Update: In 2016, faced with plunging stock and impending state and federal legislation to ban orca breeding, SeaWorld was forced to end its orca-breeding program because according to its CEO, “the data and trends showed it was either a SeaWorld without whales or a world without SeaWorld.” But this does nothing for the 29 orcas that SeaWorld still imprisons who will continue to swim circles in their tiny tanks for decades. And it does nothing for all the other animals at SeaWorld who are still confined to tiny cages and tanks, and are forced to perform tricks for tourists in exchange for food.
Didn’t think kidnapping a baby orca from his family, imprisoning him in a bathtub with strangers, and withholding food from him so that he’ll do tricks for a paying audience is f****d up enough? No worries, SeaWorld adds a twisted cherry on top by training its employees to “sexually stimulate” (yep …) said kidnapped, now-adult orca so that the marine park can breed more trick-turning, baby-bearing slaves.
Seems crazy, right? So when you hear about a new baby orca being born at SeaWorld, here’s the sticky backstory that came first.
Male orcas are literally trained to float on their backs and present their penis so that SeaWorld trainers can “sexually stimulate” them to collect their sperm. According to The Orca Project, an anonymous former SeaWorld trainer comments,
“It was rustic, latex gloves and KY Jelly, as I recall.”
Tilikum, the largest orca in captivity, is the number one source of semen for SeaWorld’s breeding program.
The 12,500-pound orca was captured near Iceland at just 2 years old in November of 1983—that’s over 30 years ago. After spending a year in a cement holding tank in Iceland, he was shipped off to Sealand of the Pacific in Canada, where he was held in a 35-foot-deep pool with two other orcas who constantly bullied and attacked him. Understandably, Tilly suffered from severe stress and frustration in confinement and made history by tragically killing part-time trainer Keltie Byrne. She would be the first of three deaths caused by Tilly in his next 30 years of confinement.
Shortly after the death of Keltie, Sealand closed its doors for good and put Tilikum up for sale as though he were nothing more than a commodity. SeaWorld quickly purchased him for the park’s breeding program apparently giving little thought to his reputation for killing and aggression. Tilikum’s sperm was used to build up a collection of orcas, and now, 54 percent of SeaWorld’s orcas have his genes.
There has only been a single documented case of orca aggression with humans in the wild, but aggression in captive orcas is common. We know that this is caused by the stress of confinement, but genetics may also play a role. So why on Earth does SeaWorld continue to use Tilly as a sperm bank and force artificial insemination on its female orcas?
“It’s quite simple to answer,” former SeaWorld trainer Jeffrey Ventre says in Blackfish. “His semen is worth a lot of money.”
Gross AF. And life for the female orcas at SeaWorld isn’t much better: They’re artificially inseminated and forced to breed at a much younger age than they would in nature. Katina was forced to give birth when she was only 9 years old (at least five years earlier than she would have naturally in the wild). Now, she is used as a breeding machine and was even inbred with her own sons.