SeaWorld: Where does their loyalty lie?

By: Samantha Puleo

SeaWorld 50th Anniversary Celebration
Image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/128012202@N05/15448172568/in/photostream/

Since March of 1964, SeaWorld has been one of the biggest attractions the US has to offer. The parks features orcas, dolphins, sea lions, and various other marine life, along with rehabilitation centers. For a long time, SeaWorld had a great reputation and received much praise, until tragedy struck in February of 2010, where trainer Dawn Brancheau was fatally attacked and killed by one of the orcas, Tilikum. After this, The parks’ marine mammals have been under debate and criticism over the years. With lots of critics saying that the park entails animal abuse.  This grew further when in 2013 the documentary, Blackfish, was produced and highlighted the mistreatment and abuse these orcas had been put through over a span of 35 years in various parks. But, the most talked about orca in the documentary is Tilikum and his experiences of being hopped from one park to another and not to mention the three people he had killed in his life span. During the documentary it is shown that Tilikum had previously killed a trainer at the first park he was featured at, Sea Land. So you’re probably asking yourself , why would this literal “killer whale” be picked up by a franchise as big as SeaWorld and why would they subject their own trainers to a whale like this? Well, don’t worry, I can answer this question.

Tilikum, the largest Orca ever recorded in captivity.
Image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/milanboers/3507418462

This is essentially where SeaWorld’s loyalties come in. During the Blackfish documentary, the past trainers from SeaWorld that worked personally with Tilikum had said that they were never made aware of the fact that Tilikum had killed a trainer at his previous park. This seems down right unethical in my opinion. It also shows me that SeaWorld definitely didn’t have a loyalty towards its employees, otherwise they would have fully disclosed every detail of this whale’s past to these trainers. I mean, these people really are the ones who should know everything about these animals since they’ll be physically working with them. What this should show you is that SeaWorld had financial loyalty to itself and only itself for purchasing Tilikum, but why is that, why would Tilikum specifically bring more money to them than any other orca, don’t they all look the same? Well yes they do for the most part all look the same, but SeaWorld only had females and they needed a breeder, so seeing Tilikum up for sale was a huge asset for them, no matter the circumstances of the whale. This purchase seemed like a great strategy but this was only the beginning for SeaWorld’s problems.

A family of Orcas
Image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/30314434@N06/41003693334/in/photostream/

It is a known fact that the orca species as a whole is based in family and tradition. Scientists have found over the years that these mammals don’t leave their families as they mature and look for new territory, they stick together for life and even go so far as to breed with other family members. That is how close-knit and territorial these families can be, so when random whales from all different cultures are put into tanks together, which is exactly what SeaWorld had done with Tilikum and the other females, there is a really bad reaction. In the Blackfish documentary, the past SeaWorld trainers had said that Tilikum was constantly abused by the female whales, causing him to bleed during shows and have rakes on his skin from their teeth. This is due to the females urging to show dominance over him and because of the fact that none of them knew each other, there was no family ordinance. Family order is crucial in orca cultures. So SeaWorld putting these different animals in with one another not only puts them in danger amounts each other but it also puts the trainers working with these orcas in danger because the animals could take our their frustrations with each other out on the trainers. Not only that, the documentary also shows that SeaWorld employees would tell visitors that the orcas would on average live longer in captivity than in the wild, to about 35 years old, when in reality these animals live to almost 100 years old in the wild. This narrative that SeaWorld is trying to put out is a blatant lie and a clear relation to their strong loyalty to themselves and their finances. This then shows that SeaWorld’s lack of psychological and physical care had to have taken a serious toll on these animals, resulting in a break in their psyche, resulting in Dawn Brancheau’s tragic death. I feel like if there were a loyalty to both these parties, these whales would’ve never been in captivity on the first place. If SeaWorld had taken initiatives to support education towards these animals in the wild, rather than keep them in captivity for their own financial benefit, this would not only have been great for the orcas but also could’ve saved the lives of the trainers that died. Based on all of this, SeaWorld definitely needs to take a look at itself and its ethical standpoints. They need to ensure that their loyalty always lies with the well-being of their trainers, but most importantly their animals.

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