I've been asked often and recently about my opinions towards this "amazing documentary" that "just came out" on Netflix called "Blackfish". Having worked for SeaWorld for a few years, people are always curious as to what my opinion is.
"Julie, have you seen it? What do you think?"
I have seen it, multiple times. My opinion of it is this: I completely
respect and agree with the underlining message- whales do not belong in
captivity... but neither does any other animal (more on that later). I
do, however, find the movie's portrayal of SeaWorld to be horribly
offensive and misleading. SeaWorld is not a monster.
"But Julie, SeaWorld uses animals for entertainment purposes, isn't this wrong?"
you, PETA. Yes, SeaWorld is an entertainent based industry. People all
over the world come to see these marvelous animals up close, eat a
churro, and then ride the latest roller coaster.
But before you
go all animal activist on me, think about what you're saying. Have you
ever been to a zoo? Aquarium? Pet store? All of these animals were
placed there to entertain, excuse me, educate you. And they don't quite
do it to SeaWorld's standards (Ill get to this later).
"But Julie, SeaWorld took these whales out of their natural environment".
The majority of the whales at SeaWorld were born in the park. Yes, a
few were captured more than 35 years ago, but that is how animals were
acquired those days.
And frankly, where do you think the animals
at your favorite zoo came from? Contrary to popular belief, these
animals are not usually "rescues".
And to be even more frank,
how many of you have a home aquarium??? Where do you think these fish
came from? That's right. They're captured from their native environment,
oftentimes shocked, meanstwhile depleting coral reefs in hopes that
these stressed fish might make it to your aquarium, where, lets face it,
they usually die.
"But Julie, the tanks the whales are in are like bathtubs"
This one gets to me the most. At least use your own wording! Yes, the
exhibits the whales are in are no where close to being the size of the
ocean. But they are VASTLY larger than the size of most animal
enclosures. True, these animals can swim hundreds of miles a day.... but
think about other enclosures. Elephants can walk up to 40 miles a day
and yet I rarely see an enclosure larger than 2000 ft.
cages? Fish tanks? Why is it that no one is offended by any of this?!
It's okay to put a goldfish in a bowl but not okay to have whales in a
60 million gallon environment? An enclosure that SeaWorld has spent over
70 million dollars to improve?
"But Julie, these animals are forced to perform shows. They're slaves."
The whales at SeaWorld are never forced to do shows. They get an
alloted amount of restaurant quality food based off of their fitness
level, size, and metabolism. And they are fed regardless of if they do a
"But Julie, it's cruel to force these animals to do "tricks".
"tricks" are actually positively reinforced behaviors that the whales
have learned through positive interactions and operant conditioning.
Studies have shown that learned behaviors like this actually increase an
animals mental health prolonging their fitness and increasing quality
"But whales don't do flips in the wild"
your dog doesn't naturally give you his paw when he wants a treat, but
he is capable. Training behaviors like this, once again, encourages
mental and physical growth. If the whales were incapable, they wouldn't
"Can't they just stop making the whales do shows?"
but there is no positive reprocussion to that. Without enrichment,
whales would resort to common boredom behaviors seen in zoos and
institutions around the world. Plus, the interations the whales have
with the trainers is a form of bonding for the whales. If they suddenly
discontinued, the whales would display depression behaviors. I don't know
about you, but I am highly against intentional depression.
"Can't you release them? They'll be happier"
up the story of Keiko, the whale from "Free Willy." That's what happens
when you release a captive killer whale. They are not equipped to live
in the open ocean environment anymore.
"Okay, what about a seapen then? It's bigger and the whales would be interacting with their natural environment"
whales currently thrive in multi-sourced continually filtered water
environment. These means they are never exposed to pathogens, parasites,
or heavily contaminated water. Putting them in a sea pen would expose
them to a variety of potentially killer organisms. Not only that but
they would be exposed to countless amounts of new sights, sounds, and
vibrantions, causing an immense amount of stress.
"But Julie, there is absolutely no benefit to having these poor creatures at SeaWorld."
has impacted the lives of over 400 million visitors over the timespan
they've been in business. That is 400 million people that have been
affected by the beauty of not only the killer whales, but of over 6000
species of animals they would not come in contact with on a normal
"SeaWorld is not educational".
Excuse me? The top
leading research done on both killer whales and other cetaceans comes
from SeaWorld sponsored research. Most of what we know today about these
animals has been learned from animals in captivity.
"Can't we learn simply by observing them in the wild?"
sure. But any scientist (or grad student) will tell you how difficult
it is to study animals in the wild. You can sit and observe 24 hours a
day and only witness about 15 minutes of usable data.
luck funding that research. It's an unfortunate fact that people do not
support things that do not benefit them directly. SeaWorld contributes
millions upon millions of dollars to variety of conservation programs in
the wild, including the Marine Mammal protecion act and Sea Turtle
conservation. Finding funding from a private, independent source is
unlikely and unreliable.
"Okay... well... umm... what about the dorsal fin thing?"
fins are made out of cartilage, a flexible structure that makes up your
nose and ears. The size of the dorsal fin is cause by a multitude of
things, including genetics. Many of our whales come from a similar
bloodline (not crossbred) and therefore have larger dorsal fins.
not common in the wild, a whale's dorsal fin, especially larger ones,
may bend. This may be an effect from more surface exposure combined by
genetics. There have been no indications that this affects the animals
well-being in any way. It's a fact of life. Sometimes we get droopy body
"Why can't SeaWorld just go to be all educational? Obviously people would respect it more."
Centers and educational facilities are amazing ideas and do many great
things. Unfortunately, not many people go out of their way to visit
them and they can go out of business (Chula Vista Nature
Center...anyone?). People, unfortunately, are selfish beings. They want
to be entertained, not lectured. So although the conservation message
is taught at many of these amazing facilities, they are not affecting as
many people as you would think.
SeaWorld's message is this: to
celebrate, connect, and care for the natural world we share through the
power of entertainment. People come into the parks with an expectation
and leave with an appreciation of marine life they've never had before. I
cannot begin to tell you how many kids Ive heard say that Shamu changed
their life. That they want to stop polluting the ocean. That they want
to save the sea turtles. SeaWorld is a memory that they will have
forever and oftentimes changes their entire outlook on life.
before you boycott SeaWorld, realize that you're not boycotting the evil
corporation "Blackfish" makes it out to be. You're boycotting Bruce,
the 80 year old sea turtle who was rescued not only once, but twice
after being shot in the head and left for dead by people who didn't
care. You're boycotting Iris, the rescued seal who was found stranded
and blind and then rereleased, able to see again. You're boycotting the
650 juvenille sea lions rehabilitated and taught to eat after they were
stranded on the Pacific Coast. You're boycotting the baby emperor
pengiuns, just hatched, ensuring the future families of penguins to
come. You're boycotting the hundreds of dogs adopted from shelters
thanks to Pets Rule. You're boycotting the group of high schoolers
collecting trash off the shoreline after talking to the veterinary
department behind the scenes and seeing the effects of trash in our
If you need a summary of what SeaWorld is today, I ask
you to look at me as a reflection. To look at the 1500 zoological team
members that provide the upmost care to these animals. SeaWorld is one
of the worlds most respected zoological facilities, setting the bar for
husbandry standards today. We are SeaWorld. We are the people who can't
drive by a lost dog on the street. We're the people who stay awake
overnight, waist deep in frigid water carrying a stranded dolphin that
wasn't strong enough to swim. We're the ones that cry the moment a sea
turtle swims off into the ocean water after being hit by a boat. We are
the ones whose heart rate accelerates the moment a mother gives birth to
a beautiful calf. We're the ones whose muscles ache after scrubbing oil
off of birds trapped after a spill. We're the ones hand feeding that
abandonded baby otter in the wee hours of the night.
again, don't believe everything you see and don't assume you know
everything because a "documentary" tells you so. Educate yourself.
SeaWorld is not the enemy, there are bigger evils in the world. We do
not go out of our way to torture and "enslave" animals. We love and know
more about those animals than "Blackfish" would ever care to let you
know. It is because of SeaWorld, and places like them, thst you even
care about these animals in the first place. I am very proud to be a
part of the SeaWorld family and always will be.