SeaWorld's Announcement Raises Questions About Fate of Orcas

SAN DIEGO, CA - DECEMBER 02:  In this handout photo provided by SeaWorld San Diego, a baby killer whale calf nurses from its
SAN DIEGO, CA - DECEMBER 02: In this handout photo provided by SeaWorld San Diego, a baby killer whale calf nurses from its mother, Kalia, at SeaWorld San Diego's Shamu Stadium December 4, 2014 in San Diego, California. Kalia's mother, Kasatka, swims beside her, as she did during Kalia's labor and delivery. Kalia gave birth to the calf at 12:34 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 2, under the watchful eyes of SeaWorld's zoological team. SeaWorld's zoological staff is monitoring the mom and calf round the clock, taking note of nursing, bonding and other developmental milestones. (Photo by Mike Aguilera/SeaWorld San Diego via Getty Images)

SeaWorld San Diego has announced that it is "listening to [its] guests" and "evolving as a company." As a result, it is making some changes for 2017. However, I fear that this announcement is raising more questions than it is providing sensible answers to the difficult, horrible quagmire of keeping orcas in captivity -- a quagmire of SeaWorld's own creation.

While details remain to be revealed, the biggest component of the announcement appears to be the end of "theatrical killer whale shows" at SeaWorld San Diego. Obviously, it is laudable that SeaWorld San Diego will no longer force these majestic ocean animals to perform silly stunts for unwitting, gawking onlookers. But, as with every such announcement, the devil is in the details.

What will become of the two dozen captive orcas in the United States? Will this change only apply to SeaWorld San Diego, or will the theatrical killer whale show die at other SeaWorld locations, as well? For those animals not being forced to perform, will they just languish in their concrete bathtubs in perpetuity? Or, will these animals ultimately be shipped off to the Middle East, or elsewhere, as SeaWorld considers expanding global operations in the face of declining American tolerance for such inane exhibitions?

There is really only one sensible solution. All captive orcas in the United States must be retired: not to bigger incarcerating pools, but to coastal seapens, where they can, at least, live out the remainder of their natural lives in something close to natural freedom.

We know for certain that orcas don't thrive in captivity; they lead miserable, confined lives. They can't swim 100 miles per day; they can't dive 300 feet below the surface; they can't live in pods 40 individuals large; they can't be free.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the announcement, from my perspective, is that SeaWorld San Diego's President and CEO, Joel Manby, says that he's listening to SeaWorld's guests. It seems to me that he should pay more attention to the needs of the animals suffering at SeaWorld than to the people who pay to stare at them.

And, if the new plan is being described as "informative," with "a conservation message, inspiring people to act," one has to question what's been happening at SeaWorld up until now! For ages, Born Free has argued that keeping orcas in captivity and forcing them to perform is neither educational nor beneficial for conservation. I suppose that the announcement of the new plan suggests that we've been right all along!

SeaWorld executives have seen visitors stay away and profits plummet. And, each day, these executives go home to live their lives, free and unencumbered, while the orcas are left behind. It's time for SeaWorld to take the truly inspiring and bold step of admitting that its corporate model is a conservation and humane failure... and move on.

If that's not in the cards, legions of compassionate citizens across the United States will make their voices heard to their elected officials. Congressman Adam Schiff of California is spearheading legislation to prohibit the breeding, capture, import, and export of orcas for public display, giving exhibitors time to transition away from orca captivity--thereby making this current generation of captive orcas the last. Said Schiff, "The evidence is very strong that the psychological and physical harm done to these magnificent animals far outweighs any benefits reaped from their display."

We couldn't agree more. The time to act is now. The captivity industry is sinking and the orcas (and other captive marine mammals) need our help.

Keep Wildlife in the Wild,
Adam