Tag Archives: SeaWorld

What is SeaWorld hiding?

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By Dr. Heather Rally

Anyone who followed the tragic life of Tilikum, the orca at SeaWorld who recently died, should be wondering why SeaWorld is refusing to provide specific details about what led to his death.

The corporation did tell federal officials — it is legally required to do so — that Tilikum’s cause of death was bacterial pneumonia, but all other details remain a mystery.

Necropsies, or animal autopsies, provide important information about the state of an animal’s health prior to and at the time of death. After years of reassurances by SeaWorld that Tilikum was generally in good health, at least until the last year of his life, the public deserves to know what, if any, issues contributed to the development of the pneumonia that reportedly killed him.

Did he have any other infections or any injuries?

What was the state of his heart and other internal organs?

Did Tilikum’s ground-down teeth play a role in his illness and death?

Once upon a time, the public actually did have the right to know the contents of a captive marine mammal’s necropsy report. Public display permits issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) routinely required that these reports be submitted.

But thanks to the lobbying of the captive-animal industry, including SeaWorld, in 1994, Congress took away the NMFS’ authority to include any permit requirement for captive animal care and maintenance, including necropsy reports.

Since then, only the aquariums, zoos and marine theme parks holding whales and dolphins have been privy to the details of the causes of animals’ deaths. Information with enormous scientific value on species that are federally protected and held in trust for the American people by the captive-animal industry has become proprietary.

Tilikum’s situation is different, however. His import permit — issued prior to the 1994 MMPA amendments — requires that a necropsy and clinical history be submitted to the government within 30 days of his death. This is because he came to the U.S. as a killer killer whale — the NMFS wanted to learn what, if anything, a necropsy might reveal when this whale, who had drowned a trainer in Canada before being imported, finally died. Given that he subsequently killed two more people, this requirement now seems highly prescient. Yet SeaWorld has not submitted the report, claiming that the amendments, which passed after the permit was issued, effectively voided that reporting requirement.

The federal government must not allow SeaWorld’s self-serving assertion to go unchallenged.

It was about a year ago when SeaWorld first announced that Tilikum was in failing health, and at 37, he is the first captive male orca who can genuinely be said to have died at an old age. This makes his necropsy report even more valuable. Bacterial pneumonia is a leading cause of death in captive orcas and is also frequently seen in stranded whales and dolphins in the wild. It is often unknown, however, whether pneumonia in wild whales is the primary cause of death or the result of debilitation from another disease process. Coupled with his detailed life history, which is typically absent for stranded animals, Tilikum’s necropsy and pathology reports could contain information that would be applicable to wild whales. Releasing these reports to the greater scientific community and to the public is simply sound science and good policy.

If any good whatsoever can come from Tilikum’s tortured existence, it’s that learning more about what killed him could prevent the same thing from happening to other orcas, both in captivity and in the wild.

SeaWorld should disclose Tilikum’s health records. If it does not, the NMFS should enforce the requirements of Tilikum’s permit, compel SeaWorld to submit the reports and make them available to the public.

Other animal exploiters would be wise to follow Ringling’s example

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Nearly 40 orcas have died on SeaWorld’s watch.

By Craig Shapiro

The writing on the wall couldn’t have been clearer: protests outside every venue, empty seats inside and a seismic shift in the public’s attitude toward keeping animals in captivity and beating them until they perform. After years of stonewalling, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus finally acknowledged the message. A blatant animal exploiter since its inception almost 150 years ago, it announced this month that it’s going dark in May.

For the animals in the circus, the final show can’t come soon enough. But if Ringling — whose trainers kept elephants in chains and beat them with bullhooks (heavy batons with a sharp steel hook on one end) and will keep whipping lions and tigers until the curtain falls — can acknowledge that the days of abusing animals are coming to an end, how long will it be before other circuses follow suit?

Not long: Cole Bros. Circus folded its tent last year, the Big Apple Circus recently filed for bankruptcy and audiences are sparse at Shriners-sponsored circuses.

The public is rightfully appalled by the horrific abuse that circuses like Carson & Barnes inflict on animals, such as viciously beating elephants until they scream, as well as by the negligence that has allowed elephants to escape and run amok. The U.S. Department of Agriculture filed charges against the circus for two 2014 incidents that put elephants and the public at risk.

In the first, three elephants were on the run for nearly an hour after being frightened by a raucous crowd in Missouri. Two of them were injured. A month later in Pennsylvania, an adult and child got dangerously close to an elephant and took a photo. Carson & Barnes is lucky that this grievous safety violation didn’t result in catastrophe: Elephants who are forced to perform in the circus and spend their lives in chains have been known to snap.

The Kelly Miller Circus has a sordid history of federal Animal Welfare Act violations, including public endangerment and failure to provide veterinary records. The outfit still hauls an aging African elephant named Anna Louise around the country. She was taken from her home and family in Zimbabwe and has spent three decades alone, even though these intelligent, social beings need the companionship of other elephants in order to thrive.

Animal abuse and exploitation aren’t limited to circus tents. Orcas, dolphins and other marine animals imprisoned in SeaWorld’s aquatic circuses are also denied everything that’s natural and important to them. But the abusement park is beginning to see the writing on the wall.

Bowing to public pressure and a ruling by the California Coastal Commission, it ended its orca-breeding program in 2016.

It has said, though, that it will keep holding orcas in tiny concrete tanks, where they could languish for decades — if they live that long — unless they’re released to seaside sanctuaries, where they could swim free, socialize and experience some semblance of a natural life.

Nearly 40 orcas have died on SeaWorld’s watch, including Tilikum, the subject of the lauded documentary Blackfish. His death on January 5, after more than three decades in captivity, moved compassionate people around the world. But the sea change in public opinion isn’t new: The company’s attendance and profits have been tanking for years, and as a result, 320 employees were recently laid off.

It’s high time that Carson & Barnes Circus, the Kelly Miller Circus, SeaWorld and other animal exploiters followed Ringling’s example and did what’s right: Empty the tanks and unlock the cages.

SeaWorld must empty its tanks!

By Jared S. Goodman

Even though SeaWorld was the last to accept it, the corporation has finally conceded: Orcas do not belong in tanks. And just as Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus did when it announced the end of its elephant shows, SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby admitted that an “attitudinal change” in the public prompted the decision.

As almost everyone knows by now, SeaWorld has announced that it has ended its orca breeding program. This means that this generation of orcas should be the last to suffer in SeaWorld’s tanks.

While welcome, the decision does not go far enough.

Instead of forcing orcas to continue suffering for years, perhaps decades, in cramped tanks, SeaWorld must take the next logical step and begin the development of coastal sanctuaries that would allow the remaining orcas to become reacquainted with their natural ocean home.

Such protected seas pens would give orcas greater freedom of movement and many opportunities that they are now denied: to see, sense and communicate with their wild relatives and other ocean animals; to feel the tides and waves; and to engage in other natural behavior that is not possible when confined to a tank.

They would have a degree of autonomy and self-determination. Family groups could be preserved, and incompatible animals wouldn’t be forced to live together.

Caregivers would remain at a safe distance but could monitor the orcas and provide them with food as well as veterinary care if necessary. Visitors could observe them from viewing platforms.

Orcas can recover their sanity, even after years in captivity. Let’s not forget Keiko, a wild orca who was captured near Iceland and sold to a series of aquariums, where he was forced to perform tricks for food. He became sick and severely depressed.

After the movie Free Willy prompted the call for his retirement, he was moved to the Oregon Coast Aquarium and successfully rehabilitated. Then in 1998, he was transferred to an ocean pen near Iceland. While his adjustment wasn’t completely trouble-free, Keiko was nevertheless able to communicate with nearby orca pods. He didn’t have to perform. He learned to catch his own food. Even though he was still being monitored by his rehabilitators, he navigated more than 1,000 miles of open ocean and was living free when he died in December 2003 — nearly eight years after he was rescued from his tank in Mexico City and five years after he was first placed in the sea pen.

Orcas Tilikum, Katina, Corky, Kasatka and Ulises — like Keiko, all torn from their ocean homes and forced to spend their lives in tanks — could get to experience some of the same pleasures. Every orca at SeaWorld deserves this.

Unfortunately, it will probably be too late for Tilikum. Reportedly near death, he has spent three decades in captivity, forced to perform stupid tricks and used as a breeding machine. Kidnapped when he was only about 2 years old, he has never again known the joy of swimming with his family or exploring the vast ocean.

The tide has forever turned at SeaWorld. PETA’s celebrity supporters, including Kate del Castillo, Jason Biggs, Jessica Biel, Wilmer Valderrama, Bob Barker, Marisa Miller and Joanna Krupa, have all worked to expose the unnatural living conditions and untimely deaths of animals in SeaWorld’s tanks, and people around the world were outraged after watching Blackfish, which documented the misery.

Until SeaWorld takes the next step and does what’s right for the animals who have long served its interests, kind people will continue to stay far away.

SeaWorld must empty its tanks

By Jared S. Goodman

Even though SeaWorld was the last to accept it, the corporation has finally conceded: Orcas do not belong in tanks. And just as Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus did when it announced the end of its elephant shows, SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby admitted that an “attitudinal change” in the public prompted the decision.
 
As almost everyone knows by now, SeaWorld has announced that it has ended its orca breeding program. This means that this generation of orcas should be the last to suffer in SeaWorld’s tanks.
 
While welcome, the decision does not go far enough. Instead of forcing orcas to continue suffering for years, perhaps decades, in cramped tanks, SeaWorld must take the next logical step and begin the development of coastal sanctuaries that would allow the remaining orcas to become reacquainted with their natural ocean home.
 
Such protected seas pens would give orcas greater freedom of movement and many opportunities that they are now denied: to see, sense and communicate with their wild relatives and other ocean animals; to feel the tides and waves; and to engage in other natural behavior that is not possible when confined to a tank. They would have a degree of autonomy and self-determination. Family groups could be preserved, and incompatible animals wouldn’t be forced to live together. Caregivers would remain at a safe distance but could monitor the orcas and provide them with food as well as veterinary care if necessary. Visitors could observe them from viewing platforms. 
 
Orcas can recover their sanity, even after years in captivity. Let’s not forget Keiko, a wild orca who was captured near Iceland and sold to a series of aquariums, where he was forced to perform tricks for food. He became sick and severely depressed. After the movie Free Willy prompted the call for his retirement, he was moved to the Oregon Coast Aquarium and successfully rehabilitated.

Then in 1998, he was transferred to an ocean pen near Iceland. While his adjustment wasn’t completely trouble-free, Keiko was nevertheless able to communicate with nearby orca pods. He didn’t have to perform. He learned to catch his own food. Even though he was still being monitored by his rehabilitators, he navigated more than 1,000 miles of open ocean and was living free when he died in December 2003 — nearly eight years after he was rescued from his tank in Mexico City and five years after he was first placed in the sea pen.

Orcas Tilikum, Katina, Corky, Kasatka and Ulises—like Keiko, all torn from their ocean homes and forced to spend their lives in tanks—could get to experience some of the same pleasures. Every orca at SeaWorld deserves this. 

Unfortunately, it will probably be too late for Tilikum. Reportedly near death, he has spent three decades in captivity, forced to perform stupid tricks and used as a breeding machine. Kidnapped when he was only about 2 years old, he has never again known the joy of swimming with his family or exploring the vast ocean. 

The tide has forever turned at SeaWorld. PETA’s celebrity supporters, including Kate del Castillo, Jason Biggs, Jessica Biel, Wilmer Valderrama, Bob Barker, Marisa Miller and Joanna Krupa, have all worked to expose the unnatural living conditions and untimely deaths of animals in SeaWorld’s tanks, and people around the world were outraged after watching Blackfish, which documented the misery.
 
Until SeaWorld takes the next step and does what’s right for the animals who have long served its interests, kind people will continue to stay far away.

Likely to cause death or serious harm

Wild animals need to live in the wild!! Ban dolphins and orcas from Sea World and other “family” theme parks!!  … We have made some sentences in the following story bold. – R. Tirella

By Jared S. Goodman

Even in a culture of corporate entitlement and privilege, SeaWorld’s blatant defiance of federal safety standards reaches a whole new level. Federal authorities just issued the theme park a repeat violation for putting employees too close to orcas, despite the mauling death of trainer Dawn Brancheau just three years ago. Guests watched in horror as the orca Tilikum tossed, slammed and destroyed Brancheau’s body.

Following Brancheau’s death, SeaWorld was ordered to keep all orca trainers out of the tanks and to maintain a safe distance or physical barrier. Ignoring the order—and just plain common sense—the park still allows trainers to touch, hug, kiss and pat orcas (except Tilikum) with no barrier or distance at all.

The Department of Labor notes in the most recent citation that SeaWorld failed to protect employees from hazards (e.g., killer whales) likely to cause death or serious physical harm. Somehow, someway, SeaWorld management still insists that close contact with orcas is safe and acceptable. One of the company’s safety ideas is to install floor lifts in the tanks, designed to bring whales and trainers quickly to the surface in the event of an emergency. Another is to develop a remotely operated underwater vehicle that could be placed in the pool as a way to attempt to distract the killer whales who have lashed out—all this, instead of simply keeping trainers out of harm’s way. It’s difficult to comprehend this level of denial.

Jamming these keenly intelligent animals into concrete tanks and expecting them not to snap is folly. Orcas have pulled trainers into the water, held them at the bottom of the pool, head-butted them, slammed into them and breached on top of them. SeaWorld’s own corporate incident logs contain reports of more than 100 incidents of orca aggression at its parks.

Tellingly, no serious attack by a wild orca on a human has ever been recorded.

Captive orcas are denied everything that gives their lives meaning: natural foraging and migration patterns, social interaction, family bonds and the opportunity to choose their mates. Babies are torn from their mothers to be shipped to other parks, leaving the mothers to float listlessly and cry for hours after this separation. Orcas do not want to be friends with humans. Being patted and kissed by human trainers does not compensate for their isolation. Marine theme-park tanks are a drop in the bucket compared to the vast open oceans where orcas are meant to live.

Being confined to tanks is so far removed from what orcas want and need that their minds and bodies break down. Many destroy their own teeth by chewing on the steel gates holding them in. All captive adult male orcas, and many adult females, have collapsed dorsal fins—an aberration that is infinitesimally rare in wild orcas. Captive orcas have died from intestinal gangrene, acute hemorrhagic pneumonia, pulmonary abscesses, chronic kidney disease, cardiovascular failure, septicemia, influenza and brain necrosis. They are dying far short of even their average lifespan in the wild.

Marine mammal theme parks exist to make money at the expense of animals, and employee safety is an afterthought. The public can take a stand by refusing to buy a ticket.

SeaWorld: Empty the tanks

By Jennifer O’Connor

An orca named Taima recently died while delivering a stillborn calf at SeaWorld Orlando. The baby was the offspring of Tilikum, the angry and frustrated killer whale who battered trainer Dawn Brancheau to death earlier this year. Wild animals are dying because of human avarice, but unlike the birds, fish and mammals who are perishing in the Gulf of Mexico, the animals at SeaWorld can easily be saved.

Like BP, SeaWorld can never make up for the harm that it has done. But it can immediately stop breeding animals and fund the creation of a coastal sanctuary through which captive orcas can start their journey back home.

Taima’s mother, Gudrun, was torn away from the ocean in the 1970s; she gave birth to Taima in 1989. Another of Gudrun’s calves was born with mental and physical problems and lived just a short while. Yet another, stillborn, had to be extracted from Gudrun’s body using a lift and chains. Gudrun—whom her keepers considered mentally ill (and no wonder)—died four days later. She would never again have the chance to feel the ocean currents or hear the calls of her lost family.

For Taima, death was terrifying and painful, yet it was a release from a miserable life of deprivation. Both mother and baby—and many other orcas and bottlenose dolphins before them—met their end alone in a tank full of chemically treated water that must have felt like a bathtub to these animals, who are meant to explore the endless fathoms of the sea. In nature, orcas choose their own mates (they are not artificially inseminated in invasive and grotesque procedures), and the females stay together for life.

Those who tout breeding programs and claim that captive animals “cannot” be released are usually the very people who profit from the animals’ confinement. SeaWorld and industry shills such as Jack Hanna have profited considerably from confining animals and putting them on display. It’s in their interests to keep the money flowing.

But let’s remember Keiko, a wild orca who was captured near Iceland in 1979 and sold to a series of aquariums, where he became sick and severely depressed. After the movie Free Willy prompted the call for his retirement, Keiko was moved to the Oregon Coast Aquarium, rehabilitated and eventually moved to an ocean pen. He learned to hunt and catch his own food. Even though he was still being monitored by his rehabilitators, Keiko lived five healthy years, navigated more than 1,000 kilometers of open ocean and was living freely when he died.

Transitional protected sea pens would give orcas greater freedom of movement; the ability to see, sense and communicate with their wild cousins and other ocean animals; the chance to feel the tides and waves; and the opportunity to engage in behavior that they’ve long been denied. For those with legitimate concerns about captive animals’ ability to fend for themselves, these questions must be asked: Even if there are risks, aren’t we morally compelled to give these animals the chance to live freely? Don’t they deserve some measure of what they’ve been deprived?

SeaWorld has the means to make this happen, but look at its track record. Despite knowing about the extreme danger posed by Tilikum—including the fact that he had killed humans twice before he attacked and killed Brancheau—SeaWorld refuses even to “Free Tilly” because he’s a valuable and prodigious breeder. The public can help compel SeaWorld to do the right thing simply by refusing to buy a ticket.


Jennifer O’Connor is a research specialist with The PETA Foundation.

SeaWorld: a world of suffering!

By Debbie Leahy

SeaWorld’s damage control team is in overdrive following the tragic death of a trainer who was attacked by one of the theme park’s captive orcas. But if SeaWorld held news conferences every time an animal died at its facilities, people would be staying away in droves. SeaWorld, which owns most of the captive orcas and bottlenose dolphins in the U.S., has one of the worst animal care records in the country.

Twenty-one orcas died in U.S. SeaWorld facilities between 1986 and 2008 — an average of nearly one each year for 22 years. Their deaths were caused by a range of factors, including severe trauma, intestinal gangrene, acute hemorrhagic pneumonia, pulmonary abscesses, chronic kidney disease, chronic cardiovascular failure, septicemia and influenza. In some cases, the cause of death could not even be determined, but it is clear that none of these animals died of old age. Dozens of bottlenose dolphins have also died at SeaWorld. Marine mammals are literally dying to entertain you.

Ocean animals inhabit vast, fascinating and complex worlds. Orcas are intelligent predators who work cooperatively in search of food. They share intricate relationships and swim as much as 100 miles every day. At SeaWorld, orcas perform circus-type tricks for food; swim endless circles in small, barren concrete tanks; and live far short of the 60-year maximum life span that orcas enjoy in the wild. Their worlds have been reduced from fathoms to gallons. Continue reading SeaWorld: a world of suffering!