8 SeaWorld and Captive Orca Criticisms that are Completely Misguided

You fail.
You fail. | Source

There are 23 killer whales currently in SeaWorld’s care (55 worldwide, and around 36 adults have died at the parks). 23.

If as much energy, vitriol, and attention was injected into easily resolvable conservation-related subjects (such as for instance, ending the free-roaming of pet cats) as it is with hating SeaWorld after the numerous exhibitions of the documentary Blackfish, we would see a substantial increase in our local biodiversity. Yet it isn’t to be.

In our current virality and trend obsessed culture, popularity, by whichever mechanisms bring such forth, rules the roost—and this is why one tragic disease is on everyone’s mind in 2014 (ALS). It is also why one string of aquariums garners more negative attention than any other, despite—as I’m sure it will be difficult for critics to argue against—having not done anything overtly more ‘horrible’ than any other zoological facility. It’s not that some of the criticisms aren’t valid, but at this point, much of them are absurdly flying off the handle to the point that they aren't questioned anymore.

The captivity of any and all organisms is a trial and error process and just like with most examples of these processes, there exists errors with such trials. In other words, captivity isn’t perfect, just like ‘the wild’ isn’t. Is SeaWorld the first zoo to make errors? Not by a long shot. But with a little help from pseudo-science claiming cetaceans to be just as intelligent as humans (or more) and the sensationalistic ‘David and Goliath’ parable super-glued into many minds, the appeal to focus on SeaWorld and only SeaWorld remains ever robust, and closing it down a rapturous yet foolish desire.

1. Making orcas perform is cruel

Training sessions, such as what the killer whales of SeaWorld receive, are absolutely essential husbandry methods that enhance the welfare and well-being of many captive animals. Whether you find SeaWorld’s shows to be exploitation, circusy in nature (I know, I get it, I hated flashy animal shows before it was cool, and still do) or demeaning to a ‘magnificent’ wild animal, they are essentially training sessions dressed up in flashy fanfare.

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There are many critics that are imploring SeaWorld to “retire” their killer whales, or in other words, make them ‘stop working’ in the form of participating in these shows. Many feel that it is ‘cruel’ to make animals work for their food, as though they would rather them have fish routinely dumped in their mouths, day after day.

I ask such critics, how many wild orcas get such handouts? Orcas in the wild must work for their food, everyday, or they don’t get fed. In fact, this activity fulfills most of the mental stimulation requirements the animals require in their natural lives I find that target training is an extremely useful tool in the management of my own exotic pet. This is me doing exactly what SeaWorld does without music.

I know that if I let my pet 'choose' to be fed instead of exercise, he would rapidly gain weight and endanger his health both mentally and physically. This similar cycle occurs with humans, and is flat out common sense, but for those who need some scientific proof, this study involving the orca's dolphin relatives is suitable.

Complain about the music, the corniness, or other aspects of the presentation all you want, but to halt the animal’s food motivated training sessions because it makes some humans uncomfortable would be foolish, at best.

2. Orcas need live food

The website SeaWorld of hurt states:

“Diet of Pig and Cow Bones”: In captivity, orcas are unable to hunt and obtain water from their prey, so SeaWorld gives them gelatin, a substance that is not natural for them, in an attempt to keep them hydrated.”

Oh no, it's not natural! Is this new? Little or no captive animals eat a ‘natural diet’. My pet green iguana eats chopped salads and not a single leaf is derived from a plant native to South America from which iguanas originate. Most people feed their dogs dry kibble, and even people who feed domesticated pets raw meals, which they proclaim are superior, give their cats foods like beef, turkey, and fish, and we all know how cats love water. In reality, the ‘natural’ diet of cats and their wild relatives are small rodents, insects, and birds, not large domesticated herbivores or ocean dwelling bonito.

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Here, once again, the appeal to nature fallacy rears its ugly head. People need to know and understand that natural does not always equal optimal. In fact, one population of orca whales has effectively decimated their dental health (something SeaWorld is also accused of imposing on captive orcas) with a ‘natural’ diet of sharks.

“In most offshore killer whale specimens, tooth wear was categorised as extreme (rating 4). Teeth were usually worn flat to the gum line, with exposed pulp cav-ities in the anterior 6 to 8 rows of mandibular teeth.”

This particular criticism of SeaWorld’s husbandry is perhaps one of the most confounding. Of course, live fish would offer a substantial enrichment opportunity for the animals, just as it may for other animals (although I find it unethical), but alternatives are far from inherently bad for animals.

Some also argue that wild-caught dolphins (which SeaWorld doesn’t import anymore) have to be force-fed dead fish, and this is true, although this is probably because they do not recognize it as food, in the same sense that an animal raised in captivity wouldn’t recognize live animals as food. Simply put, some animals prefer what they are used to and literally do not perceive something new as edible. Stress from capture could also be a reason.

So indeed, SeaWorld feeds dead fish, supplementary gelatin, and uses multivitamins, probably for convenience, but this is not a unique practice. Criticizing the zoo on the grounds of being ‘unnatural’ is silly.

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3. Sea pens are The Answer

Keiko the killer whale, also famously known as ‘Free Willy’, floated in his sea pen, listlessly and lethargically, despite having been freed from a concrete tank, despite being in the Icelandic waters of his homeland, surrounded by migrating conspecifics and the ‘rhythm of the ocean’, as SeaWorld detractors sometimes put it. All this stimulation did not morph long-time captive Keiko into the gallivanting joyous fantasy of an animal that Blackfish sympathizers probably picture.

Instead, the friendly animal was in poor physical shape (though doing much better than his condition in his previous Mexican home), that is until the Free Willy-Keiko Foundation, some of which included former SeaWorld trainers, helped him develop the skills to survive in the wild (it ended up not working) through specially designed training sessions, including Keiko working for his food.

Much more of this story can be read in the new book Killing Keiko by Mark Simmons.

The concept of the all mighty sea pen is designed to make Blackfish followers feel like there is a 'light at the end of the tunnel' for the crime of captivity—something they can fight for and refuse to compromise until the goal is met. Seeing an animal in a bay pen makes humans feel good, and they cannot and will not consider that the animal might not share our sentiments.

The major benefit I predict for sea pens is the ease of providing more space (which I will describe the benefits of later), but I am unable to secure facts on how large any proposed sea pens will be.

This animal rights organizations seems to detest sea pens. Their criticisms of the Israel-based dolphin park Dolphin Reef include:

"A sea pen is still a captive facility. A dolphin which would normally travel hundreds of miles throughout oceans and dive hundreds of feet is, at Dolphin Reef, contained in a shallow bay a tiny fraction of the size of the usual area it would have to explore and hunt."

What makes their criticism laughable is this:

"Yes, for six years a small 'door' was left in these nets. However, these dolphins are habituated - they receive food in the pen and no longer need to hunt - why would they not come back to their pen if they thought food was readily available there?"

Sorry humans, we actually like being fed

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Bingo. Why would an animal want to live in the wild when it can be in the care of humans? Basically, these pens used to remain open, so the dolphins could even leave if they wanted to. This isn't good enough for the typical religious natural-philliac. They proclaim that the dolphin cannot make the decision to stay with its own free-will—that humans are enslaving them, psychologically, with the same comforts we enjoy.

When you have activists this foolish, we can certainly expect people to project their own desires on to animals and assume that anything other than the ocean is cruel for cetaceans. Sea pen advocates also severely downplay or completely ignore the pathogenic risks that will be imposed on animals whose immune systems haven't adapted to the environment.

This is certainly not to say that sea pens and in some rare cases release goals shouldn't be attempted, but just like enclosure expansions, they are experimental trial and error, and those who believe that a sea pen transition will deliver instant feel-good results (in our perception) for the animals have been misinformed.

I believe that sea pen facilities would be a wonderful addition to America's zoos, and then perhaps we could collect some real evidence on whether or not the animals significantly benefit from being in the ocean, and gradually make the change if so (hint hint, SeaWorld, maybe you should start one).

Perhaps, theoretically, if the animals can thrive and yes, breed there (just like with elephants, orcas likely benefit from starting families), then everyone's interests can be satiated (except for faith-following natural-philiacs). Sea pen facilities can be perfect for rehabilitation of large animals like baleen whales and orphans like A73.

Moving some orcas to sea pens that are the best candidates (the positives outweigh the negatives, such as with Lolita who resides in an undersized tank presumably) can contribute to our understanding of the animals both in the wild and captivity, but failures, even death, are possibilities.

4. Adding more room will not help

After much public pressure and scrutiny, SeaWorld has proposed that they will build a larger tank for their orca residents, expanding their enclosures an additional 1.5 acres. This announcement, unsurprisingly, was met with criticism.

"Nothing about enlarging the pools will deal with the stress and health issues associated with captivity. So, to me, enlarging the pools shows that they understand there's a problem with the environment,"

Says Tim Zimmerman, co-writer of Blackfish. What an extremely unscientific (as well as damaging) assumption to make. The reason a larger tank fails to create a dent in the extreme anger people have toward captive killer whales is because of this awesomely terrible logic that I will write about more extensively in other articles: orca whales swim hundreds of miles a day, therefore they need to. If this were true, the sea pen proposal would be a joke. The size of the world’s largest sea pen would be an atom compared to the entire ocean.

SeaWorld's Blue World project
SeaWorld's Blue World project

Did you know that one extremely popular pet, the hamster, can travel up to 5 miles a day in the wild, but even a 50 gallon tank (which by a wide margin most people do not keep them in) is still pathetically sized compared to that? No, let’s take that a step further. If I made an enclosure for a hamster the size of my room…no, my house, it would STILL be pathetic—a drop in the bucket compared to the miles rodents normally run, but I think most people would find that amount of room to be absurd for one hamster.

I can already hear my detractors yelling ‘a hamster is dumb, nowhere near the intelligence of orcas’. What about elephants?

No one seems to mind when ‘undersized’ enclosures (one that does not provide the same space as the wild) are used by ‘animal sanctuaries’ that deride zoos. The Performing Animal Welfare Institute (P.A.W.S) prides themselves on their enormous elephant pens of over 80 acres, which still do not simulate any species of elephant’s wild range.

For example, in one study the Bornean elephant’s range was found to be about 61776 acres (which I calculated from the 250 of the 250 km2 to 400 km2 figure)not 80! That’s almost 700x the size of their enclosure! But I don’t think this matters a hair. 80 acres is more than sufficient, and we have no reason to believe that smaller sizes couldn’t be just as acceptable, particularly with a great enrichment program.

But that’s not all. In the study:

“The results also show that home range and movement rate for the elephants are influenced by the degree of habitat fragmentation.” And in fragmented forests (i.e., decimated ones) “the annual home range for elephants is estimated to be around 600 km2.”

Elephants travel more when resources are limited. There’s a shocker. People who oppose wild animals working for their food will surely be horrified to learn that animals in the wild must not only work for their food, but tediously follow it.

Why does the Marine Mammal Protection act ban any interaction with or feeding of wild cetaceans?

"It changes their natural behaviors, including feeding and *migration activities*, and decreases their willingness to forage for food on their own."

That's a fancy way of saying the animal will intelligently decide that getting free food from humans is a lot more satisfying than constantly chasing their natural prey. They aren't doing it for fun.

Do wildebeests enjoy their 'Great Migration', in which they must expose themselves and their newly born calves to an assortment of predators, in order to access more resources? This includes trudging across rivers filled with crocodiles.

In addition to the inherent silliness of believing animals must travel as much as their wild counterparts, it is true that many zoo enclosures are certainly too small, bringing us back to the trial and error process I mentioned earlier (I, for one, am also sick of seeing animals like bears, big cats, and wild dogs in enclosures they can barely run in).

Elephants are such an animal, and we now know they should have sufficient room to travel in order to ward of killers such as obesity, joint problems, and infertility, BUT this does not mean 1000 acres, we can probably see much improvement with 5. At the right is a wonderful 7 acre facility for African elephants at the North Carolina Zoo (elephant death causes for this zoo are 5 bacterial infections, 1 degenerative nerve disease, and one due to old age, most deaths having occurred in the 90’s and 80’s).

Much of the proposed welfare issues that compromise the welfare of orcas can be pinpointed to social stress and strife. Poor dentition, which kills orcas in the wild, also contributes to the deaths of captive orcas, and much of said poor dentition is said to be a result of dominance displays called ‘jaw popping’. More space has the potential to assuage this issue, or possibly even remedy it.

The key to hypothesizing the right amount of space for captive animals is to consider room for animals to avoid conflict, or be able to get out of view from the aggressor, enough room to sufficiently exercise, and enough room to keep the animal mentally stimulated, though a large portion of this will come from other sources of enrichment.

In my opinion, several acres stand a better chance of making the most impactful difference for captive animals like cetaceans, elephants, and chimpanzees (see my statement about the Arhem Zoo), though SeaWorld’s proposal of adding an additional 1.5 acres can still quite possibly stand a chance at dramatically improving the welfare of the animals, particularly if it is utilized in a science-based manner with an understanding of animals. So basically, there could very well be a light at the end of this tunnel, one that unscientifically-minded natural-philiacs have a devoted faith to not consider.

5. Artificially inseminating killer whales is ‘bad’

Criticizing Seaworld for breeding the animals at young ages? Perfectly valid. But for collecting semen? One criticism SeaWorld faces that defies logic is the shocked, appalled reaction people have toward this completely common technique of producing animals, both domesticated and not, in captivity. The popular animal rights blog The Dodo (or ‘The Dumb Dumb’, as I like to refer to it as) states:

“While not drastically harmful to the animals, this is far from natural behavior and often doesn’t result in pregnancy.”

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As you can see by now, my criticisms of SeaWorld’s criticisms will have a common theme of me expressing irritation with the ‘natural’ obsessed crowd. Not only is it invalid to assume that something unnatural is automatically harmful, but the critics often blunder with their complete inability to see the double standard they create with their piling accusations against orca care takers. Dog breeds like the bulldog routinely make America’s top 10 most popular breeds, and they literally epitomize ‘unnatural’. This breed is famous for its health problems, and on top of that, it cannot mate naturally:

“Artificial insemination has become a very common means of reproduction for many breeds of dogs but it is actually a necessity for English Bulldogs, few of which can mate naturally.”

---Puppychase kennels

Here is an article on ‘The Dumb Dumb’ that glamorizes the debilitated breed. I do not want to get overly sidetracked with this article and rant about another subject I strongly believe in, but I’m astounded at the foolishness associated with the ‘domestication myth’, in which people are appalled with the treatment of ‘wild animals’ and couldn’t care less when it occurs with a ‘domesticated’ animal. It's time people stop viewing animals as 'this and that' and just start viewing them as animals.

However, there are also videos that feature semen collection on elephants and cows in graphic detail—and let’s face it—the orca semen collection videos are far less disgusting in comparison. The animals are not harmed, and there is no outrage. Also, Dodo’s criticism that it doesn’t always result in a pregnancy? I can’t figure out why this bothers them.

6. Orca aggression is the result of mental illness

One of the main points of Blackfish is the history of Tilikum and his so-called involvement in three human deaths. It is suggested throughout the documentary that the orca might be ‘psychotic’ from the stress of captivity and it is even insinuated that SeaWorld is propagating ‘human-killing genes’ in their orca population by using Tilikum as a sperm donor (which does negate that the behavior is brought on by captivity).

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Mental illness, in order to be considered as such, must “cause frequent stress and affect your ability to function”. As humans, we would know mental illness, considering that up to 40% of Americans carry at least a mild form, according to one 2005 study. Yet we largely have a perception of mental disorders resulting in abnormal aggression. While a large part of the populace believes that aggression is mostly caused by a mental disorder "…the vast majority of people who are violent do not suffer from mental illnesses (American Psychiatric Association, 1994).

Aggression in healthily functioning killer whales can and does exist just as it does us. Yes, it is perfectly possible that a captivity-induced stressor could have affected the animal in that moment, but there is little logic to believe a mental disorder, or frequent stress, is the cause.

Now, please be aware that I am not claiming that Tilikum, Nootka IV or Haida II (all involved with the death of trainer Keltie Byrne) are not ‘mentally ill’, because as a scientifically-minded person, I cannot know for sure either or. However, I do consider classifying attacks on humans as mentally ‘pathological’ behavior patently misguided.

No warm-blooded animals (and plenty of cold bloods too) have a finite behavioral repertoire. That is, just like humans, animal behavior is shaped by environmental factors, and this is even truer of cognitively complex mammals like orcas.

Take for instance Luna the killer whale, featured in Blackfish to manipulate audiences into believing that wild orcas are puppy dog-like toward human visitors in the wild (orcas typically avoid humans and other orcas), yet in doing so revealed the ignorance of its creators.

Luna was behaving abnormally because of abnormal conditions, much of which we will never fully understand. The key to my example is this: did anyone decry that Luna was mentally ill? The answer is no—in fact his presence was so beloved that Blackfish’s director chose to feature him in order to make the point ‘look how abnormally aggressive captive orca whales are!’.

Luna was likely not ill but given the conditions of his upbringing, he did not successfully integrate into a killer whale pod which is paramount to their survival. He instead found positive reinforcement interacting with humans. A Canadian federal fisheries officer said, "I don't think he realizes he's a whale. He thinks he's one of the boys." This particular ‘phenomenon’ occurs with our domesticated pets.

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So now that I’ve established that ‘abnormal’ behavior doesn’t equate to a debilitating mental illness, what about so-called abnormal aggression?

Dr. Ingrid Visser reports in one study that two killer whales with rake marks were likely targets of other (psychotic?) killer whales. Interspecies aggression between orcas is uncommon but does occur, and if it can occur between wild whales, why not with humans that spend an immeasurable amount of time with them compared to wild orcas? Regardless, normal or not, captivity is not normal, and a captive orca might have as much in common with a wild orca as a human raised in New York City has with a human born into a tribe in Papua New Guinea.

All humans have aggressive tendencies, but the cultural catalytic source of such aggressive ignition varies tremendously from culture to culture and individual to individual. This strange desire of people to simplify the orca mind flies in the face or their ‘they’re just like humans’ view (in this context, orcas are like humans. Just like chimpanzees, their ‘cultural’ and social behaviors are dependent on whom they are raised by at an early age).

Also, here are some fundamental differences between wild and captive orcas:

  • Humans feed them every day
  • Humans interact with them every day
  • Captive orcas are exposed to humans 99.9% more often than wild orcas

Therefore, the emotional hypothesis ‘wild orca whales have never killed a human, therefore the deaths associated with them in captivity suggests the animals are mentally ill, overly stressed, or something else negative’ doesn’t fly and cannot fly. For killer whales or any other animal.

7. Collapsed dorsal fins mean a captive orca is unhealthy

SeaWorld of hurt writes:

“SeaWorld claims that this condition is common—however, in the wild, it rarely ever happens and is a sign of an injured or unhealthy orca.”

This is true of wild whales (see Ingrid Visser’s paper), but not captive orca whales. There are many theories surrounding the phenomena of the bent dorsal fin that mostly occurs with males because of their fin’s large size. The most probable hypothesis suggests that the male’s dorsal fin, which can grow up to 6 feet tall, maintains its erect structure due to the deep water swimming habits of the animal.

Source

The fin is made up of collagen, and the water pressure that the tissue is exposed to helps keep the structure straight. With this, we can see why an orca with a bent fin is likely not healthy in the wild, because such animals might not be diving as deep or swimming as fast. The state of the fin may also serve as a player in sexual selection like healthy peacock feathers that can only maintain their beauty in healthy animals. In captivity, the option to dive to deep depths doesn’t exist, therefore, healthy or not, the fin will flop.

Ruffling a peacocks feathers in captivity doesn’t make it unhealthy, and neither does the presence of the bent fin. If this theory isn’t convincing enough, in a discussion forum titled Voice of San Diego, long time SeaWorld critic Naomi Rose of the Animal Welfare Institute did in fact agree that the bent fin is not a health issue. Once again, the natural-philiacs cannot fathom an animal persisting outside of their original design, despite plentiful evidence to the contrary with other species. I’m happy to see at least one SeaWorld critic put to rest one of many anti-captivity speculations being pushed as stone cold truth.

8. We cannot learn from captive cetaceans

Anyone who believes that captive animal studies are near useless needs to read Chimpanzee Politics: Power and Sex among Apes by Frans de Waal. This book, acclaimed by many including respected primatologists and ethologists, follows the societal culture of a group of captive chimpanzees that are thriving in a large acreage exhibit at the Arnhem zoo.

Besides giving the human observer 24 hour, adulterated access to the animal subjects, captivity offers plentiful other opportunities for researchers that are difficult or impossible to achieve in field studies. This applies even more to the highly mobile, often submerged cetaceans where the majority of what we know about them comes from observing them on the surface of the water.

Because most cetaceans do not survive in captivity, it is likely that we are missing out on learning some exciting things about dolphins other than bottlenose dolphins and killer whales, which are the species most extensively studied.

In fact, how an animal’s behavior is shaped by captive conditions is entirely relevant to research. By comparing wild and captive cetaceans, we can deduct how strong a part environmental factors play in the development of their personality and skills, as in the aforementioned addressing of ‘abnormal behavior’.

Just like discovering what mechanisms code for cognitive behaviors in the human brain by studying patients that have diseases where parts of their brain are absent or not functioning properly, captive animals teach us what shapes them—nature vs. nurture.

One more thing I’d like to add.

“In fact, it is the usual experience that toothed whales, even though often equipped with powerful dentition and predatory habits in nature, submit docily to man in captive situations from the moment they are taken on board a collecting ship. They seldom even struggle. Such docility usually continues after capture, even in animals of such evil reputation as the killer whale”.

This passage is from Aggression and Defense: Neural Mechanisms and Social Patterns (1967). Many do like to forget the massive impact that captivity has head on the perception of animals like killer whales. This is why many facilities like the Wolf Conservation Center use ‘ambassador animals’ to educate younger generations about the persecution of certain species. The impact of the existence of captive animals cannot be denied.

The scientists involved with the animal rights movement are mostly aware of all this but downplay or ignore it. Also, they carry out the simple task of discrediting studies that suggest zoos and aquariums have educational benefits for the public by concluding there is no evidence, since most social studies of this nature are rife with scientific method issues inherently. I will not spin the usual propaganda with a photo of a baby gazing upon a zoo exhibit to help back up my claims. I know the impact that the presence of captive animals has had on me.

Disclaimer

Who are you? Do you work for SeaWorld?

Just a girl with pets who has done a minimal amount of reading to come to logical conclusions. I don't work for SeaWorld or any zoo. Any accusations of that nature will immediately be deleted.

Do you believe all animals are doing well in zoos?

Some are, some aren't.

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Comments 54 comments

ZookeeperByNature profile image

ZookeeperByNature 2 years ago

Under "Also, here are some fundamental differences between wild and captive orcas:" I think your third bullet might have a typo; I think you meant to put "Captive orcas are exposed to humans 99.9% more often than wild orcas," right?


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 2 years ago from New York Author

Yes, definitely, thanks. I adjusted that one twice and I still screwed it up. I'm also sure it's something more like '500%' more time, but math isn't my forte.


Breck123 2 years ago

Great article! This would really help in debates about SeaWorld.


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 2 years ago from New York Author

I would hope so Breck123.


Eiddwen profile image

Eiddwen 2 years ago from Wales

A great article Melissa. So well researched and presented ; found it very interesting. Voting up, like and sharing .

Eddy.


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 2 years ago from New York Author

Thanks Eddy.


BioVet 2 years ago

Umm I'd be really interested in see the reference for your mental illness quote. Also you label unnatural behaviour as abnormal behaviour (two different things) so not sure that you understand the distinction? When discussing abnormal behaviour and mental illness it might be helpful if you looked at some if the research done in animals in this area rather than plucking random selective facts.


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 2 years ago from New York Author

Hi Biovet, sorry about that, here is the source from Mayoclinic: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/ment...

Please expand on your concerns because I don't understand. The word 'unnatural' is hard to define. It generally means something altered by 'man', but some people believe there is no such thing as 'unnatural' because 'man' is natural. Therefore abnormal behavior can also be 'unnatural' behavior, if it is the result of the influence of humans. I do consider Luna's behavior to be abnormal, as normal for a killer whale isn't as friendly with humans or lonesome. Whenever I put these 'marks' on a word that means it is up for interpretation.


Wensleydale 2 years ago

Great article!

I find it ironic that you cited the ingrid visser paper, as she is currently heavily entrenched in badmouthing SeaWorld and other institutions in every way possible. I could say more about the crap she pulls, but it will just make me angry so I'll stop here. Frankly I think some of her research methods are inappropriate in this day and age, with all the technology we have.

You could do an article on what a jerk she is, ha.


whatever 2 years ago

I still refuse to believe orcas should be in captivity. I just don't see the point. These comments are curiously biased in your favour also...


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 2 years ago from New York Author

People don't seem to want to comment on this one unlike my others, not my fault. Whatever! :-o


SWC Member 2 years ago

Bahaha "whatever" likes to refuse to look at the facts, just like a LOT of anti-caps. I just skimmed this article, but it looks great! I hope to read it more in depth later. Keep up the good work!


Frida Nyberg profile image

Frida Nyberg 2 years ago from Sweden

Awesome stuff, and you're the ONLY one except me (that I've seen so far, anyway) to actually compare with other animals. :O

Orcas *are capable* of swimming *up to* 100 miles a day (equalling 366 feet per minute, 24/7, with no rest, feeding or play), when they need to in order to find food.

Also, horses are capable of running for 40 miles a day, and just think how many laps around an average paddock a horse would have to take to run 40 miles in one day? :O

Then of course, they immediately shout "But horses/hamsters/dogs/pigs/whatev are DOMESTICAETED!" as if that meant anything. Domestication is overrated. People seems to think domesticated animals are mindless machines, made for human use, and can't feel, while "wild" animals have a magical, innate need for "freedom" that we can't imagine. I don't think they *actually* believe that, they just don't think further than their nose.

Plus, we have tons of non-domesticated animals we keep in much smaller enclosures than orcas. Parrots, including budgies? Just look at their lives in the wild, compared to in a cage. Fish? Reptiles?

Separating parrots from their offspring as eggs or hatchlings in order to hand-feed them with syringes, then wing-clipping them and putting them in a cage where they can barely spread their wings? "Whatevah."

A few dozen whales spoiled rotten by well-educated zoo professionals? "YOU MUST DIE YOU EVUL PEOPLE!!!11"


leios 2 years ago

Excellent, EXCELLENT article!

About a year ago, when "Blackfish" first aired on CNN, I was extremely inclined to believe the documentary and became very anti-captivity for... Well, almost every animal species because of a single film.

I had somewhat hopped off the bandwagon a few months ago, but I still thought captivity was a terrible thing until I was offered an internship at a local sanctuary working with, you guessed it: captive wildlife.

After learning what really goes on behind the scenes, the hard work that is put into preparing diets so the animals get all the nutrients they need, daily medical examinations, and the different enrichment devices that are done to keep the animals active and engaged, made me realize that my "criticisms" of SeaWorld and other marine parks weren't valid.

Granted, I do still have my share of criticism, and I don't think any zoological facility is perfect by any means. However, most of the hate that gets directed at SeaWorld comes from people who truly have NO idea what work actually goes on behind the scenes to create the best lives possible for the animals.


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 2 years ago from New York Author

Thank you Frida. This is why I focus intensively on the subject of domestication. What does it mean? Almost nothing. I just recently found out that hamsters are hardly domesticated. The word gives a false impression about what animals need, no wonder they suffer in captivity too under ownership by ignorant people. All animals need the same exact things. By the way, do you have the transcript to this video? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gBJZNfCQ0qg&list=U...


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 2 years ago from New York Author

Great leios. I would be suspicious of someone with zero criticism but the intensive focus on SeaWorld by people is beyond absurd.


Frida Nyberg profile image

Frida Nyberg 2 years ago from Sweden

What do you mean by transcript? I made it (as I guess you can tell), some months ago, when I wasn't too educated but was just beginning to learn about the lies I had been told.


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 2 years ago from New York Author

By that I just mean the words, so I can navigate it more easily on a word document. Is there something there that isn't true?


CCTS 2 years ago

There are 29 orcas in Seaworld's care, check their inventory, the orcas at Loro Parque are all belonging to Seaworld.

1. They would probably prefer to catch their own fish as they are predators, not carrion eaters and if they did eat live fish they wouldn't need hydrating either. Wild orcas don't drink the sea they get all their fluids from their prey and it isn't present in frozen fish, hence the hoses and gelatin. In your last sentence it says training is food motivated, we all know that as they hold orcas at half base for optimum performance, but Seaworld deny that and say it doesn't happen. You just contradicted them.

2. The orcas in Seaworld tanks are not offshore killer whales. The offshore whales rub their teeth down as sharkskin is like sandpaper so you can't really make the comparison. Those in the tanks are resident fish eaters, caught following the herring fleet, if you compare say Seaworld's orcas teeth to those of Lolita there is a huge difference, which shows the stresses and aggression from being placed in an artificial group.

3. On page 209 of killing keiko it says it used to take Mark 15 minutes or more to find Keiko. He used to go off for days at a time and when he finally swam away the boat had come in to get out of a storm and he was off. He arrived in Norway 60 days later so would have been emaciated if he couldn't feed himself but he wasn't there are many statements testifying to how fit he was even from Robin Friday see here http://captivecetaceans-tragicallysad.blogspot.co.... You can also see that in 33:00 of the recent Awesome Ocean Mark Simmons questions and answers Mark admits that the ocean didn't kill Keiko, he could have lived in there with his carers, which is what people have been asking for. We all know the hybrids and the inbreds Seaworld created would never be allowed into the open ocean as they have no conservation value whatsoever $6 and those needing husbandry could not go, but they could live the life of an orca. Keiko learnt how to catch fish again and dolphins who have been released after being born into captivity can function in the ocean too. Why don't Seaworld try?

4. Why is this expansion built onto the show tank? As for making the comparison of migration, wildebeest are driven by that urge crocodiles or not. Orcas on the other hand learn. Take big Mel, before he died he taught his pod to come through the surf without getting beached and risking death to catch sealion pups. Now there are only 7 orcas in the world who can do this, all from the same pod, I bet they couldn't catch a sting ray though like the new zealand orcas can. What are they going to do with the likes of Corky and Ulises, Corky cannot be in a tank with Ulises as he causes her to shut down completely? What about the matralines that are split across the parks, in a sea pen they could be put back together, maybe those poor orcas as Loro Parque could be brought back too as they have a horrible time there. There are lots of what ifs. Even Todd Robeck said the wild can never be replicated in a tank and if you see or even watch videos of wild orca their behaviour is nothing like the ones at Seaworld so you may as well just show people a picture.

5. AI - the reason people protest it is what purpose does it serve? It created hybrid orcas which in any institution that is not self governing is not allowed, they have no conservation value. It has been documented from wild studies that orcas have calves approx 5 years apart, but many of Seaworld orcas are still nursing the last one before being made pregnant again. Look at Kohana, pregnant at 6 by her uncle Keto, rejected Adan, no matriarch in the pool, Julie Scardina testified in court that they are always supervised by Seaworld and for the first few years Seaworld trainers were a constant prescent, what do they do, AI her so by 8 she had Vicky, rejected again and dead at 10 months. Seaworld are the cause of their own AI protests as they do not treat those orcas right with it.

6. Allegedly involved in 3 deaths? There is no doubt all 3 were involved with Keltie Byrne. With Daniel Dukes Seaworld said he died of hypothermia and no one knew he was there until morning. I find that hard to believe as his medical examiners report shows a completely different story with pre and post mortem injuries https://www.scribd.com/doc/119465495/Daniel-Dukes-... and as his testicles were completely pulled off you can't tell me that security didn't hear or see something! If they genuinely didn't then they don't deserve their jobs as it could have been someone inflicting injury on Tilikum and if that was the case then what is the point of security. Daniel Dukes mother and father sued Seaworld and their solicitor also stated that he had injured in his ankle and foot consistent with being pulled into the pool. Which raises the question is that why Seaworld didn't see anything?? Blackfish tried to establish a reason for all the attacks, as strangely they do not happen with such frequency in any other tank in the world so why do Seaworld orcas do it so often?

7. Indeed Naomi Rose did say a bent dorsal fin isn't a sign of illness, it is a sign of captivity. Also in that same debate Todd Robeck also said that Seaworld' s website WAS misleading as the paper Ingrid Visser had written which Seaworld cited was for her own New Zealand orca pod, not for the worldwide population, hence her protesting Seaworld. For the person chatting on about you using Ingrid Visser's paper here's why she challenged them and you can see the vet admit that Seaworld misused it and it was misleading. Also as you correctly said it is made of collagen not cartilage as the vet said twice.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q8WVgYHIk9U

Last section do we learn from them. We obviously learn about their births as the chance of seeing them in the wild would be rare, but from wild studies science has learnt about their pod structure, their unique languages and calls, what they eat, how they interact etc. In a tank this cannot be seen, well not in a Seaworld tank, in Kamogawa's it could be as there is one matraline with Stella at the head, but sadly not split over 2 parks, plus they are all Icelandic, same with Marineland Antibes, mostly Freya's matraline but all Icelandic. Out of interest and to prove a point compare their attack rates with those of Seaworlds, then decide what is causing the frustration in those tanks. Compare their teeth with those of Seaworld's and compare how they interact with each other as their babies are their with them as they should be, not separated across the parks or as in the 4 Loro Parque orcas, in a different country. The gene pools are almost ran out now, when these parks initially took orcas from the wild, no one realised what damage it would do, no one knew they grieved, how strong their family bonds were, how they stayed together in matralines etc but we do now. No one knew each pod had its own dialect, but we do now. No one knew how old orcas were when they started breeding or how often they had calves but we do now. Despite all the scientific evidence Seaworld still breed 6 year old orcas, still keep strangers in a tank and still perform circus shows with them instead of letting them be what they were born to be. When you look at this like you have from an I love Seaworld viewpoint using words like pseudo science etc, things get blurred. If you look at neither Seaworld's evidence or Blackfish's evidence and look up court papers, necropsys, animal profiles, NOAA permits, official documents proving the lies they have told people you will see a whole different picture of Seaworld and may see where people like me are coming from.


Anonymous 2 years ago

@CCTS - While I don't agree with your comment, I'm happy to see that you don't appear to be just one of the Blackfish-bandwagoners. Thank you. I'd like to respectfully address at some of your comments.

With the "29 orcas in SeaWorld's care" - they belong to SeaWorld, but they are not directly in SeaWorld's care, although Loro Parque apparently does get assistance from SeaWorld. This isn't a major point, though.

1. What Melissa (I believe) is trying to say is not that the orcas don't prefer live food, but instead that they don't need it. I would love to see the whales be given the opportunity to hunt...maybe that will be part of the Blue World Project. Who knows?

2. Again, I think the only point Melissa's trying to make is that the worn down teeth are not detrimental to the animals' health. Yes, it's not normal for wild orcas, but does that matter? Is it a problem because it affects the animals' welfare, or because it makes some anti-caps feel bad?

3. I haven't read the book or watched the video yet, so I can't comment on this...

4. Not sure what you're arguing here...?

5. A.I. can help to create whales that aren't hybrids, though. Using A.I. to breed animals from different parks can help eliminate the need for hybrids. Also - because I'm curious - what's the problem with hybrids?

6. I need more sources and a little clarification on what you're arguing?

7. Again...unclear on your arguments...

Finally - this last section is pretty unclear in phrasing but I assume you're saying that, for the most part, people cannot learn from captive orcas. I have, and a lot of other people have, just by being inspired to learn more about them after seeing them at places like SeaWorld. I think people learn in different ways, however - some people need to see the real thing, and some people are fine with watching documentaries and reading books. It depends on the person. We already know that people learn in different ways, and we can't generalize and decide either that "SeaWorld inspires ALL people" or that "no one learns from SeaWorld".

I'd love to hear back from you! :)


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 2 years ago from New York Author

@CCTS 29 or 23, that is a small number, and 23 are in SeaWorld's care.

Anonymous is correct, I don't see any animal as 'needing' to hunt. It would be easier to see my point of view if you picture the orcas as another animal, like a dog. Some people even keep hunting dogs which have been extensively bred for the purpose, and do not let them hunt. Instead they play with them and give them other sources of enrichment. Saying 'orcas need to hunt' is like saying 'humans need to hunt'. Hunting can be fun for any animal but it is not the only way for an animal to be enriched. In fact, I'd say given the animal's intelligence it should be less engrained in them to 'need' to hunt. I'm thinking of how reptiles, given less sophisticated intelligence, can't really 'entertain' themselves in any other way while mammals can. I think I should also mention that the animals actually do have an opportunity to hunt because seabirds routinely circle the tank and are occasionally caught. This is just an inevitable occurrence that adds enrichment value to the captive animals.

My example of the offshore whales was just a point about something natural not being good. That is the main theme of my arguments. Everyone assumes everything NEEDS to be the way it is in the wild, and that was just an instance of something perfectly natural killing orcas. I could have also used other examples of species that aren't orcas.

3. I don't think the ocean killed the animal directly nor do I deny that the animal caught his own food.

I'm also not too sure on what you're arguing with some of your other comments. I do not think we have enough evidence to know for sure if Tilikum had major involvement in the other two deaths, and certainly not with Daniel Dukes. All we know is that at some point his body was chewed by the animals.

7. I think the paper was misused and hopefully I used it properly here. The studies of the animals in the wild are obviously very important. If you could please clarify points 3 and 4 I'd be happy to address them. I'm not one of those 'SeaWorld did everything right' people, but I do find the intense criticism ridiculous.


Frida Nyberg profile image

Frida Nyberg 2 years ago from Sweden

Hmm, no I don't have it written down, and as for what's "incorrect" in the video:

Mostly it's that in one picture I confused Tilikum with Taku (I was new, and to me, a male with a fin collapsed to the left in Orlando in recent years must be Tilikum), a few inaccurate numbers like on the calf separations (I didn't have a good database when I looked that up), and a misunderstanding of orca ecotypes and locations (calling Morgan "from the Netherlands" when she's Norwegian). Also the number I said of adult males with collapsed fins, I was not yet sure what counts as "adult".

But nothing big.

I am making a new video though, that will be about captivity overall, not just Blackfish vs SeaWorld. :D I started it in June and am really taking my time because I feel I need to learn as much as possible first. But it will probably be out by the end of the year.


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 2 years ago from New York Author

Sounds good.


Kerry Thormeier 2 years ago

Absolutely loved it!!! Thank you for taking the time to research and write this! #istandwithseaworld


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 2 years ago from New York Author

Thank you Kerry.


Fernando 2 years ago

how is this research? you are not citing ANY peer reviewed research in this. Peer reviewed research on this would easily dismantle your points. I really wanted to believe you had good points but you are not even a person within the scientific community. All i can tell from this is that you just believe in keeping animals in captivity is okay. Denying animals their natural instincts is not normal. You want credibility, do REAL research. I'm talking neurological tests, genetic tests, etc. That is how science works. Which by the way already exists


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 2 years ago from New York Author

Fernando, don't play dumb. This isn't a research paper, and I doubt you even read it. Did you miss this link and its relevance? http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.137...

People like you only have problems with non-research papers if they don't parrot the information you want to hear. I see no one attacking David Kirby for his opinions.

I'm deleting your second comment. I'm aware of the propaganda entered into the scientific peer review community and I'm not advertising it here. It also does not contain 'neurological tests, genetic tests, ect.', it's an analysis. You obviously have no idea what you're talking about.


Fernando 2 years ago

Huh? this is how science works. and you want to use an article about elephants to prove your point. Propaganda? You mean when in the peer reviewed research everybody in the scientific community attempts to prove you wrong in your research and your study must be able to be replicated and achieve the same results in order to be considered viable? What background do you have in science? You have no credibility. Just opinions here. Let me guess. All scientists have agendas? They're just out to make money? You're just like FoodBaby or any other of these pseudoscience experts. It is laughable that you used the definition of a mental disorder on an orca.


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 2 years ago from New York Author

Fernando--Your time would be better spent trying to refute my arguments then to make up speculations about me. Nothing you say is registering to me because it doesn't contain those valuable points. I abhor the 'Food Babe' and follow skepticism blogs against alternative medicine and woo nonsense. People who make statements like 'the orcas long to be free' are just like that.

As long as you keep leaving multiple insubstantial comments I will keep deleting them.

"It is laughable that you used the definition of a mental disorder on an orca."

Then tell that to the thousands of SeaWorld critics, and scientists like Lori Marino who do the same exact thing.


Fernando 2 years ago

Also this:

"I'm deleting your second comment. I'm aware of the propaganda entered into the scientific peer review community and I'm not advertising it here. It also does not contain 'neurological tests, genetic tests, ect.', it's an analysis"

You commented on me within 15 minutes of my posts. No way you read everything and looked up the references. Second of all, you say you deleted my comment because it was a peer reviewed research article then you posted a peer reviewed research study right before that in the same comment. you are ware plsone is a site that contains peer reviewed research right? so which is it? you don't trust them but want to prove your point with peer reviewed research???


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 2 years ago from New York Author

"No way you read everything and looked up the references."

Maybe it's because....I've read it before.

"Second of all, you say you deleted my comment because it was a peer reviewed research article."

No such comment was ever made. I like peer-reviewed research, just not the agenda-driven ones. I like neutrality.

"yet you in your profile says you explore alternative medicine."

This is the only thing you're right about. I need to take that down because I've reversed my opinions. Your multiple comments annoy me. I'm not sure what you're trying to do but I don't like comment section clutter of insubstantial content. Leave some room for others if all you want to do is act like a toll and fill it up.


Belle 2 years ago

Great article. You can really see the double standard that most people have when it comes to this issue. I wonder why people have such a hard time looking at the big picture and just shut themselves off from anything that goes against their opinions? They aren't really thinking what's best for the animals, clearly.


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 2 years ago from New York Author

Thanks Bella.


sgust 23 months ago

Me and my Family made the mistake of watching Blackfish. We decided to do some research and found your articles. Thank you so much for an informative view of what's going on, we will definitely pass it on :).


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 23 months ago from New York Author

Thank you very much for reading and commenting sgust.


Lottie 23 months ago

Your ignorance is truly astounding.


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 23 months ago from New York Author

Great "argument" you have there Lottie.


SuperMouseDV 21 months ago

Melissa thanks for the great article. A friend of mine pointed it out to me. A few things I wanted to ponder here besides the points you have here. When retiring orca to sea pens anti caps also want no captive breeding. And also do not look at aggression issues which would lead to separations. If you have ever seen orca hunt in the wild , no sea pen would be large enough to detract an aggressor. Back to no captive breeding. I heard there a chemical (drug which the name excapes me) that has been used with dolphins to stop breeding. But outside of that separation would be the only other logical way to stop captive breeding. How is that healthy hearing your pod but not seeing them or getting to touch them. Oh and ha ha on the I don't work for SeaWorld comment. I get accused of working for them myself all the time. A friend of mine who knew Dawn personally asked me to watch blackfish. Now mind you I watched it with butterflies in my stomach worrying it would change my opinion of SeaWorld. I'm happy to say it didn't and only strengthened it. As a video editor of nearly 20 years working on infomercials, documentaries, music videos, and the like I seen tricks I used to cobble together two different sentences into one and different voice elements from different times into the same clip. And knowing how bad normal cheap video cameras treat audio knew that a lot of elements were added in post to accentuate the mood and feelings they wanted to show. I won't write a full essay here but like what you wrote and see the same comments I get. i just wish people would wake up and stop being sheeple running with the crowd and do their own investigation like you and Frida did. I have known SeaWorld since 1976 and know they are not perfect but they do amazing work and know if ticket sales keep falling it will be their conservation efforts that will suffer then who know what would happen. One last thing. I find it funny how they claim that it's mixed company at SeaWorld and they cannot talk to each other. But research proves them Wrong as orca can learn other dialects even speak dolphin fluently. (SW research that couldn't be done in the wild at least not with ease)


Tracy 21 months ago

Ugh you still exist, I thought you were dead by now but suddently you come back with your bullshit


SuperMouseDV 21 months ago

Aww Tracy I didn't know you cared that much to think I had passed on.. But gladly I have not and still live. If I had would you have sent flowers.. Anyway please point out in my statement any "BS" elements please ???

as a blanket approach is just an easy way out of what could be an enlightening conversation..


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 21 months ago from New York Author

Thanks SuperMouse, let me know if you want Tracy's comments removed.


SuperMouseDV 21 months ago

Melissa This is your post and you can keep or remove even my comment if you like it would be no hard feelings.. But this is your post and seriously if she has a logical answer to my question I would love to find out what I typed in that was "BS" Oh maybe she thinks I never got accused of working for SeaWorld. :)


john 20 months ago

Melissa A Smith you are awesome.


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 20 months ago from New York Author

John-Thanks!


anon 19 months ago

I understand that SeaWorld killer whale shows may create conservation awareness. But how would you like to spend the next 25 years in a fish tank for other peoples amusement?


Michael 19 months ago

I still don't think they should be kept in captivity. Your arguments were against people who want to elevate whales and dolphins above people, but that doesn't mean they should be treated worse than people either. As a species, I feel that we've evolved to a point of moral self-awareness that we shouldn't be treating these animals as less than a sentient species.

Though that doesn't mean human laws should be imposed on orcas, which is something I've heard before. That's just dumb.


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 19 months ago from New York Author

Micheal what article were you reading?


Frida Nyberg profile image

Frida Nyberg 18 months ago from Sweden

It shouldn't matter what I would want. I don't want to be walked on a leash. I don't want to be ridden, or have a bit between my teeth. I don't want to eat kibble from a bowl, live in a cage, or play with bells.

And as for whales, more specifically, I sure wouldn't want to be thrown out into the forests of my ancestors, to fend for myself and "be free".


anon 18 months ago

It should matter what you want. You have rights. I'm sure that you would like to have them respected. You don't want to be treated like a pet so why should an Orca. I think being free in forest (provided they have not lived their entire life in captivity) is a better alternative to living in a waterlogged cage. I'd probably resent my captors too.


CK 17 months ago

I'd love to see another SeaWorld article from you soon :)


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 17 months ago from New York Author

Not sure what else to write about...


Shaddie profile image

Shaddie 17 months ago from Washington state

Good job!


Zach Reed 16 months ago

To think, SeaWorld's recent decision to add more room to the Orca tanks was delayed because of the activists. Apparently, 75,000 votes were given, most of them in opposition, because they feel that it still doesn't address the fact that the Orcas are "suffering" in the tanks.

Your thoughts?


Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 16 months ago from New York Author

It's very unfortunate. I understand where both sides are coming from.

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