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SeaWorld Makes a Catastrophic Decision and Everyone Loses

Updated on March 17, 2016
Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa is an exotic pet owner, zoo attender, and plant-obsessed person and doesn't think there is anything wrong with that.

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.


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    • Melissa A Smith profile image

      Melissa A Smith 19 months ago from New York

      Strike out?

    • profile image

      AP 19 months ago

      Great article as usual, but why did you strike out Born Free?

    • profile image

      C. B. 21 months ago

      I'm still so conflicted about this. Ugh.

    • profile image

      Heather 21 months ago

      It's a sad day that future generations have lost the chance to be inspired to save and connect with this species.

    • profile image

      wensleydale 21 months ago

      Are you aware that they who shall not be named own something like 12 percent (give or take a little) of the stock in SeaWorld? I wonder if that has something to do with this.

    • Misfit Chick profile image

      Catherine Mostly 21 months ago from Seattle, WA - USA - The WORLD

      I am often amazed at how many people consider 'activists to be misleading the public'. They are simply following through with 'beliefs', however much people do not agree with it - just like Christians and Atheists. I would guess that there are other reasons for SeaWorld making this sudden and drastic change; and they are taking advantage of their former fight with HSUS because it gives them the kind of publicity they want. That is a common thing to do - use the back of your friends, neighbors and enemies to publicize yourself.

    • tirelesstraveler profile image

      Judy Specht 21 months ago from California

      I heard about this yesterday. Sad state of affairs for the whales, but then PETA has no qualms about breaking into labs and killing all the lab animals , so why should we think the Humane Society would be much different