SeaWorld has been in a bit of a pickle since the documentary Blackfish (and its ensuing soaring viewership on CNN and Netflix) came out in 2013. The documentary, which features several former SeaWorld trainers, exposes the park's inhumane practices with orcas, including how the whales are kept in small, cramped tanks.
But last week, SeaWorld announced a new project that will supposedly expand its orcas' tanks, doubling the space they currently live in with deeper water. They also announced the formation of an advisory group that includes a professor from UC Davis veterinary school, a researcher at UC Santa Cruz, and a physiologist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla.
The project, dubbed Blue World, is the company's multimillion-dollar attempt at expanding its captive orcas' environment while showing a very concerned public that it cares about their whales.
Here are seven reasons why this project is a complete and utter joke:
7. Tilikum Killed People Because Captivity Drove Him Nuts Orca bull Tilikum has killed three people. One of them, a trainer he basically scalped as he threw her around like a rag doll. The reason this happened wasn't because orcas are evil monsters. It's because Tilikum has been confined to an artificial space where he spends his days as frustrated as you would be if you had to live your whole life in a box. And Tilikum isn't the only orca in captivity to attack and kill humans. But Tilikum, who still lives his days in Orlando's SeaWorld, is the face of this whole whale-in-captivity experiment gone horribly wrong. Meanwhile, there have been exactly zero recorded moments of an orca attacking a human in the wild. Bigger tanks are going to fix that?
Which leads us to...
6. The Fancy Big Changes Are Still Artificial The crux of SeaWorld's Blue World Project is that the new tanks will be bigger, covering 1.5 acres at 50 feet deep and 350 feet wide. The new tanks will hold 10 million gallons of water, which is double the amount they currently hold. The new tanks will also feature a 40-foot partition for people to view the whales below the water line. That seems like a better situation than what the whales are currently in. But whales belong in the unlimited open space of the ocean, where they can roam freely in their own habitat, and not in a glorified bathtub with people watching them. Orcas are known for traveling vast miles in a straight line at high speeds, use the ocean depth to communicate with each other for miles, and send their clicks and signals to hunt for prey -- as they are designed by nature to do. An artificial tank, no matter how large, still stifles an orca's very existence. This is why you see orcas in parks with drooping dorsal fins, and orcas in the wild with straight, erect dorsal fins. At the end of the day, they're still limited to where they can swim, are still expected to jump into the air for fish, and will still be watched by people for money. None of these things happen in the wild.
(Also, again, they don't kill people in the wild.)
5. These Changes Were About Money, Nothing More Back in March, SeaWorld insisted that Blackfish and the ensuing protests had no impact whatsoever on their bottom line or on how the park would handle its business. Now, suddenly, as if by magic, it's decided to announce its Blue World Project out of thin air.
Coincidentally, it's doing this just as news of the company's bottom line is getting rocked on Wall Street. Last week came the news that the company's stock fell 33 percent. Attendance has been flat this summer (a time when attendance is high for theme parks), and the company is hemorrhaging money. Now, out of the blue, comes the decision to construct the bigger tanks and hire an advisory group. SeaWorkd still insists that this is about the trainers and the whales and not the protesters. The company does this while pointing out that "more than 20,000 people will visit SeaWorld today who will enjoy our park and be inspired by our animals." Even in its statement announcing Blue World, SeaWorld can't help but try to make it sound as if all is well, nothing to worry about here, look at all the people coming to our park, you should totally come to the park too!
4. This Is Still the Company That Wrecked Orca Families "For SeaWorld there is no higher priority than the health and welfare of our animals, and any claims to the contrary made by these radicals are simply wrong," SeaWorld said in a statement when announcing Blue World Project. "The truth is that our killer whales are happy and healthy, and thrive in our care."
Keep in mind that SeaWorld's methods of capturing these happy and healthy whales were to break up orca families in the wild, destroying the animals' complex social structure and basically kidnapping them from their mothers. Male orcas have been known to live in the wild close to their mothers pretty much their whole lives. But when SeaWorld needed some whales to jump into the air for fish to entertain tourists, it split up families and tore babies from their mothers and families.
But no worries; the whales have been known to be medicated to make the I really miss my family blues go away.
And also, hey, bigger tanks now!
3. Orcas in Captivity Still Die Way Before Their Time While Again, this whole thing is supposed to be about the orcas' welfare. And bigger tanks. And an advisory board with experts. Yet, none of these things will likely change the somber fact that a captive orca's life expectancy tends to be way shorter than an orca in the wild. According to the Oceanic Preservation Society, most orcas at SeaWorld have died in their teens and 20s, as opposed to those in the wild who live well into their 60s and even 90s. There have been some orcas at SeaWorld that have lived a regular orca lifespan, but these are the lucky few. The reason you haven't heard about the number of orcas that died prematurely in captivity? Revisit Number 5 on this list.
But bigger tanks and an emeritus are totally gonna make orcas not die now.
2. This Isn't About Real Scientific Research SeaWorld is boasting that the Blue World Project is all about the orca's well-being, and to study them to understand these animals better. The company is, after all, investing $10 million for research and hiring professors and physiologists to conduct independent studies for, as the company puts it, the "health and well-being" of the animals.
But here's a queer idea: You can actually do better research on orcas when you study them in the wild, in their actual natural habitat and not in, you know, a big pool where the way they eat is by doing tricks for tourists.
Pretty revolutionary, we know. But there's a reason Tilikum lost his mind and started killing people. Again, no orca has ever attacked a human in the wild. If you wanted to study say, human beings, you wouldn't throw a person into a jail cell for his entire life and expect to come up with actual defining results that would tell you everything you need to know about humans.
But orcas are different, apparently.
1. A Jail Cell Is Still a Jail Cell Which brings us to this... you can expand the tanks all you want. But a jail cell is still a jail cell. Be it big or small, a whale dropped into a confined space is still a whale living in a confined space.
Send your story tips to the author, Chris Joseph.
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