SeaWorld is a bad place. In order to tell the whole story, let’s go back to the beginning:
A female orca named Shamu performed the first-ever orca show at SeaWorld in 1965 in San Diego. What many of the people watching didn’t realize, however, was that Shamu had been kidnapped from her mother. In fact, during Shamu’s capture, her mother was shot with a harpoon and killed right in front of her.
Don Goldsberry, business partner of the man who shot Shamu’s mother, later worked for SeaWorld. He continued kidnapping and slaughtering orcas, and at one point, he hired divers to slit open the stomachs of four orcas, fill them with rocks, put anchors around their tails, and sink them to the bottom of the ocean so that their deaths wouldn’t be discovered.
Orcas are not content in captivity. In nature, orca aggression toward humans is nearly non-existent. However, SeaWorld’s own records contain 600 pages of incident reports that document dangerous and unanticipated orca behavior with trainers—including more than 100 incidents in which they bit, rammed, lunged at, pulled, pinned, and swam aggressively with SeaWorld trainers, many of whom sustained injuries.
Many people would be shocked to discover that SeaWorld trainers often have NO formal education in marine biology. They are hired as entertainers, and their main purpose is to put on a “good show” for visitors.
In fact, much about SeaWorld is just for show. In the wild, orcas spend up to 95 percent of their time submerged in the shady depths of the ocean. At SeaWorld, their tanks are far too shallow. The deepest tank is only 40 feet deep, not nearly deep enough to shade them from the sun. Because of this, orcas at SeaWorld have constant sunburns. These burns are hidden from the public with the help of black zinc oxide, which matches the animals’ skin. Although zinc oxide is also used as a sunblock, orcas almost always have sunburn before it’s applied.
In the wild, orcas can swim up to 100 miles in a single day. To them, SeaWorld’s tanks are the size of bathtubs. Imagine spending your entire life in a bathtub.
Everything about orcas’ lives at SeaWorld is artificial. They’re held captive in tiny, concrete tanks that are filled with chlorinated water. They often don’t get to live with their families and instead live either in lonely isolation or with orcas they may fight with. They’re given anti-anxiety drugs to relieve the stress of captivity and the endless monotony of swimming in small circles. They even break their teeth chewing on the metal bars and concrete sides of their tanks.
This is animal abuse.[peta-gif gif_id="10318" width="360"] Repetitive harmful behavior is common: This orca is banging his head on a slide-out at SeaWorld.
Bottlenose dolphins also suffer at SeaWorld. Dolphins are extremely smart and social—common bottlenose dolphins can live with up to 1,000 other dolphins in a pod! In the wild, they often travel more than 60 miles a day. In captivity, however, they can do nothing but swim in endless circles in small tanks. Their sonar bounces off the walls, which drives some of them insane. Because captive dolphins can’t choose who they are grouped with, they often attack their cagemates. Dolphins have even bitten SeaWorld visitors.
At least 62 dolphins have died in just 10 years at SeaWorld’s parks. Dolphins have also been injured while performing tricks. In 2012 at SeaWorld’s San Antonio facility, two dolphins performing a jumping trick crashed into each other, ejecting one from the tank onto the concrete walkway below. The dolphin lay bleeding and helpless as guests looked on.
SeaWorld also keeps sea lions, seals, and walruses captive. These animals are often kept in tanks with NO shade and are forced to look up into the blinding sun to beg for food. This sometimes results in premature blindness. Many of these animals suffer from psychological distress, as their tanks are a weak substitute for their natural habitat.
SeaWorld also holds beluga whales captive. In the wild, belugas live in the open ocean and have a life expectancy of 35 to 50 years. In captivity, they live a sad life in tiny concrete tanks, and many die prematurely. In 2015, a 2-year-old captive-bred beluga named Stella died at SeaWorld San Antonio. She can be added to a tally of at least 58 beluga deaths at SeaWorld locations.
SeaWorld and other marine parks and aquariums have proved again and again that belugas cannot thrive in tiny concrete tanks where they are denied everything that is natural and important to them.
Did you know that SeaWorld even keeps penguins captive? It’s true. These small animals can easily become stressed and frightened by forced contact with humans. However, SeaWorld trucks them around the country to be used in photo ops. SeaWorld once even shipped penguins in plastic crates via FedEx from California to Michigan.
Sarah Fischbeck, a water-quality diver who worked at SeaWorld San Diego from 2007 to 2013, told The Dodo that she would find all sorts of things in the penguins’ habitat—including shoes and pennies—and that the animals would eat the items, causing serious health problems.
In 1978, SeaWorld captured two shortfin mako sharks from their ocean homes. These sharks, once trapped in an exhibit, swam stiffly and had trouble avoiding the walls of the tank. Within three days, they ran into a wall, sank to the bottom of the enclosure, and died. Sadly, this didn’t stop SeaWorld from continuing to capture and imprison different species of sharks.
Wild sharks live very differently from sharks trapped in SeaWorld’s “Shark Encounter.” In nature, some species swim up to 45 miles day. Captive sharks can do nothing but swim in endless circles or back and forth in the tanks. They have even been known to sustain injuries from running into the sides of the tanks.
SeaWorld has created a miserable situation for animals. It has recently taken the first step to repair SOME of the damage it’s done by ending its orca-breeding program. But this does nothing for the 29 orcas still imprisoned at SeaWorld who will continue to swim in endless circles in the tiny tanks for decades. And it does nothing for all the other animals who are still confined to tiny cages and tanks and forced to perform tricks for tourists in exchange for food.