Why Sea World Needs to Stop


Hannah Barham


One of the benefits I had living in Florida was that I had some of the biggest names in theme parks just an hour drive away. DisneyWorld, Universal Studios, Busch Gardens, all of it. But the one that strikes a nerve with me.. is SeaWorld. SeaWorld opened in 1959, a theme park dedicated to preservation and the captivity of marine mammals and their ocean themed rides and shows. SeaWorld housed many creatures such as dolphins and seals, bringing in people everywhere to witness these majestic creatures for themselves rather than through a TV screen. In 1965, SeaWorld changed the game for the marine mammal industry. They got a orcinus orca, commonly known as killer whales, in their parks. Many thought that this was impossible, since orcas are much larger, about the size of a school bus, and housing it in a theme park would prove to be a great challenge, but SeaWorld proved the impossible is in fact possible. They named this first killer whale Shamu, the mascot for SeaWorld today.

As SeaWorld grew, so did their orca stock. They brought in more and more orcas to keep in their tanks and fed them, gave them their medicine, trained them, etc. Everyone believes that SeaWorld is doing a good thing, because with this advanced medicine and care, their lifespan can extend even more, or so they claim. A documentary released in 2013 exposed SeaWorld’s questionable tactics and brought attention to the dangers of killer whale captivity. 

For some background information on killer whales. Killer whales are members of the dolphin family, not exactly classified as an actual whale. They can grow up to 5-8 meters long, depending on their gender. They can weigh about 6 tons, the weight of the average delivery truck. Killer whales have a very diverse diet, and they can be considered to be at the top of the ocean food chain. They have been known to take down prey much larger than them. It’s all a matter of communication between the family, what we call a pod. With their fascinating movements and their skillful planning, no one can take down these incredible creatures. Killer whales are not documented to show hostility in the wild, knowing to be quite friendly. They have been known to come up and get close to boats and people, maybe blow bubbles or splash their fins around. 

One of the most notable things about SeaWorld are the numerous whale attacks that took place during shows as well. Ken Peters, Dawn Brancheau, Keltie Byrne, you’ve heard these names before. Keltie Byrne, a young swimmer working at a theme park was grabbed and thrown around by an orca during a show. She died after this attack. Ken Peters, an animal trainer working at SeaWorld was grabbed by his foot and held at the bottom of the pool for minutes at a time. He miraculously survived this. Dawn Brancheau, the most recent. Dawn was the senior trainer, and in 2010, during a Dine With Shamu show, she was grabbed by her arm, scalped, and mutilated in front of a horrified audience. She died after this attack. 

Blackfish was released in 2013. Directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite and featuring former trainers such as Samantha Berg, John Hargrove, Jeffrey Vente, and Kim Ashdown, Blackfish provided a deeper look into the SeaWorld world, and why orcas in captivity is a horrible practice and should be banned at all costs. The film focused on Tilikum, the killer whale responsible for many of the attacks at SeaWorld. The trainers featured in the film gave firsthand accounts of how SeaWorld did things and how they tried desperately to cover up these stories and chalk it up to the trainers being irresponsible. According to John Hargrove, “They blamed her (Dawn) for what happened to her.” In a news report following Brancheau’s death, an official claimed that because Dawn had a ponytail, the whale grabbed her and thrashed her around, as well as claimed that Dawn would have come on camera and admit her mistake. However, the former trainers claimed that each female trainer wore ponytails, but they never had that issue, further derailing SeaWorld’s blame on Dawn. 

Blackfish also exposed the psychological trauma it places on killer whales. The fighting, the killing in captivity. Whales were shown just idly swimming in circles, and repeating these same actions. One whale was shown sitting still at the surface, not moving for over three hours. Some whales would headbutt the concrete walls, forming fractures on their skulls and causing them to obtain an injury. Whales in the wild are not shown to exhibit these behaviors. When these creatures are not performing, they idly swim and float in a tiny tank surrounded by other whales. Their breeding program as well is extremely questionable. Tilikum, the main whale, was the breeder for SeaWorld. They would artificially inseminate females and impregnate them, only to profit off of the baby whales born by putting them in advertisements and using them in shows. An example of this is Kasatka and Takara. Kasatka gave birth to Takara during a show, and Takara was known as the baby Shamu. The new baby brought in hundreds of people, but because Takara was still a mother, shows would be interrupted because Kasatka had to take care of her baby. Because of this, SeaWorld removed the baby from the tank, and sent her to another park. This caused a great deal of grief for Kasatka, who started making these high pitched crying sounds. According to Kim Ashdown, “She (Kasatka) would stay in the corner of the pool, literally just shaking, screaming, screeching, crying. Like, I’ve never heard her make a sound like that before.” The trainers claimed that this was Kasatka’s way of grieving her lost baby. The vocals analyzed were classified as long range vocals, which orcas used to look for each other. In this case, Kasatka was using these vocals to look for Takara. Since then, the breeding program has concluded, and the last baby born in captivity ended up passing away, Tilikum also passed away from an unknown disease in 2017 at the Florida park. After Blackfish’s release, SeaWorld’s ticket sales dropped tremendously, and the rise of protests for the whales’ releases has risen. 

SeaWorld has tried long enough to hide their guilt. They know what they’re doing is wrong, and they try insanely hard to cover this up and shift the blame to the trainers/whales. They know what they are doing in keeping these whales in a cage. They cause these whales psychological and physical trauma, and it’s no wonder these whales have developed severe depression and act out the way they do. It’s time to stop, SeaWorld. Free these animals and stop treating them like objects.