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What This Veterinarian Found at SeaWorld San Antonio

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Posted August 11, 2015 by Kim Johnson

A recent visit to SeaWorld San Antonio by veterinarian Dr. Heather Rally exposed the health problems with confining animals and then denying them everything that is natural and important to them.

SeaWorld San Antonio 1 orcas in tank

Many of the animals confined at SeaWorld—including beluga whales, orcas, bottlenose dolphins, and sea lions—die before their time in chlorine-filled tanks.

Beluga Whales

The recent death of a baby beluga whale at SeaWorld San Antonio may have hit the media, but one fact that SeaWorld doesn’t want you to know is that since 1993, more than a dozen other beluga whales have died prematurely at this Texas location alone.

sea world san antonio 2 beluga

Orcas

Six orcas are housed at SeaWorld San Antonio. Why were only five of them observed during shows?

Collapsed Dorsal Fins

As observed by Dr. Rally, every single captive adult male orca has a collapsed dorsal fin, a condition that rarely occurs in wild orcas and is believed to result from a combination of limited space and extended time spent at the surface. In the wild, it may be a sign of an unhealthy, stressed orca.

Kyuquot is the largest orca at San Antonio and has a completely collapsed dorsal fin.

seaworld san antonio 3 orca rake marks collapsed dorsal fin

At the show, Dr. Rally notes that SeaWorld misrepresented orca expert Dr. Ingrid Visser’s 1998 study on wild orcas in New Zealand to support a false claim that collapsed dorsal fins are as common in wild orcas as they are in captivity. However, as Visser and her paper made clear, only one orca out of 30 males had a complete dorsal fin collapse like Kyuquot’s. In another population in Norway, only one of 174 adult males had a dorsal fin that was collapsed or bent in any way.

SeaWorld san antonio 4 orca dorsal fin

This wasn’t the first time that SeaWorld has twisted Visser’s findings. Back in May 2014, it used her own research to respond inaccurately to her question regarding Blackfish in its #AskSeaWorld campaign.

Rake Marks

The most common form of injury is when the teeth of dominant orcas scrape the skin of less aggressive animals. In the wild, orcas maintain tight-knit social groups consisting of compatible orcas, and if necessary, orcas can swim away to avoid aggressive attacks by more dominant animals—but in captivity, there’s no way for orcas to escape. This can result in painful, serious injuries and chronic stress, which were seen in several of the orcas performing at SeaWorld.

Seaworld san antonio 5 rake marks

Dental Trauma

Many orcas at SeaWorld have worn or broken teeth—mostly from biting on the gates and sides of the cramped tanks that surround them.

seaworld san antonio 6 teeth

Dr. Rally notes that in order to prevent death by infection, captive facilities often drill holes into the pulp cavities of broken or worn teeth in order to open them enough to be flushed and cleaned daily for the rest of the animal’s life. This has historically been done without sedation and is very likely painful to the animals. This type of dental trauma and wearing of the teeth is highly uncommon in orcas living naturally in the wild.

seaworld san antonio 7 teeth

Family Structure

At SeaWorld, many calves have been torn away from their mothers, which can cause significant social and psychological problems for the rest of their lives. Orcas in the wild live in pods, which are bonded groups of up to 30 orcas—including mothers and their offspring—who may travel together for their entire lives.

seaworld san antonio 8 jumping orca and calf

Dr. Rally observed this orca, believed to be Takara, performing tricks for entertainment with her calf Sakari. They haven’t been separated yet, but they could be. Takara has had two calves separated from her before—including Trua, who was observed in isolation at SeaWorld Orlando—and was separated from her own mother after 12 years.

seaworld san antonio 9 orca in wild© iStock.com/hanhanpeggy

 Seals and Sea Lions

“Seals and sea lions are housed in a small open-air enclosure without any shade. They spend a significant amount of their time begging for food from members of the public who are encouraged to purchase fish to feed to them.” – Dr. Heather Rally

Eye Injuries

At SeaWorld, there’s little shade above or below the surface of the water where animals can retreat from the scorching sun. Lack of shade can cause myriad health problems, including sunburn, stress, and ocular damage.

seaworld san antonio 10 sea lions

Dr. Rally writes, “The enclosure is constructed such that the perimeter wall where food is being presented is high and directly above the water where the animals swim. This means that the animals are forced to look directly up into the sunlight in order to beg and/or catch food.”

One scientific study determined that a lack of ultraviolet-protected shade is a risk factor for ocular disease in sea lions. The lack of shade in this enclosure, coupled with the fact that animals are forced to look directly into the sunlight when begging for fish, puts animals at a higher risk for ocular damage and disease, which are common in captive seals and sea lions.

What You Can Do

Based on the observations and expert opinion of veterinarian Dr. Heather Rally, PETA has filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Agriculture regarding numerous apparent violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act. PETA urged the agency to inspect SeaWorld Antonio and hold the company accountable for any violations.

Never go to any SeaWorld park and urge your friends and family to stay away, too!  Spread the word that animals are not ours to use for “entertainment”:

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