Sea World thinks we’re a bunch of idiots

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Sea World thinks we’re a bunch of idiots


The stereotypical "droopy fin" syndrome found almost exclusively in captive orcas. (Photo from In Defense of Animals)

It’s all over the news–Tilikum, a performing orca at Sea World who over the last two decades has killed three people, is back on stage.  That should make everybody nervous.  But wait–everything is okay!  According to Sea World, Tilikum “chose” to perform again.

Sea World thinks we are a bunch of idiots.  At a time when public sentiment is turning against keeping cetaceans in captivity, they are scrambling to find viable excuses and explanations to defend their industry–and they’re not doing a particularly good job.  There are real reasons that Tilikum is back on stage, of course, but none of them have anything to do with his love of the performing arts:

  • First, orcas are big business.  At Sea World specifically, the orca shows bring in 70% of the park’s income. That’s by their own admittance.   Sea World has other orcas, but each one is extremely valuable because…
  • …orcas are hard to get and harder still to keep.  A live one costs about $600,000.  While no cetaceans do particularly well in captivity, orcas are known for dying very young.   Most do not make it into their 20s, even though wild males have an average lifespan of 30 (or as old as 60) and females an average lifespan of 50 (or as old as 80).  An orca who can survive the stress of an entirely unnatural life in captivity (it appears that stress is a contributing factor in at least half of captive orca deaths)  is a valuable one indeed, even if he sometimes kills trainers and park guests.  Tilikum was about two years old when he was captured in 1983, making him almost 30.  Plus…
  • …Tilikum has sired 17 orcas, 10 of which are still alive–almost 1/4 of the approximately 42 orcas currently in captivity worldwide.  Getting cetaceans to breed in captivity is a difficult task indeed, and Tilikum, unfortunately for him, is good at it.   Since 1989, no orcas have been wild caught (with the exception of 10 caught during the infamous Taiji dolphin hunt) and public outcry, coupled with conservation laws, makes doing so again a difficult task.  The entire captive orca industry relies almost exclusively on breeding males like Tilikum.  Sea World has even discovered that Tilikum has unusually high testosterone, which accounts not only on his breeding success but, in part, for his violent behaviour.

Back to the issue of Tilikum’s supposedly choosing to perform again, here’s what former Sea World trainer Samantha Berg has said about what happened to him after he killed his trainer, Dawn Brancheau, last year:

“He’s been out of shows for about 13 months, so he’s really completely out of condition,” she said. “He’s also been extremely stressed, because he’s got broken teeth and he’s been on antibiotics on and off. We know he’s chronically dehydrated because he’s eating about 10 gallons of gelatin a day, which is about 80 pounds of gelatin just to keep him hydrated because he’s eating dead fish. And he’s also just been really isolated. (link)

I’m not exactly sure how a 12,000 pound animal expresses his interest in leaping through hoops for dead fish, but I imagine that if you put a sickly human prisoner in solitary confinement for over a year and then paid her a little attention, she’d do just about anything for more.

By the way, we are completing a new research and information page about aquariums, and it should be ready soon.  Watch for it!

See our other posts on Tilikum and related issues here:

Killer Whale Kills Trainer

Animal Voices Radio Show (Mar 9, 2010)

Another Death at the Vancouver Aquarium




April 1, 2011 at 1:34 pm

So if the orca shows bring in 70% of the park’s income, how does this indicate that “public sentiment is turning against keeping cetaceans in captivity”? The park wouldn’t reinstate the show unless there was a demand for it. Liberation BC thinks we’re a bunch of idiots. As for your new information page about aquariums, gee, yeah… uh, can’t wait for it. Bring it on. Yawn. I can see the line up for it already.


April 1, 2011 at 6:13 pm

Hi Bran,

Thanks for your comment. I think you may have misunderstood me a little. People who don’t approve of cetaceans in captivity don’t go to Sea World at all. The fact that 70% of the park’s income comes from orca shows only indicates that the shows are popular with the shrinking number of people who don’t object to keeping cetaceans captive anyway.

By the way, I think you’ll want to read our upcoming page after all. You might learn a few things. 😉

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