This post has been a long time in coming, mainly because I am struggling to fully comprehend what the future now means for the captive orca who reside at the SeaWorld parks.
If you didn’t know, SeaWorld announced that, as of the 17th of March 2016, they will no longer breed or artificially inseminate whales, effectively ending their so called “breeding programme”.
Now, while at first I was nearly in tears of joy at work when I found out this incredible news, I did start to wonder why the sudden u-turn, especially after the very public retaliation to the proposed “no breeding or transfer of orca” by the California Coastal Comission as one of the main reasons that they would let the park expand.
If they were so keen to fight back all the way back in November to stop this from happening, why would they suddenly announce “oh yeah, we’re stopping breeding!” now? You may be fooled into thinking that the bosses at SeaWorld have had a change of heart, but I believe that there’s something more to the story.
Don’t get me wrong, I am super ecstatic that the world’s view on cetacean captivity has changed and that SeaWorld have acknowledged that the majority of people don’t want to see these magnificent beings cramped up, and that their previous spiel that wild whale watching was only for the rich isn’t true at all; however, like most good news regarding captivity, this just seems too good to be true.
Firstly, Why It’s A Good Thing
Before I get into what I feel is a little bit off with the announcement, I’d like to point out why this is the biggest step forward in the fight against captive cetaceans.
As the announcement stated, there will be no breeding of orca in any of the SeaWorld parks (and more recently Loro Parque ), meaning that the animals that are currently in these tanks will be the last generation of captive orca in SeaWorld’s collection. We have been told that Takara is now pregnant, but can (hopefully) assume that this calf will be the last calf born into captivity out of the SeaWorld breeding programme. This doesn’t mean that all captive killer whales will be extended this break from unnatural breeding – sadly, there are other establishments which house killer whales which aren’t SeaWorld – but it does mean that the orca who currently reside in the SeaWorld parks will be the last ones to experience life in a SeaWorld tank. I think that deserves a big, happy splash!
Secondly, I think this shows a huge turning point in the public’s view of captivity. More people are watching Blackfish and listening to ex-trainers and their stories and realising that the “happy” animals that they see aren’t actually that happy, and finally SeaWorld are realising this; they’re fighting a battle against the public who were once their allies.
SeaWorld’s CEO Joel Manby addressed this in the Los Angeles Times article annoucing the cessation of captive orca breeding. He said:
We are proud of contributing to the evolving understanding of one of the world’s largest marine mammals. Now we need to respond to the attitudinal change that we helped to create — which is why SeaWorld is announcing several historic changes. This year we will end all orca breeding programs — and because SeaWorld hasn’t collected an orca from the wild in almost four decades, this will be the last generation of orcas in SeaWorld’s care.
Lastly, I also think it shows just how powerful a group of people can be. Like I said, it’s not the end of captivity for these orca, but it’s a start. If we can force companies as big as SeaWorld who have been taken on multiple times regarding their care of orca, and actually make them take a step back and actually listen to what we want… then I think that’s a huge display of power on our part.
Why It Is Only The Beginning
So, why am I still so sceptical? Surely this is what my blog mainly started out to do – bring awareness and end cetacean captivity.
First off, this end of captive breeding only applies to orca. While this is a start, this needs to be extended to other members of the cetacean family that SeaWorld (and other marine zoos) keeps in it’s tanks – including dolphins. It could also be extended to the other animals in their care which will never be released into the wild – after all, the whole reasoning behind a breeding programme should eventually end in release to help boost the wild populations… that’s just simply how they are meant to work.
Secondly, these animals are still in a captive environment. It’s not suitable and definitely not benefitting these whales in any way being stuck in a space which is so much smaller than it should be.
Lastly, SeaWorld keep throwing back the argument that Keiko’s (the whale from Free Willy) release was a “failiure”and how he died from starvation. Please, just – stop right there. Keiko was an incredibly sick whale and from reports from people who worked directly with him during his release from a sea pen, he thrived. His skin leisions (which were the reason SeaWorld didn’t want him in the first place – how disgusting) cleared right up and he even managed to gain weight and catch fish on his own. Yes he eventually found himself in a place where humans stupidly fed him and encouraged him to interact with them… but the fact of the matter is this – he lived longer because he got to go back to the wild than he ever would floating listlessly in a tank, and he died from a pneumonia-like illness.
I am tempted to write a blog in the future on Keiko because he was the first introduction to killer whales I had… even though I have never seen Free Willy the whole way through.
So, What Can We Do?
If this is only the beginning, what can we do to help the cause push further towards a complete end to all cetacean captivity?
We need to acknowledge that this is the first of many steps. As a community of people, we have made a company take a step back and reevaluate what their public want – not necessarily because it’s good for the whales, but because it will effectively affect their bottom line. The main point I want to make is that this doesn’t mean that we can all flock back to SeaWorld and buy all their merch again, simply because they have “promised” us this end of breeding.
We still need to push for empty tanks. These animals aren’t suitable for confinement. end of.
We also need to put an end to whaling events around the world, such as the Taiji drive hunts and Faroe Island hunts which are decimating the wild cetacean populations for so-called traditions which are barbaric and unecessary. The Taiji hunts have been linked to SeaWorld, no matter how many times they try to deny it. Can you imagine performing for crowds in order to get fed after suffering trauma when seeing your family murdered infront of you?
While this is a great start to the end of cetacean captivity, we’ve still got a long way to go. Let’s keep pushing and fighting for these animals who don’t have a voice, and ultimately pay the price for venting their frustrations! Go team Blackfish!