Can We Be Rational About SeaWorld? — Comments

Due to the length of some of the comments on this post, I have migrated the comment thread here. The post is already long enough as is, so I don’t want to make the page even burlier.

For what it’s worth, I don’t censor, but if your comment is long, it may be automatically flagged for moderation. In that case, just give me some time to approve it.

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72 comments

  • Did you just anthropomorphize orcas immediately after talking about how we should avoid anthropomorphizing orcas? I think you did…

  • Dennis, Well stated, well thought out and one of the more balanced analysis I’ve seen. As you state, if people would make their deicisons based on accurate information rather than emotions, we might all see this just a little differently. The one sad episode I personally experienced came from a waitress at a local restaurant. She said that her family had SeaWorld annual passes for years, their children participated in all the Education camp programs and they always brought relatives to the park when family visited from out of town. However, after seeing the film they were dropping their passes. I asked her to clarify. I asked: Are you saying that you and your family personally experienced, appreciated, enjoyed and respected everything about SeaWorld, but now that you saw a movie you are taking the position of the movie message over your own personal experiences?” She replied: “Yes, you really ought to see it, they interviewed experts”…..sad commentary on the power of a strategically edited movie with a sound track and clever “edits”. Sometimes, accurate information takes a back seat to anyone interested in just agreeing with whatever someone tells them in a convincing way…:(

    • Thanks, Dave. Wow… I know for a lot of people who already disliked SeaWorld, the movie was an easy way to validate their pre-existing biases. But, for someone to just give up something they’d supported for years….

      *sigh*

  • Dennis:

    I think a few of your arguments are poor. For example, you explain that taking an orca calf from its mother is similar to removing a dog from its mother. You explain that because dogs and orcas are both social animals, and dogs do just fine, orcas are probably also okay being removed from their mothers. This is not logical thinking… it sounds like you’re canin-o-morphizing a little bit. Dogs and orcas are separated by many millions of years of evolution and have vastly different social structures. It is much different for a domestic dog to be removed from its mother, because they evolved to assimilate with new family groups. While wolves and dogs regularly separate from their family groups voluntarily in the wild (so they can form new family groups), this is not common in orcas. Orcas remain with their mothers for their entire lives in the wild. In fact, there has been only one recorded exception to this rule (see here: NMFS (2005). “Conservation Plan for Southern Resident Killer Whales (Orcinus orca)” (PDF). Seattle, U.S.A.: National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Northwest Regional Office. ) The issue is also explained well on Wikipedia. In light of this, it makes no sense to claim that orcas are a-okay being taken from their parents at any time in their lives. Dogs and orcas are both social animals, but that doesn’t mean they have the same social or psychological needs.

    I also think you’re a little too sympathetic to Sea World, and you dismiss many of their problems out of hand. If this were a balanced, “both sides of the coin” situation, I wouldn’t expect to see arguments like, “You can’t force a 10,000 pound animal to do anything. You give it suggestions.” This has never been true in the history of animal captivity. If my dog wanted to, he would shit in my house. But he was trained to shit outside. It doesn’t matter that he’s more powerful than I am on a physical level. He could bite my hand off if he wanted to. But he was trained to shit outside. The same is true with large animals. Elephants didn’t perform in circuses because one day they said, “Hey I think I should stand on this beach ball – that would be fun because a small human suggested it!” No way. In fact, elephants were (and are) often abused so that trainers can coerce them into performing certain tasks. It the olden days, elephant trainers used bullhooks, food deprivation, and lots of other horrible techniques to make elephants submissive to their owners. They crammed them in super small enclosures and took them from their families for that very purpose. Things are changing with captive elephants now, and they are often trained with positive reinforcement techniques that are effective and more humane, and zoos around the country are expanding their habitats so the pachyderms can walk freely (this is actually essential for the health of elephants; if they don’t walk a certain number of miles every day, they get horrible infections that can reduce their lifespans). This, I believe, was the point of Blackfish: that Orcas are placed in foreign, unhealthy environments so that they can easily be coerced into doing certain things for profit. I hope this will change for marine parks in general, and if the movie engenders that kind of investment, then good.

    Sure, the animals don’t always swim 100 miles every day, and humans don’t all run 50 miles every day. But are you seriously saying it’s healthy and normal for a human to live a listless existence playing video games all the time, just because lots of people do it? Of course not. That kind of a lifestyle leads to lots of health problems for humans, because we evolved to be active animals (see this list: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sedentary_lifestyle#Health_effects). It might be normal, but not healthy or okay. It would also be pretty ridiculous if someone kidnapped me, locked me in a small room with just a TV, and told me to play frogger until I died. Orcas also evolved to be active animals, and regardless of whether they swim 100 miles a day or 25 miles a day in the wild, they certainly don’t get that kind of activity in small SeaWorld enclosures. It is not anthropomorphizing to say this, and I actually wonder if you know the meaning of that word. If I said, “That animal looks happy,” then I would be anthropomorphizing, because I applied a human trait to a non-human animal. If I said, “That animal evolved to travel and migrate with its family over long distances in the open ocean. Placing it in a small enclosure where it can’t get the right social or physical stimulation is probably not healthy,” that is not anthropomorphizing. It is drawing a conclusion about the animal’s well being based on scientific information about the species. If I caged up a bunch of alligators for a theme park in Alaska, I could probably rationalize that too. “It gets cold in Florida sometimes, and some ‘gators actually like snow,” or “Just because alligators can swim 20 miles in a day, doesn’t mean they NEED to move more than 8 feet in their icebox,” or, “Sure, Alaska isn’t prime gator habitat, but do they even need prime habitat? This is probably good enough – we don’t know if they’re unhealthy at all.” It sounds pretty ridiculous. We could play the same game with Humpbacks… maybe there should be a Humpback exhibit at SeaWorld, right? Would it be okay to shack a bunch of Humpbacks in a tank? Even at 5 or 10 million gallons, a rational, well-informed person would say, “That is way too small… we can’t provide for their needs in there.” No one would say, “Well… I mean really, do they NEED a good substitute for the oceans? Those tanks might be just fine, we don’t know if they’re being affected adversely!” No way! It would be ridiculous, and not scientific, logical, or impartial at all.

    • Orcas remain with their mothers for their entire lives in the wild. In fact, there has been only one recorded exception to this rule

      Well, here’s another one:

      http://www.nrcresearchpress.com/doi/abs/10.1139/z00-155#.VJXMdl4AA

      That’s two.

      (This is the abstract for the link in my post that is now apparently dead.)

      I wouldn’t expect to see arguments like, “You can’t force a 10,000 pound animal to do anything. You give it suggestions.” This has never been true in the history of animal captivity.

      Fair enough. It was a tongue-in-cheek comment, but you’re right, you can make a five-ton animal do something if you resort to brutal physical tactics.

      That doesn’t negate the fact that SeaWorld doesn’t.

      But are you seriously saying it’s healthy and normal for a human to live a listless existence playing video games all the time, just because lots of people do it?

      Another tongue-in-cheek comment, and if you’re going to rebut it literally, then you’re making a straw man argument.

      The killer whales are not placed in an environment that’s the equivalent of them sitting on a couch for days on end.

      As I explained, they do get plenty of physical and mental stimulation. And with respect to this particular stat, there is no evidence that what they’re receiving isn’t enough.

    • “You can’t force a 10,000 pound animal to do anything. You give it suggestions.” Talk to anyone who has trained a Killer Whale and you will find out that this is absolutely true. They do what they want and only be establishing a strong bond of trust with them will you be able to get them to do anything you want. You can never force them. They just swim away.

    • Thanks, C. Pahl, very well put. I agree on the points you make.

  • Great, well balanced article. If I could add one thing – another reason why it would be dangerous to releases mammals in captivity directly to the ocean is because of the morbillivirus, a measels-like virus that affects wild dolphins. According to this article in Scientific American, in 2013 almost 1,000 dolphins were killed because of it. Dolphins in the wild at least have some resistance to it but dolphins in captivity have never been exposed to it. In fact, SeaWorld Orlando didn’t rescue marine mammals until a few years ago because they didn’t have a quarantine pool available and they were afraid to infect the captive dolphins. I don’t have a source but I believe it was also the morbillivirius that was behind a bunch of those pilot whale pod strandings. Either way, it wouldn’t be very practical to release all of the dolphins just to have to rescue them again.

    Once again, thanks for the great article. We need more people in the world to actually research things before they make a decision. In high school I had a teacher who would also remind us to, “think before you act” as the bell rang. I always assumed he was taking about the stupid things teens do but as I grew up I realized he really meant much more than that.

    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/virus-kills-over-1000-bottlenose-dolphins/

  • I do not mean to offend anyone, but the comparison of an Orca to a dog is simply wrong, scientifically speaking. Aside from the fact that dogs have been domesticated for over thousands of years, you are dealing win a very advanced brain and limbic system that dogs scientifically simply do not have. Spindle cells, the neurons in the brain that control higher learning and empathy are only present in Great Apes, Whales and Dolphins, Elephants and Human beings. This is a scientific fact that you can research. Dogs do not posses the self-awareness and social level or co-exisstance with members of their own kind that whales and dolphins do. (I will also add, just in the off chance you are not aware, orcas are the larges member of the dolphin family). And to add with reference to an orca limbic system, there is a part of a brain orcas have that humans beings do not.

    • No offense at all! I appreciate the comment.

      I wasn’t actually insinuating that dogs are equivalent to humans. My conclusion on this point was that separating mothers and calves probably is traumatic for them, anyway, so I threw the dog example out there as a “what-if.”

      I agree that killer whales do form strong bonds, so that’s why I would like SeaWorld to be more transparent on this.

    • Thanks for noting that the comparison was not sound scientifically! Mind boggles at some of the “stretches” made here.

  • Honestly your article was a joy to read. As a former educator myself my proudest moments is eliminating the myths that people believe regarding Blackfish. It was almost funny in a way how they seemed nervous to ask. In a hushed tone a guest would say “So… have you seen Blackfish?” or “In Blackfish they said this, does that really happen?” and I will admit that at first during my seasonal time there my heart would skip a beat and I suddenly tried to recall all the information I learned through our study and what the movie actually said. But I found that speaking from my heart (while stating facts of course) was the best way to convince someone that Blackfish was emotionally manipulating in nature. When someone saw how passionate I was in my education many would realize instantly that I wouldn’t be learning every little fact about all the animals at Seaworld if I didn’t want to work with them, care for them, and want to save their wild counterparts. There’s always a good and a bad side to things but I think what many people dont realize is that zoological facilities have come a long way and as time goes by the lives of captive animals will become a better environment then the wild solely because of the destructive nature of humans. I feel as if the issue of wild animals suffering in their natural environments is one that needs all the uproar.

  • Thank you! That is all. Thank you!

  • You were asking about a scientific source for ranges/travel per day, here’s one stating both Residents & Transients are known to travel 160 km per day (~ 100 miles), citing Erickson & Baird.

    “Both types of whales can swim up to 160 km per day (Erickson 1978, Baird 2000), allowing rapid movement between areas. For example, members of K and L pods once traveled a straight-line distance of about 940 km from the northern Queen Charlotte Islands to Victoria, Vancouver Island, in seven days (J. K. B. Ford and G. M. Ellis, unpubl. data). In Alaska, one resident pod journeyed 740 km in six days and another made a 1,900-km round trip during a 53-day period (Matkin et al. 1997). Transients are believed to travel greater distances and have larger ranges than residents (Goley and Straley 1994, Dahlheim and Heyning 1999, Baird 2000), as reflected by maximum home range estimates of 140,000 km2 for transients and 90,000 km2 for residents suggested by Baird (2000). A linear distance of 2,660 km covered by three transients from Glacier Bay, Alaska, to Monterey Bay, California (Goleyand Straley 1994), is one of the longest recorded movements by the species (see Guerrero-Ruiz et al. 2005). ”

    Recovery Plan for Southern Resident Killer Whales (Orcinus orca)
    http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/pdfs/recovery/whale_killer.pdf

  • I had high hopes for reading this article. I also agree that there is a lot of gray. Sadly, my hopes were dashed by your snarky, insulting attitude (yes, I did already know what “anthropomorphic” meant). But, clearly, you just wrote this because you like to hear your own clever arguments, not to educate anyone.
    After paragraphs of some reasonable data and lots of BS (seriously…maybe that whale swimming 100 miles make all the other whales feel bad about themselves?), you essentially conclude that there is no reason to think the tank size is an issue.
    Let me just point out a logical error. You are probably correct that the distance swum in the wild has to do with survival. That does not mean that providing the food makes it unnecessary to swim.
    You need to read a bit about evolution. If an organism has evolved (under natural or artificial selection) to do a task, putting them in a situation in which they cannot do that task can affect their health and their behavior. Talk to someone who has a border collie living in an apartment.
    Perhaps the 100 mile number is exceptional. Do you know of any orca in the wild that spend days…years…a lifetime…in 50-foot sphere?

    Here’s sort of the opposite of anthropomorphizing: why do you think humans don’t like being confined? Do you think it has something to do with the “special” nature of humans that only they can sense the moral unfairness of confinement? We operate with the same neurotransmitters other mammals do. Maybe the only difference is we make up good explanations for why we don’t like it. Maybe the actual reason is older, evolutionarily.

    Maybe one more…There are many more sharks in captivity (including tigers and makos) than there are orca. Yet, I could find no incidents of attacks.
    As for the “playing” with the seal argument…well, that’s just too stupid to debate. The seal is clearly food for the whale.
    An old friend of mine was a post-doc when I was a young professor studying the cetacean immune system. She now heads up the Mystic Aquarium. Since we were in San Diego, she got valuable data from Sea World.
    We had many good, nuanced discussions of the pros and cons of Sea World. Here far-greater experience with them made her a great resource for me.
    It’s a shame you were having too much fun denigrating people who disagree with you to have a similar discussion.

    • Well, if we’re gonna throw degrees around, I have a PhD, too… in evolutionary biology.

      As the data shows, killer whales swim great distances occasionally, apparently only when food is scarce. So I would argue that they’re not evolved to be swimming 100 miles every day, which is the assumption you’re making.

      Either way, we’re both offering conjecture here on what we believe the killer whales need or don’t need. Neither of us can prove our point, so the only thing we can do is observe whether or not the killer whales show overt signs of mental or physical stress in their captive environment.

      They don’t.

      Shark keepers don’t interact with sharks the way trainers interact with killer whales.

      As for the seal lion pup — they (spoiler alert) returned it to the beach at the end of the video, so it wasn’t food in this case.

    • Thank you for bluntly articulating my exact feelings on the smug perspective of this blog. I was so irritated by its condescending tone, that I barely made it through the first several paragraphs.

    • As evidence was asked for, I provided some, please read here. Dennis is continuing the coversation on my blog http://captivecetaceans-tragicallysad.blogspot.co.uk/2014/12/response-to-can-we-be-rational-about.html

    • I did not make it past the first point (ahem) observation made because not only was the tone so divisive – from smug to condescending and everything in between. Anthony, you couldn’t have said it better. To Mr. Hong with your evolutionary biology PhD. you really should know better about citing works and providing references, no?

  • So if you substitute “elephant” for orca, “Ringling Bros. And Barnum & Bailey” for SeaWorld, and “large land mammal” for marine mammal, you pretty much get exactly how I feel about anti-captivity protesters against the circus. Especially the “Animal Care” and “Dangerous Solutions” sections. This is incredibly well written and I thank you for it!!

    • You know, I’ve done zero personal research on the circus, and I always just accepted that they were kind of abusive, even though I really have no factual basis behind this opinion. I guess it’s kind of sad how such widespread beliefs persist.

      Maybe it’s time to read up on this myself….

  • There is a lot of scientific and factual evidence out there, here are some of them for you too
    Blackfish replies to Seaworld’s interpretation of Blackfish and the links proving what is true and where Seaworld lied are all in here http://captivecetaceans-tragicallysad.blogspot.co.uk/2014/03/challenging-things-seaworld-say_5.html

    1. swimming 100 miles per day – Ken Balcomb has studied the SR’s for 37 years and documented them swimming 75 miles per day average. http://www.whaleresearch.com/#!orca-questions/cw9q I think the point that is trying to be made is whether the orcas across the globe are hunting, playing or just socializing, they are constantly in motion even when sleeping. As you can see from video evidence, Seaworld orcas are not. Using the West Nile Virus which has killed Seaworld orcas, no recorded cases in the wild as it is carried by mosquito, had they not been logging at the surface, they wouldn’t have been bitten. Seaworld often say they are sleeping but as you should know cetacean brains are designed so they can shut off half at a time to constantly be in motion even when sleeping.
    Video evidence of Seaworld orcas inactivity
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kA0FpZLGqLo
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gH5dvX7J8Qs
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rwD2cumrf8Y

    ….

    [I’ve truncated this comment only because of its length. The full comment was reposted here, so I am linking to it and have informed the comment author that I will be happy to continue the discussion on his blog. -Dennis]

  • You fail to mention a lot of issues. The fact that these animals are drugged up on psychotropic meds for one. While you accuse Blackfish supporters as Kool Aid drinkers just what would you call the stuff Seaworld has been pouring down the public’s throats for 50 years. I fail to see any benefit for those animals to be kept in those conditions. One can only truly appreciate nature if one respects it.

    • The fact that they are given drugs is why I call for more transparency.

      Your last sentence is a non-sequitur and has no logical or scientific basis behind it.

  • We did a lot of things 50 years ago that we wouldn’t think of doing today. While it was considered the cool thing to do in the 60’s research has told us it is not the ethical to do. While I am sure the trainers genuinely care about these animals there is still an inherent cruelty to keeping these animals in tank and having them perform circus tricks. I liken it to keeping a dog in a 8 by 8 room it’s whole life. And not a little cuddly dog but one of those bigs ones that like to run. Dogs need to explore and sniff. To deny them that would be cruel.

  • I was going to give you the benefit of the doubt because you started off with good intentions. I couldn’t even get past the first point you were trying to make because it was so flawed! Sorry, but I think I will have to agree to disagree with you on the many issues you wanted to clarify. You views are tainted and your logic well its kinda like seeing SeaWorld through rose-coloured glasses.

  • You wrote, “Now, to be clear, avoiding anthropomorphism doesn’t mean that we stop caring about the animals. We absolutely must consider their welfare first and foremost. We just have to consider their actual needs, not what we would need if we were in their situation.”

    One very key point you yourself made in your rather flawed blog is:

    “We absolutely must consider their welfare first and foremost. We just have to consider their actual needs, not what we would need if we were in their situation.”

    And yet, you continuously argue against your very own point and here is how:

    You cited a conservation plan prepared by the National Marine Fisheries Service (incorrectly I might add and you never mentioned the name of the study the plan refers to, what is it?) where you paid particular attention to information surrounding sections titled “Travelling” and “Movement and Dispersal”. In your own assessment of travel, movement or dispersal nowhere do you draw the conclusion that while an orca can travel up to 100 miles per day in the wild, be it for food or simply migratory behaviour, in SeaWorld they absolutely cannot do this. And yes orcas migrate, its hereditary behaviour. They also travel to look for new and better food sources – they cannot do this in SeaWorld, they are forced to remain in one area and get fed whatever SeaWorld decides is best for them, but is it really best?

    However, different populations of killer whales can have remarkably specialized foraging behaviours and diets, and these populations may coexist sympatrically. The coastal waters of the northeastern Pacific Ocean are home to three genetically distinct and socially isolated forms of killer whales, known as residents, transients and offshores (Ford et al. 2000). Resident killer whales feed on fishes, particularly salmon, but do not prey on marine mammals, while transient killer whales prey on marine mammals but do not feed on fishes (Ford et al. 1998). The poorly known offshore killer whales appear to be fish feeders, though stable isotope and fatty acid profiles from tissue samples suggest a diet distinct from that of residents (Herman et al. 2005). Similarly specialized mammal- and fish-feeding ecotypes of killer whales have been reported in Antarctic waters (LeDuc et al. 2008).

    Which begs the question to your point above, does SeaWorld really give a thought to the welfare and attention of the orcas in their care and what they really need.

    Further to the last sentence I just wrote but not relevant persey to the point you were making:

    Killer whales are social animals that rely on relationships within and among family groups for survival. In the northeastern Pacific, fish-eating, ‘resident’ killer whale populations are composed of matrilines from which offspring do not disperse. Furthermore, juvenile whales, especially females, appeared to play a central role in maintaining network cohesion. These two key findings were supported subsequently by simulating removal of different individuals. The network was robust to random removals; however, simulations that mimicked historic live-captures from the northeastern Pacific were likely to break the network graph into isolated groups. This finding raises concern regarding targeted takes, such as live-capture or drive fisheries, of matrilineal cetaceans.

    Like African elephants, fish-eating killer whales in the northeastern Pacific live in stable, matrifocal groups in which acoustic cues are used to discriminate among matrilines (Ford 1989; Deecke et al. 2000). However, the functional role of different age–sex classes in killer whale societies has not been studied extensively. The extraordinarily strong fidelity of fish-eating killer whales to their natal units suggests an important and potentially variable contribution of different individuals to their social network. Anthropogenic removal targeting particular matrilines implicitly and particular age–sex classes explicitly could cause different population-level effects than random culling.

    Live-capture fisheries of killer whales occurred in the northeastern Pacific from 1962 to 1972 (Bigg & Wolman 1975), and may have played a role in the current at-risk status of the targeted populations. The topic is of ongoing concern to conservation and management globally: a live-capture fishery for 10 killer whales began recently in the waters off far east Russia. Preliminary evidence suggests that this population’s social structure and small size is similar to that of fish-eating killer whale communities of the coastal northeastern Pacific (International Whaling Commission 2005).

    Like human social networks, a killer whale social network is vulnerable to attacks that target vertices with high betweenness and degree values (Holme et al. 2002). The network we describe evaluated preferred companionships; chance encounters between whales also occurred, which could form the basis for future preferred companionships in cases where whales were removed. The latency of the observed fragmentation is therefore unknown, but can be assumed to increase as the number of individuals removed over short time periods also increases.

    Different matrilines appeared to play different roles in this killer whale social network, because matriline membership was the major contributor to the variation in both centrality measures. We collected association information in an important foraging area for a subset of the population. This discrepancy in matrilineal contribution to the network may reflect differences in local adaptation of different matrilines.

    Recent studies show that different sperm whale matrilines will have different foraging success under different climatic conditions (Whitehead & Rendell 2004), highlighting that matriline-based knowledge or foraging specializations could become lost during hunts where a whole matriline might be completely removed. Anthropogenic activities that target family groups represent an ecological challenge to which killer whale societies are not adapted and such removals could impact the viability of targeted populations. It is therefore important to collect information about the role of various individuals and natal groups in a population before live-capture programs start. Our findings also suggest that the social structure of populations cannot be disregarded from management plans that promote the recovery of depleted species. Our attempt to integrate sociality into a live-capture fishery for killer whales raises serious concerns about removals that target clusters of closely related animals, and indeed, any management procedure that treats all individuals in a network as generic.

    You wrote, “Yes, higher mammals have a sense of curiosity and a need for mental stimulation. But nowhere is there evidence that long-distance migration is required to satisfy this need.” Some of what I wrote above and there is more in the actual studies which are referenced for your perusal below would dispute your statement and contradict it entirely. Further in response to this “sense of curiosity and need for mental stimulation” statement you wrote, I suggest and highly recommend the following book – The Genesis of Animal Play. GORDON BURGHARDT. MIT Press. In here, as in above, I would say that you are not accurate in your assessment and did not fully research to support your statement. Just because you didn’t find anything to satisfy your need, does not mean evidence does not exist.

    Let’s move on, you wrote, “I have a coworker named Joe, who’s been known to run up to 50 miles a day. No, seriously, the dude ran uphill from Salt Lake City International Airport to Park City, Utah, back in September. For fun.” What you blatantly failed to observe in your statement is that your friend Joe wanted to run 50 miles a day and all for fun. Do you honestly believe that orcas want to be held captive? Somewhere in your diatribe or in the comments I did read I saw something along the lines of, Do you think you can make orcas do anything they don’t want to do?” – well no actually I don’t believe you can do, but you can certainly force them into behaviours, but not because they want to do them, because they have no choice in the matter. I have yet to see video footage of an orca offering himself/herself up for a life in captivity. I have yet to see video footage of an orca immediately and automatically without cues or food treats offer up to do any of the circus acts that SeaWorld has them perform daily. These mammals would not choose their miserably depleted quality of life and if they would do that then why hasn’t it happened already? Eh?

    You wrote, ” Point being, just because killer whales in the wild may swim up to 100 miles per day does not necessitate that they swim 100 miles per day in captivity in order to stay healthy. There’s simply no evidence to support that. If we want to measure their physical and mental health, we have to resort to other observations.” You tried really hard to dissuade any readers that whales do not need to swim 100 miles per day in order to stay healthy and there is no evidence to support it, but there is plenty of evidence to support the fact that captivity is detrimental, in the extreme, for orcas.

    Just one example below but many recommended readings for you. I mean you want to make a truly informed opinion based on evidence, right?

    It is not a matter of opinion that orcas do not adjust to captivity; it is a matter of fact. After more than 45 years of exhibiting orcas for human amusement, while at the same time studying them in the wild, we have learned enough about them in both settings to realize that orcas do not belong in captivity. Rose, N. A. 2011. I highly recommend you read this piece of grey literature in its entirety. (cited below)

    Recommended reading of scientific evidence to support that captivity of orcas is plain and simple wrong:

    McBain, J.F. 1999. Cetaceans in captivity: A discussion of welfare. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association

    J.S. and Ventre, J.M. 2011. Keto and Tilikum Express the Stress of Orca Captivity. Report submitted to The Orca Project, St. Pete Beach, Florida, available at http://theorcaproject.wordpress.com/2011/01/20/keto-tilikum-express-stress-of-orca-captivity/

    Rose, N.A., Parsons, E.C.M., and Farinato, R. 2009. The Case Against Marine Mammals in Captivity. The Humane Society of the United States and the World Society for the Protection of Animals, Washington, D.C., available at http://www.humanesociety.org/assets/pdfs/marine_mammals/case_against_marine_captivity.pdf

    Hoyt, E. 1990. “The Whale Called Killer”; Hoyt, E. 1992. The Performing Orca – Why The Show Must Stop. Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, Bath. http://www.wdcs.org/

    Kriete, Birgit, 1994, University of British Columbia, Bioenergetics in the killer whale, orcinus orca

    Ford, J.K.B. 1989. “Acoustic behaviour of resident killer whales (Orcinus Orca) off Vancouver Island, British Columbia.” Canadian Journal of Zoology. Vol. 67.

    Ford, J.K.B., G.M. Ellis & K.C. Balcomb. 1994. Killer Whales. UBC Press, Vancouver, B.C.

    Mooney, J. 1997 Captive Cetaceans: A Handbook for Campaigners. Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, Bath.
    Markowitz, H. 1990. “Environmental opportunities and health care for marine mammals.” CRC Handbook of Marine Mammal Medicine: Health, Disease and Rehabilitation. (L. A. Dierauf, ed.), CRC Press, Boca Raton, Florida.

    Whitehead, H. 1990. “The value of oceanaria.” Whales in Captivity: Right or Wrong? Proceedings of a symposium. Canadian Federation of Humane Societies, Ottawa.

    Sweeney, J. 1990. “Marine mammal behavioural diagnostics.” CRC Handbook of Marine Mammal Medicine. (L. A. Dierauf, ed.) CRC Press, Boca Raton, Florida.

    Woodley, T. H., J. L. Hannah & D. M. Lavigne. 1994. “A comparison of survival rates for captive and free-ranging .. killer whales (Orcinus orca).” International Marine Mammal Association Inc. Draft technical report no 93-01.

    Walsh, M. November 1990. Necropsy report on orca ID no SWF-00-8701 (Kanduke).

    Above all, I really recommend you read this one seeing as you refer to it so many times – Fad, O. Autumn 1994. “Anthropomorphism.” IMATA Soundings. Vol. 19, no 4.

    Walker, W.A., L. Cornell et al. 1988. “Urinary concentrations of ovarian steroid hormones, metabolites and bioactive follicle-stimulating hormone in killer whales (Orcinus orca) during ovarian cycles and pregnancy.” Biol. Reprod., vol. 39.
    McCormick, D.K. March 1993. “The age of aquariums.” Sea Frontiers, vol.

    As you can see I have only addressed (somewhat) your first few points or statements that were flawed, I could not even imagine the amount of time it would take to address all the issues I would have with your assessment.

    Other References referred to earlier:

    Bigg M. A., Olesiuk P. F., Ellis G. M., Ford J. K. B., Balcomb K. C. III – 1990 Social organization and genealogy of resident killer whales (Orcinus orca) in the coastal waters of British Columbia and Washington State. Rep. Int. Whal. Commn 12, 383–405.

    Perrin W. F., Wursig B., Thewissen J. G. M.Ford J. K. B.- 2009 Killer whale Orcinus orca. In Encyclopedia of marine mammals, 2nd edn (eds Perrin W. F., Wursig B., Thewissen J. G. M.), pp. 650–657. San Diego, CA:Academic Press.

    Ford J. K. B., Ellis G. M. – 2006 Selective foraging by fish-eating killer whales Orcinus orca in British Columbia.Mar. Ecol. Prog. Ser. 316, 185–199. (doi:10.3354/meps316185) CrossRef

    Bigg M.A, Wolman A.A – 1975 Live-capture killer whale fishery, British Columbia and Washington State, 1962–72.J. Fish. Res. Board Canada. 32, 1213–1221.

    Coltman D.W, O’Donoghue P, Jorgenson J.T, Hogg J.T, Strobeck C, Festa-Bianchet M – 2003 Undesirable evolutionary consequences of trophy hunting. Nature. 426, 655–658. doi:10.1038/nature02177 CrossRefMedlineWeb of Science

    Deecke V.B, Ford J.K.B, Spong P – 2000 Dialect change in resident killer whales: implications for vocal learning and cultural transmission. Anim. Behav. 60, 629 – 638. doi:10.1006/anbe.2000.1454 CrossRefMedlineWeb of Science

    Ford J.K.B – 1989 Acoustic behavior of resident killer whales (Orcinus orca) off Vancouver Island, British Columbia.Can. J. Zool. 67, 727–745. CrossRefWeb of Science

    Ford J.K.B, Ellis G.M, Balcomb K.C – 2000 Killer whales: the natural history and genealogy of Orcinus orca in British Columbia and Washington State. Vancouver, Canada:University of British Columbia Press

    Freeman L.C – 1977 A set of measures of centrality based upon betweenness. Sociometry. 40, 35–41.doi:10.2307/3033543 CrossRefWeb of Science

    Holme P, Kim B.J, Yoon C.N, Han S.K – 2002 Attack vulnerability of complex networks. Phys. Rev. E. 65 art. no.-056109

    International Whaling Commission 2005 Report of the scientific committee.

    Lusseau D, Newman M.E.J – 2004 Identifying the role that animals play in their social networks. Proc. R. Soc. B.271, S477–S481. doi:10.1098/rspb.2003.2622 Abstract/FREE Full Text

    McComb K, Moss C, Durant S.M, Baker L, Sayialel S – 2001 Matriarchs as repositories of social knowledge in African elephants. Science. 292, 491–494. Abstract/FREE Full Text

    The Genesis of Animal Play. GORDON BURGHARDT. MIT Press

    Rose, N. A. 2011. Killer Controversy: Why Orcas Should No Longer Be Kept in Captivity. Humane
    Society International and The Humane Society of the United States, Washington, D.C. 16 pp.

    • I’m going to refer to four fallacies that people responding to my post commit repeatedly. For simplicity, I will refer to each fallacy by letter as I respond to your comment. Here are the fallacies:

      A) You dispute something either I or SeaWorld has presented, but whether or not the information is true doesn’t actually impact the killer whale’s health in captivity.

      B) You point out differences between killer whales in the wild versus in captivity, but there isn’t any evidence this difference has any tangible effect on their health.

      C) You make a claim that I already refuted in my own post.

      D) You bring up something as an argument, but it’s actually in agreement with what I already said.

      And here are my responses:

      You cited a conservation plan prepared by the National Marine Fisheries Service (incorrectly I might add and you never mentioned the name of the study the plan refers to, what is it?)

      This is the internet. We cite by linking. Any text in red is a link. Click it, and you’ll be taken directly to the citation.

      In your own assessment of travel, movement or dispersal nowhere do you draw the conclusion that while an orca can travel up to 100 miles per day in the wild, be it for food or simply migratory behaviour, in SeaWorld they absolutely cannot do this.

      There’s no “conclusion” to be drawn here. They absolutely cannot swim 100 miles per day at SeaWorld, and it would be silly for me to argue otherwise.

      At the same time, you’re assuming that they need to swim 100 miles per day to be healthy. In fact, many of your arguments amount to this:

      XXX is a natural killer whale behavior. The killer whales at SeaWorld aren’t able to do XXX. Therefore, the killer whales cannot remain healthy at SeaWorld.

      This is an illogical argument. In order to demonstrate that they cannot remain healthy at SeaWorld, you have to show evidence that they cannot stay healthy without XXX. You can’t just demonstrate that they don’t get XXX. This is the major flaw in most arguments that anti-caps push.

      Fallacy B.

      Which begs the question to your point above, does SeaWorld really give a thought to the welfare and attention of the orcas in their care and what they really need.

      I agree with this sentiment, which is why I pushed for more transparency on SeaWorld’s part. You would know this if you read the whole post.

      Fallacy D.

      This finding raises concern regarding targeted takes, such as live-capture or drive fisheries, of matrilineal cetaceans.

      SeaWorld hasn’t captured any killer whales from the wild in over 30 years.

      Fallacy C.

      These mammals would not choose their miserably depleted quality of life and if they would do that then why hasn’t it happened already? Eh?

      Of course the killer whales wouldn’t “give themselves up” voluntarily. But that’s anthropomorphism. Just because they didn’t come into captivity of their own accord doesn’t mean that they can’t adapt and still live a “good” life there.

      Just one example below but many recommended readings for you. I mean you want to make a truly informed opinion based on evidence, right?

      The “evidence” you cite is written by Naomi Rose. While Dr. Rose used to be a researcher, she fully admits that she gave that up to become an activist:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z84sLwSAFsQ

      Hence, her writings do not fall under the category of “objective sources” that I mentioned in my post. Dr. Rose, while knowledgeable, is far from objective.

      Assorted citations

      I appreciate the links and will check out the ones I haven’t seen. There are two glaring flaws with your links, though:

      Most of them are not objective sources. They are not scientific studies published in peer reviewed journals. I find it pretty audacious that you lecture me on proper citation technique when you yourself fail to cite objective sources. That’s a pretty basic scientific skill there, eh?

      The ones that are objective are from the 90s or earlier. I already talked about this in my post.

      Fallacy C.

      And finally, here’s the biggest fallacy that anti-SeaWorld activists commit:

      You believe that this is a black-or-white issue. You believe that if someone were to see the facts, it would be obvious that killer whales should not be in captivity, that they cannot possibly be healthy in captivity.

      What you fail to realize is that you are viewing the evidence through your own colored lenses. You are drawing conclusions based on your own pre-existing biases. The disagreement arises due to the fact that pro-caps and anti-caps view the same objective evidence out there and draw different conclusions. It doesn’t arise because pro-caps are ignorant.

      While I — or anyone pro-SeaWorld — would never argue that a captive environment is perfect for them, you believe that a captive environment cannot possibly be adequate. While I admit there’s plenty of room for improvement, you argue effectively that improvement is impossible and the killer whales must therefore be suffering.

      So, when you ask me this:

      I mean you want to make a truly informed opinion based on evidence, right?

      My answer is this:

      I have. Have you?

  • hi, I like your article and agree with a lot of what you say here are my thoughts…

    Point 1: you are correct in saying they probably do not need to swim 100 miles a day to be healthy however inactivity has been proven to be detrimental to health in many species including humans… what amount of activity is required for good health and whether they get enough exercise in sea world tanks is something that everyone will have different opinions about… and the amount of exercise required will differ for each individual. I do like the idea of an orca treadmill – i assume it will set up a current that they swim against and i think that would be awesome for their health and fitness. I think that all aquariums should keep improving the conditions, practices and enclosures of their animals to provide the best physical and mental stimulation and wellbeing as they can.

    Point 2: yes again another grey area where the exact causes and effects are still debated as in the paper about flaccid fin syndrome – they admit they do not know what causes it but the 3 top responses were captivity, animal fitness and injury. You say that ‘However, the collapsed dorsal fin probably doesn’t affect the overall health of the animal.’ and i think that statement is correct however I think most people believe it is a sign of poor health or fitness which is supported by the paper on flaccid fin syndrome as fitness and injury were top responses by experts on the cause of the fin flopping over. Other accounts of wild cetaceans and even a dolphin in captivity have shown the fins flop over in times where the health of the animals were poor and they often stand back up when the animal is healthy again.

    Point 3: The data does show that the whales born in captivity are definitely living longer lives on average than the whales that were caught decades ago. That is awesome and i do think that sea world gives them excellent medical care. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of data on average life expectancies of all the different pods from around the world but they are probably variable due to the different pressures they face in the different environments. So overall i am happy that sea world are improving their practices which is resulting in whales living longer.

    Point 4: you have so many good points – of course accidents between humans and whales are more likely when animals and whales are in the same water every day!!! how often do people swim with wild killer whales?!?!? and yes if they were stressed and unhappy with trainers these accidents would happen so much more frequently! I think the statistics show that the whales like their human trainers and have a good bond with them!

    Point 5: Is my main issue with sea world and other aquariums. I believe that sea world’s main goal should be keeping the animals as happy as they can be and that includes letting them stay with whichever whales they have the strongest bonds with. I have heard of so many stories of aggression between cetaceans kept together from keepers on online forums, interviews and from people i have personally met which has made me think that this really reduces their quality of life. I think it should be the main goal of all facilities that keep animals in captivity to minimise aggression and bullying as much as they possibly can and keep the animals in social groups that improve the mental wellbeing of the animals as much as is practicable even at the detriment of performances and shows. As a visitor i would much rather hear a keeper say the show is not as good as it could be because they are keeping the social structures of the families intact than see whales and dolphins do tricks and jumps. In our australian sea world i know that dolphins are kept in groups that are not what the dolphins want just so they can do the shows and swims with tourists. If they did their very best on this one issue i would be a sea world supporter as i think this would improve their quality of life dramatically.

    Other points – totally agree with rescue and rehab – who else would be able to take the sheer numbers that sea world takes in? and who would pay for it? People are idiots if they don’t realise what good they do.
    conservation and scientific papers – they are definitely doing more that a lot of the keyboard warriors out there…
    Entertainment – I think training and shows are a form of enrichment and improves their quality of life – people who have never worked with animals are the ones saying it is exploiting them – any zoo keeper knows that most animals enjoy learning things for food rewards.
    All the other points – the activists that want the orcas released and not perform ‘degrading tricks’ are not thinking of the orcas best interests. Do they think the orcas will have a better quality of life if sea world goes bankrupt??? who will pay for their super expensive upkeep? will they be happy in a sea pen with nothing to do? Do i think that the orcas are currently happy in captivity – I don’t know, some might be but i think some are definitely unhappy but i don’t see much difference between them and most animals in zoos. Do i think they CAN have a good quality of life in captivity? yes – does sea world do everything they can to give them the best captive life they can have? – NO – they can keep improving everything and I hope they do. There are swimming pools for humans that are 20 acres in size – If they can make them for humans I definitely think sea world could make some super impressive, much larger pools for their orcas with areas that they can swim against currents and other areas of enrichment. They could also keep them in social groups that get along the best with minimal bullying regardless of whether that impacts the shows. I certainly don’t think sea world is any more evil than any other zoo or aquarium but i do think they should do everything they possibly can to improve the lives of the animals in their care…

  • Whilst I appreciate your desire to keep emotion out of the equation, you can’t. There is just something inherantly ‘wrong’ with using animals for entertainment – it ‘feels’ wrong. I also notice that you didn’t mention the use of valium to calm orcas in captivity. I don’t know if this is factual or not but I would have liked you to cover the issue.

  • Thank you for your replies Dennis I have addressed them again http://captivecetaceans-tragicallysad.blogspot.co.uk/2014/12/response-to-can-we-be-rational-about.html
    If anyone else would like to add their observations too please feel free.

    • I’m going to reply here, because your commenting system is ridiculously clunky. Seriously, why are you still using Blogger?

      Anyway, I’m going to start with your concluding statement:

      I know my own biases, captivity is wrong, it has been proven to be wrong, and can be proven to be wrong without the use of either Seaworld or Blackfish, it can and has been proven in official documents which I hope you now can see.

      Now, let’s look at all the latest evidence you cite that evidently “proves” that captivity is wrong:

      The logging in captivity isn’t a natural thing and is to their detriment. This peer reviewed article shows that…

      No, it doesn’t. It shows that whales in captivity can suffer from health conditions caused by spending more time at the surface. I believe these are conditions that can be treated medically, as they have been. It does not prove conclusively that captivity is “wrong.”

      I haven’t said that dorsal fin collapse is a sign of ill health, it is however a sign of captivity

      So what’s your point? How is this proof that captivity is wrong?

      Male maturation rates are also very similar for humans and orcas, beginning in early to mid-teens with full maturity in late teens. This indicates that full male lifespans in undisturbed populations may also be similar.

      You’re arguing in circles here. Everything you point out, I addressed in my original post.

      Show me scientific evidence that they couldn’t do this [releasing captive whales into the ocean] not be done.

      Are you kidding me? My entire section titled “Dangerous Solutions” is filled with scientific evidence why this can’t be done. Did you even read my original post?

      There may well be people in San Diego asking for Seaworld to close down, but are they Congressmen, Scientists, or anyone with any legal influence on that decision or are they just regular people who have had enough of Seaworld and their lies?

      And here’s where you’re wrong again:

      http://www.natureworldnews.com/articles/6560/20140408/californias-blackfish-bill-tabled-seaworld-to-keep-orcas-for-now.htm

      So there’s at least one congressperson who wants killer whales removed from captivity altogether.

      Either way, this is either the most pathetic backpedal I’ve ever seen, or the most pathetic argument ever cobbled together. Are you seriously arguing that if someone isn’t a scientist or lawmaker, then their opinions don’t matter? Why are you even arguing with me then? And again, how is this “proof” that captivity is wrong?

      I used to think ignorance to the facts was the problem but it isn’t, they blatently ignore them, twist them or just resort to name calling to avoid them

      And once more I ask, how is this proof that captivity is wrong? There are ignorant, close-minded assholes on both sides. You’re coming pretty close to becoming one of them.

      This is what it comes down to:

      I acknowledge that holding killer whales in captivity has its share of issues, and I want to see these issues addressed. You, however, are hellbent on proving me and other pro-caps wrong. And you do so by nitpicking every detail you can.

      Now, let’s ignore the fact that you’re doing a pretty piss-poor job of nitpicking at that, and focus on the end result:

      When you refuse to acknowledge the gray area in a topic like this, when you insist that the issue is clearcut and there is no room for dissent, then all you do is polarize. You earn the congratulations of people already on your side, and you push the people wavering in the middle further away, because the people in the middle realize that it’s NOT a simple solution.

      Let me direct you to a blog post that will shed some light on what you’re doing here, because I see people doing it all the time:

      http://www.musingsonlifeandlove.com/2012/04/06/dear-politics-please-pick-your-battles/

      Seriously, if you’re trying to persuade, then pick your battles and focus on the actual issues. But if you just want to prove yourself right, then by all means, continue deluding yourself as you have been. Just know that you aren’t winning any supporters.

      Which brings us back to this:

      I know my own biases, captivity is wrong, it has been proven to be wrong, and can be proven to be wrong without the use of either Seaworld or Blackfish, it can and has been proven in official documents which I hope you now can see.

      None of the information you point out in your most recent replies — or any of your replies, for that matter — actually support your conclusion that captivity is wrong.

      Again, if you can’t accept that this is NOT a black-or-white issue, then you will never be able to engage in an actual open-minded discussion about this.

  • 1/ Just a link to data what the new tagged orca swam in the last days: (to talk about it rationally with the facts)
    http://www.nwfsc.noaa.gov/research/divisions/cb/ecosystem/marinemammal/satellite_tagging/blog2015.cfm

    2/Without being anthropomorphic the whale studies shows they live in close knit family groups, calves live with their mother’s pod throughout their entire life, their social capability is supported by Lori Marino Magnetic Resonance investigation: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ar.a.20075/full. My point: if I assume that tearing them away from family and assume that taking away calves from mother extremely stressful, I am not anthropomorphic.

    3/ If SeaWorld keep orcas in captivity since decades and did take care about research and education, how come no one repeated Lori Marino Mirror self-recognition experiment that she made with Bottelnose Dolphins. “… and possibly mirror self-recognition (Delfour and Marten, 2001).” (Quote from above mentioned article.)

    • 1) Cool, thanks for the info.

      2) I never said anyone was anthropomorphizing here. In fact, I suggested the opposite.

      3) I’m actually not sure what you’re getting at here. Because SeaWorld hasn’t tried to replicate this study, that means they don’t care about killer whale research and education? Can you clarify?

  • Hi Dennis!

    I’m a bit torn to be honest. On one hand I know that the people who work for Sea World are passionate and care about animals. My girlfriend is a vet and I can appreciate that people who dedicate their lives to animals do care about them. Sea World I’m sure is filled with people who do more to care for orcas than I will ever do.

    On the other hand I have some questions I’d love to get answered for my own benefit. Sea World won’t reply to emails, deletes comments on their facebook page and youtube pages, you can’t get through on the phone to ask someone, they disabled comments on their blog and their press releases stink of a bad PR firm. So how can you find out the truth from them at least?

    So maybe you can help with my questions:

    – how medicated are the orcas? what sorts of medications? and are they constantly on medication? I think this would alone be a pretty major factor in whether the environment is reasonable for orcas. My dog doesn’t need constant medication to survive. If an orca does that is pretty awful really. A person made a comment on youtube – someone who loved Sea World – that he worked there feeding them for 5 days and the food had preventative medications in them.

    The animal activists have many claims about all sorts of drugs being prescribed such as xanax and constant antibiotics. Is this the truth or are they lying? It’s impossible to get an answer from Sea World. I would say that if this is true – if they need to be constantly medicated just to survive that breeding programs are extremely questionable. In humans – yes I’m anthropomorphizing, but we are animals too – being on constant medication to live is a sign of very, very poor health.

    – are the health issues real or are they exaggerated? Do orcas chew off their teeth on the metal gates, concrete and by grinding them? What are tilikum’s teeth like in particular? Do they really get sun burned and need zinc? Are infections common? Could there generally be more transparency on the health of the orcas, the treatment they receive and more detail given on specific health issues of orcas in captivity. It seems based on information I’ve read at least that orcas seem to have more issues in captivity than other animals.

    – how relevant is the common sense side of the debate? I’m mean both sides can trade statistics until the cows come home, but with 1.2 million people signing a petition in California on ending orca entertainment and breeding programs, you have to think that on some level people think keeping orcas in captivity is wrong – in particular the shows and breeding. There isn’t this level of emotion or passion for lions, elephants or fish in captivity. I think on some level people look at these amazing animals and it just somehow seems wrong.

    – how is tilikum really doing? there are videos of him on YouTube being lethagic, floating, not participating in shows etc. Is this hyped up or is there really an issue there?

    I’d love if possible to speak to someone at Sea World that can given honest answers, and I’d say that a lot of other people who like to know this information as well.

    • I think those are all great questions, which is why I would personally like to see more transparency on SeaWorld’s end. There’s already so much rumor out there regarding these alleged practices, I do feel like it would behoove them to be more open about it.

      At the same time, I do kind of understand why SeaWorld might want to be secretive about this kind of stuff. The problem is that when your opponents are looking to shut you down completely, they’re not leaving much room for negotiation, and it forces you to take an extreme stance.

      Man, I see this crap all the time when it comes to politics and discourse over any sort of controversial issue. Maybe both sides start in the middle, but as soon as one side shifts to a more extreme stance, the other side has to respond by shifting themselves. And eventually, the two sides are on opposite extremes, and no rational discourse can occur anymore.

      If the anti-SeaWorld folks are looking to remove all killer whales from captivity and shut down SeaWorld, that doesn’t leave SeaWorld any room to say, “Okay, look, the stuff we’re doing here isn’t ideal. Let’s talk about how we can all work together to improve it.” It basically forces SeaWorld to say, “Oh hey, everything is just peachy! Just let us be, okay?”

      I’m not trying to pin it all on one side, of course. Both sides definitely play the propaganda card. I just personally find the anti-SeaWorld people to be way more extreme in their position. And that’s why I wrote this post in the first place. In order for there to be any productive discussion, both sides have to be willing to acknowledge their own position’s shortfalls.

      That’s the only way any compromise can occur. And a position such as “captivity is wrong, plain and simple” is not one that is open to negotiation and compromise. As such, I honestly believe that before any rational discussion can occur, the anti-SeaWorld people need to back off on their extreme stance a bit first.

      Just my 25 cents….

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