How many of you knew that SeaWorld created an Oiled Wildlife Care Center? In the midst of your judging, have you even bothered to look at the work that the Hubbs SeaWorld Research Institute does an an annual basis? Need some more examples? Consider the over 300 cold-stunned endangered sea turtles that SeaWorld rehabilitated in 2010 after a record setting cold snap. Your boycotts are hurting animals like Valentine, the sea lion that was heartlessly shot by fishermen in 2012. Again, SeaWorld was there to help. They removed the bullet to the flipper, treated the severe wound, and successfully returned this precious animal to the wild after successful rehabilitation. I could go on and on with examples. Yes, SeaWorld makes a lot of money but it takes a lot to finance these sorts of endeavors. They are so much more than just an entertainment park but you won’t hear about that in “Blackfish”. How are future victims going to receive the state-of-the-art veterinary care and expensive rehabilitation needed to survive without corporations like SeaWorld?
The bottom line is that “Blackfish” does very little to actually seek out the truth. It is a highly subjective film that relies on provoking emotion to gain blind loyalty instead of actually investigating the issues at hand. There is a very specific agenda to this film and it is well masked in shocking images that are both unreliable and at times outdated. We live in a society that promotes blind acceptance of information as fact. This zombie-like mentality needs to stop! People need to wake up and learn to critically evaluate information for themselves. The purpose of this open letter is to encourage people to start analyzing information and doing research for themselves before reaching a conclusion. It is an attempt to highlight inconsistencies in thinking, and promote concrete stances. You do not have to agree with us, but please make sure you fully understand just what you are aligning yourself with and the consequences of those decisions. We do not want you to accept our stance as gospel truth either just because you read it on the internet. Do your own homework! We are confident the data will enlighten you!