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

  • That’s a fair response.

    One challenge for Sea World is that their position is much, much harder to defend than the activists. I mean, arguing to keep animals in captivity is a much harder thing to do than arguing to keep animals in the wild.

    The difficulty for me in making my own personal judgements is that the Sea World opposition is simply more convincing. They appear to have better studies, information, research and better counter arguments. You’d think with the 1000s of vets, scientists, zoologists etc at Sea World that they’d be producing much stronger and more convincing arguments.

    So far from a decent amount of time, it seems like Sea World is looking pretty bad.

    • Fair enough. Just a couple of responses:

      arguing to keep animals in captivity is a much harder thing to do than arguing to keep animals in the wild

      In this day and age, definitely. 50 years ago? Not so much. 🙂

      Of course, we can say that this means we’re more enlightened as a society now, and we don’t ignore the welfare of our planet’s wild animals. And I would wholeheartedly agree.

      At the same time, I do believe that a lot of our concern for animals is a bit misguided and based on anthropomorphism. I mean, the only reason people even care about killer whales in the first place is because SeaWorld has made them out to be these cute adorable animals over the past 50 years. Before then, they were basically seen as pests that interfered with fisherman.

      Point being, I do believe we need to temper our concern for animals with rationalism. Which brings me to….

      the Sea World opposition is simply more convincing. They appear to have better studies, information, research and better counter arguments.

      Having delved into the scientific research out there, I completely disagree with this. If you read the studies that I linked, or even if you start looking up actual peer-reviewed studies yourself, I think you’ll find that there really isn’t much — if any — conclusive evidence that captivity is harming the killer whales… or rather, harming them to the extent that captivity should be outright ruled out.

      To me, where the anti-captivity arguments become convincing is when we take studies that are generally inconclusive and start drawing anthropomorphic conclusions about them (i.e., killer whales in the wild may swim up to 100 miles per day, so that means that need to do that to stay healthy in captivity).

      Yes, there are problems inherent in keeping killer whales in captivity. Yes, I would like to see SeaWorld address them and be more transparent about them. But that doesn’t mean that captivity as a whole is an evil thing.

      I know that SeaWorld’s knowledge of killer whale biology and behavior, as well as their ability to care for the animals, has vastly improved over the 50 years since they first started bringing killer whales into captivity. While their methods are still not perfect — and may never be — I am confident that they will keep improving, and that they can in fact provide a “good home” for the killer whales.

      That’s basically where I stand on all this.

  • Please stop with the anthropomorphic defense. Just because someone has an argument doesnt mean they are anthropomorpizing the situation. There is no reason to continue to capture and keep and train these animals. They can keep and study and promote what they have, but to capture more and/or breed them is insane. There is no reason ( other than money) to keep these animals in these conditions, there are plenty of other animals and sea life that will entertain the public and sell stuffed animals, keeping an orca in captivity is not necessary. yes, they may be healthy, happy? I dont know, im sure they are “enriched” but really…is it optimal for them? anyone can see its not. Jacques Cousteau was at the forefront of bringing sea life to the public and he didnt have to capture them and keep them for their life times to do that. I think there are animals way better suited to captivity than this species. As far as the orcas “snapping”? I dont care how many hoops you have them jump through, they are wild animals, they do what they want and react out of instinct.

  • I can’t believe that I haven’t read this before. It’s excellent. Keep up the great work. 🙂

  • I find some of your arguments compelling and a fresh take nearer to the middle ground in such a lot of contention. However, I was slightly disappointed when I came to the comparison you drew between the separation of orcas from their mothers and the same for dogs. A large proportion of your argument hinges on the proficiency with which activists anthropomorphise orca’s to serve their argument; we cannot compare the two species for lack of scientific fact and objectivity. I agree. How then can you convincingly and ‘rationally’ compare the social needs and development of dogs and orca’s? Based on the fact that dogs are ‘social animals too’. Surely a human also qualifies as a social animal? And the separation of a human baby from its mother would cause long lasting psychological damage. How is one comparison more substantiated than the other? This sounds to me like a fairly biased line of argument. It’s unnacceptable when your opposition attribute human characteristics to orcas, but not for you to attribute a dog’s characteristics to an orca, to serve your argument. Is this not just the same? If I’m wrong please tell me!

    • Keep in mind that my conclusion for that particular point was that SeaWorld needs to be more transparent about separating mothers and calves. In fact, I acknowledged that the comparison to dogs was speculative, and that’s why I could not use it to support mother/calf separations. As such, you’re refuting a point that I myself already refuted.

      Then again, if you extend the comparison to humans, as you do here:

      Surely a human also qualifies as a social animal? And the separation of a human baby from its mother would cause long lasting psychological damage.

      Then I would argue that you end up refuting yourself. Do you not believe in adoption? Will you therefore argue that adopted or foster children will always suffer long-term psychological damage?

      In this case, anthropomorphism actually supports SeaWorld’s practices. The fact that human babies can in fact be separated from their mothers and still form strong bonds with their adopted parents suggests that separating killer whale calves from their mothers may not be as traumatic as we make it out to be.

  • Adopted children often aren’t taken from their mothers — and I’d argue that children that are taken away from loving mothers do end up developing lasting psychological damage.

  • Excellent article, very lengthy and just as in-depth as it needs to be, and very good at being unbiased. You did some things I would not have, but hey, we’re all different.

    I just feel like noting on one thing – the mother-calf separations. SeaWorld is not lying or being deceptive around the semantics of “calf”. In fact, a calf is defined as a very young animal still dependent on its mother for nourishment, in the case of killer whales, up to two years of age, when they are weaned.
    Only one calf has had his mother moved younger than two, when it had nothing to do with the safety of the calf, and it was Keet, back in 1993. His mother Kalina was moved when she became pregnant again, and I can definitely say SeaWorld would never do this again (even without the eyes of the world on them), going on their behaviors in later years. It was 22 years ago.

    The last time any mother and offspring, of any age, were separated, was in 2009, when Takara was moved from her four year old son Trua. Back when this was more common in the 1990s and 2000s, the offspring were often aged around 4-6, and some, even 13 (Takara and Taku) years old. By no means “calves” at all. (Takara had a two year old calf who came with her when she was moved from her mother, and Taku had already fathered two calves, one *with* his mother, which was as far as I know, the reason for the move.)

    As it is, with artificial insemination and larger facilities about to be built, I can’t see why mothers and offspring should have to be separated anymore, unless in cases where it’s absolutely needed for a healthy pod structure.

  • Dennis,

    This is an excellent article. I have seen it before, and it just popped up on my news feed once again. And again, I have shared it as I still get questions all the time about if what other groups are saying is true.

    Thank you for taking the time and effort, and for being so dedicated in putting together what I believe is a truly unbiased piece of work.

    • Thanks for sharing, Christopher! I’m always happy to discuss the issue of killer whale captivity, but there is a definite dearth of objective information out there, so I’m glad you appreciate my efforts.

  • I’ve come to the conclusion that many people cannot be rational about SeaWorld. A Facebook page called “I F*cking Love Science” today posted an erroneous article stating that California had banned captive orca breeding http://www.iflscience.com/plants-and-animals/california-ban-seaworld-breeding-captive-orca Except of course that that isn’t what happened. I had to go seek out information about what actually happened, which is that the Coastal Commission approved SeaWorld’s request to build larger tanks on the contingency that they no longer breed (or, from what I can tell, allow to breed) captive orcas. From what I can tell this would involve separating mixed pods as occur in nature into male and female pods, which would not only be unnatural but would involve separating bonded animals. http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-seaworld-vote-reaction-20151009-story.html Anyway, I think the answer to your question “Can we be rational about SeaWorld” is “no” amongst people who have their minds made up already. I posted your link a few times, maybe someone will actually read it.

  • By the way “rationalorca.com” does not redirect to your post.

  • I’ve been hearing all this swimming up to 100 miles a day, and the best response I can come up with is that wild cats have been tracked via GPS collar and found to have ranged “up to” 1.351 acres. Also, “pet cats maintain a rather lazy existence: they spent 80 percent of their time resting. They devoted another 17 percent to low-activity pursuits such as grooming and only 3 percent to high-activity pursuits such as hunting. Unowned cats rested just 62 percent of the time and spent 14 percent, mostly at night, being highly active.” But few people argue cats are better off feral than they are being kept as pets in our homes, even though no indoor home, no matter how large, can provide a cat with roaming room “up to” 1.351 acres.

    • Yeah, I think the issue is that it’s impossible to make a prefect comparison, so people are going to interpret what (lack of substantial) evidence is out there in their own ways.

      Thanks for sharing the post, though! I can’t get everyone to agree with me, but at least if people are willing to read impartial studies, then they can draw their own educated conclusion.

  • I shared a picture of a PETA supporter with her fingers *in her ears* like a 3 year old and her eyes closed. Yeah, no information is getting in there. But I’m sure she wouldn’t read this anyway. People who are unwilling to read things that might differ from their already held opinion frighten me. Thanks for fixing the redirect.

    • Wow, that sounds really mature. Well, I guess there will always be people who aren’t open to changing their minds, even when the information is smacking them in the face. You know, like anti-vaxxers…. 🙂

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