SeaWorld Makes a Catastrophic Decision and Everyone Loses
Not long after the unfortunate announcement that Tilikum (SeaWorld’s largest orca that became infamous after killing his trainer, dawn Brancheau in 2010) is most likely dying of a believed lung infection, and continued fallout after the success of the Blackfish documentary, SeaWorld has made a rather shocking and bewildering announcement to fans and activists alike.
After many years of being at odds with each other, SeaWorld and The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) are initiating a partnership. You’ve read that correctly.
For those who are unaware of what the HSUS is about, to put it in the most simple terms, they are an animal rights organization. What does that mean? Not unlike PETA (The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) whom are known for their flagrant publicity stunts, the HSUS shares a philosophy of aiming to separate animals from human use. This pertains to consuming animal products, selling animals, owning animals, or ‘exploiting’ them in any way. Therefore, naturally, they’ve also attacked zoos relentlessly, SeaWorld unmistakably being their number one target.
The Humane Society has always maintained that they are completely opposed to not just killer whales, but all cetaceans and ‘wild’ animals in zoological facilities for any reason other than rehabilitation or the impossibility of their release. They are completely against the breeding of all exotic animals, even for conservation purposes.
“The HSUS works with zoos desiring to improve and having the capability to do so. We also urge zoos to act as sanctuaries for wild animals, providing facilities for animals in need rather than breeding them for exhibition purposes or acquiring them from the wild or from exotic animal dealers”.
So how then, can these two entities form a partnership? The very idea sounds like a massive contradiction in terms, akin to PETA partnering with Five Guys, or an exotic pet owner with Born Free.
As stated in the above quote, the HSUS “works with zoos”, i.e., they utilize their highly influential regime to force animal holding facilities to abide by their ideology, little by little, until (they hope) it completely goes under from public pressure, galvanized by the HSUS and their numerous affiliates.
The cooperating zoo may gain temporary protection from the organization’s relentless attacks, an offer that might seem too good to pass up in a troubled climate where activists are having continued success in misleading the public.
SeaWorld has done this, and has subsequently announced that they are ending their orca breeding program.
"We are pleased that the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) supports the changes we announced today. These two leading organizations are coming together for an agreement that will further both groups’ missions [What?!?]. SeaWorld and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) are joining together in a partnership focused on the health of our oceans and the animals that call them home."
HSUS and SeaWorld have common ground, in that both of our organizations love animals and want to protect them. The partnership helps each group extend its own mission and is based on their joint interest in preserving and protecting wild animals and the places they live. The issues around animal conservation and protection are much bigger than any one organization, and we can be much stronger together.— SeaWorld
Should SeaWorld Have Ended its Breeding Program?
SeaWorld’s orca breeding is somewhat justifiably controversial, and ending it is not so much the problem I have with them. I do take issue with them preventing any possible natural breeding that may occur. It is disappointing that the park, instead of committing to efforts to improve the welfare of the captive orcas which could eventually lead to improved care for other cetaceans that need rehabilitation and contribute to our understanding of the animals overall, opted to just end the breeding of orcas instead.
This move has broader implications for not just their other animals, but those in other accredited zoos. However, zoos make decisions to end breeding programs all the time, and while the orcas are exceptionally high profile, I don’t view this situation as unique. Taking into consideration the combined concerns about the animal’s welfare, long term survivability, and public image, it might have been a reasonable decision. However, the way they have done it is not acceptable. It will inevitably empower the anti-zoo movement.
What this means for the orcas: No More Tank Expansion
It almost looks like an April Fool’s Day prank. SeaWorld’s Blue World Project, a plan to double the tank space at all three parks, is now a no-go. It has been replaced with, according to this illustration on SeaWorld’s site, some pretty rocks on the sides of the pre-existing tanks and a giant photo of the ocean in the ‘wild’. It’s pathetic. When one Facebook user asked if the animals were still getting more space, they received the above response.
This is PR speak for: the whales are no longer getting anything other than some decorations that will only appeal to humans. The activists, in their quest to free or place the orcas into sea pens, and their refusal to bend to any compromise, have secured the fate of animals and their limited tank space. The best chance of a real impact for the welfare of these 24 animals has been scrapped. This is a blow to those of us who stood up for SeaWorld, sending letters amidst the controversy when the park took on the California Coastal Commission for permission to create Blue World in its San Diego Park.
Are the dissenters happy?
While it is a tremendous victory for activists that SeaWorld is ending its breeding program now instead of waiting for the inevitable lack of genetic diversity and compromised orca mortality rates to forcibly land the park in this position, they most certainly won’t be pleased that the animals will not be freed or placed into sea pens, even with the HSUS on board. SeaWorld officials are very wrong if they believe people who want to see the orcas freed will now condone or visit the parks because they’ve ending their breeding program. In addition, for now, the parks also breed other cetacean species. It’s hard to imagine that SeaWorld will ever stop doing this without completely deconstructing the park from the inside out or imploding.
What does this mean for SeaWorld?
SeaWorld has taken an enormous gamble now that they’ve agreed to let animal rights organizations influence them in the eyes of the public. After years of contentious interactions with anti-SeaWorld entities, celebrities, and media, SeaWorld, with its statements such as:
…is thus admitting that they were wrong with their defense. By succumbing to defeat in such a direful fashion, they’ve undermined their credibility in everything that they once stood for. They are ‘now doing what’s best for the animals in their care’. Haven’t they vehemently claimed that they’ve always been doing that? The cancellation of Blue World is clearly not a win for the orcas or what is best for them. Despite the PR spin that SeaWorld is attaching to the situation, the public is well aware of what’s really going on. They may no longer put any stock into SeaWorld’s claims now, and I can’t say that I blame them. It remains to be seen if this move can help SeaWorld recover from declining attendance and a negative image in the long term. What this means for the other cetaceans in their care remains to be seen as well.
More by this Author
Exploring the phenomenon of people thinking animals are "sad" in zoos because of the expression on their faces. Can you read an animal's mind by looking at it?
What do we learn from visiting zoos? Is it ethical to have zoos for education?
Profiles of the small and medium-sized exotic or wild cats that are sometimes kept as pets in the United States.