Rebuttal: A Stronger Case for SeaWorld

SeaWorldI would like to thank those who took the time to comment on my previous blog post, as it allows for scholarly debate. In regards to the comment that my earlier post sounded like a public relations statement for SeaWorld, I would like to point to the title of the article, in particular “A Case for SeaWorld“, and to the fact that I am in no way affiliated with SeaWorld. This article was intended to provide a different side of the story than that portrayed in the documentary film Blackfish, which was an extremely one-sided piece of propaganda.

The death of Dawn Brancheau was a true tragedy. The world lost a very passionate, and accomplished woman who was a pioneer in the field of marine research and an integral part of SeaWorld’s mission to bring the wonder and awe of marine life to those who visit SeaWorld parks. After Dawn’s death, The Dawn Brancheau Foundation was founded in memory of Dawn by her family. The Foundation’s website provides a detailed outline of Dawn’s lifelong dream to become a whale trainer at SeaWorld and that Dawn “left this world doing what she loved.” Unfortunately, Blackfish exploits the death of this wonderful woman by portraying Dawn’s work with orca whales as appalling and horrific, but this is not the case

Anthony Kaufman, a freelance journalist who has written for The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and The Chicago Tribune, mocked Blackfish for its obvious sensationalism. The one-sidedness of the documentary is exemplified when the film “opens with a sensationalistic emergency call, which recounts how a trainer was eaten by a killer whale…In one manipulative moment, trainers recount an incident in which a mother orca was separated from her offspring, and then emitted a kind of wailing sound. Her shrieking cries are then simulated on the soundtrack for extra effect.” Kaufman further states that “there’s also something unseemly in the tactics employed by Blackfish, whether it’s teary-eyed testimonials from suffering loved ones or sensationalistic tales of death…[the film is] full of ominous undertones and heavy dramatic beats—also displays a lack of subtlety, as do freeze frame images of SeaWorld representatives leaving a courtroom, which makes them look like mob bosses caught in surveillance photos. And the film’s sentimental, strangely cheery coda, in which the trainers rejoice in the wonders of witnessing free Willies while on a whale-watching expedition, is less affecting than affected.”

It is true that orca whale behavior is not 100% predictable, but given a large enough sampling size (the millions of whale shows SeaWorld performs), SeaWorld can predict with reasonable certainty how many interaction may result in some type of injury.  As mentioned in the original article, that risk of injury is roughly .0012%. A preceding comment mentioned that my calculations were incorrect because “There have been more than 100 potentially injurious interactions at SeaWorld parks alone.” I would like to point out that in the Secretary of Labor in his brief to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit stated that there have been 100 incidents of whale aggression from in a 20 year time span.

SeaWorld has implemented significant safety precautions within the past 20 years, and the vast majority of the documented whale aggression occurred towards the beginning of that 20-year period. Additionally, the recorded incidents of whale aggression do not necessarily correlate with aggression during trainer-whale interaction. Furthermore, the Secretary of Labor corroborates my .0012% chance of injury calculation by admitting that between the years of 1989-2009 only 11 injuries resulted from a trainer-whale interaction (the death of Dawn Brancheau adds to make a total of 12 injuries). It is unfair to try and impute any other trainer-whale related injuries to SeaWorld occurring at other marine parks, such as Loro Parque, which do not have facilities nor training requirements nearly to the caliber of SeaWorld. The poor condition of the whale facilities and training is not disputed in Blackfish.

A previous comment also mentioned “When you actually look at the number of individual whales who have been involved in these dozens of negative interactions, it comes out to at least two dozen different whales. That is, more than 10% of all the orcas ever held in captivity anywhere have been involved in at least one negative interaction (minor to serious injury/death of trainer). Just looking at SeaWorld whales, it’s more like 25%”. This method of calculation is flawed. For example, if one were to calculate the risk involved with flying on an Airbus 320 aircraft and compared the percentage of engine failures of Airbus 320 planes to the total amount of Airbus 320’s, that percentage would not t reflect the true risk one is exposed to for flying on an Airbus 320 aircraft. Instead, one should compare the percentage of engine failures on Airbus 320 aircrafts to the total amount of flights flown on an Airbus 320 aircraft. Airbus currently has approximately 5,000 Airbus 320 aircraft’s in circulation, and millions of flights are flown on the Airbus 320’s each year. Naturally the percentage of engine failure to number or Airbus 320 aircraft will be higher than the percentage of Airbus 320 engine failures to total amount of flights flown on and Airbus 320 aircraft. The latter represents one’s true risk exposure.

I would now like to address the comment stating “With football, a fantastic amount of protective equipment is now required. It is true that OSHA cannot require abatement that interferes with the ability to play football. So the protective equipment continues to be improved and added to, but the action on the field goes on.” SeaWorld too is continually refining and improving safety measures pertaining to trainer-whale interactions. SeaWorld has specific whale protocols, meaning a set of different protocols for each whale based on each whale’s individual characteristics. SeaWorld also carefully selects certain trainers to be with certain whales based on the trainers’ level of expertise and the behavior of the specific whale. Mandating that SeaWorld trainers are no longer allowed to perform in the water is not analogous to football players having reinforced safety gear. Requiring SeaWorld trainers to behind a barrier during shows is analogous to requiring the NFL to be “flag football.”

Finally, there still remains the fact that allowing trainer-whale interaction provides quite a bit of social utility. Director Emeritus of the Columbus Zoo, Jack Hannah, made statements to CNN that the utility of having orca whales in a zoological setting and performing with trainers had provided invaluable educational information on orca whales. Jack Hannah proclaimed that you can do all the research you want in the wild, but it will not even compare to what SeaWorld has learned. That information that SeaWorld has acquired is invaluable to the survival of orca whales in the wild. Jack Hannah’s statements to CNN also touched upon the value of the trainer-whale performances to the public. Millions who have seen a SeaWorld show have described it as the most incredible interaction and incredible thing they had ever seen.

Grey Stafford, an animal trainer and educator, stated during his interview on CNN’s Crossfire that operant conditioning and positive reinforcement of orca whales works, and that SeaWorld trainers know the orca whales better than anyone else. Even the Secretary of Labor’s brief to the Court of Appeals admits that this type of scientific conditioning does work and allows whale behavior to be predictable, just not 100% of the time. As mentioned in the original article, the OSH Act duty clause does not require an employer’s work to be entirely risk-free. The fact that orca whale behavior is not 100% predictable, then, should not preclude trainers from being able to perform with the whales, especially when working with the orcas in the water is truly a choice.

37 thoughts on “Rebuttal: A Stronger Case for SeaWorld

  1. Thank you =) for writing this for exposing the truth blackfish did not say I have been going to sea world my whole life. I have never once seen an animal being abbuced on the contrary I have seen trainers and caregivers lavish love on them like they were a family pet. Sea World may not be for everyone . But look at the good they do with rescue.s Has PETA Or any animal rights group done anything for animals NO!!!!!!

    • PETA, the SPCA and many other animal rights organisations are doing plenty of good for animals around the continent and the world. While it’s true that the documentary may have been one-sided, it doesn’t change the fact that all animals deserve freedom. Why should we have to learn about them? why is it so important to see them? We’re a species full of curiosity but we have no right to remove other living things from their natural habitat and put them in cramped living quarters, forcing them with mates and trying to dull their instincts. It’s not fair, regardless of how one-sided the movie was try to remember that there was truth to it.

      • They are also doing just as much bad. By attacking places that effectively and efficiently home animals & forcing closures, they are stranding thousands of animal. Most of these will not make it on their own. If PETA were rescuing thousands of animals who have been injured & restoring them to the wild, that would be one things. Instead they attack those who do. They may deserve freedom but many won’t survive it…

    • It does not matter about the research and love for whales – what matters is that they should not be kept in pens that are nothing compared to their ocean homes and their freedom. There would not have been any deaths – period – if they had not been taken out of their ocean homes. Why try to justify something when there is not any justification. They are part of the ocean and not a freak show for “education of humans” – get real and get over it.

    • The statement that the seaworld has discovered valuable information that help saves orca whales in the utterly is utterly absurd. I’m pretty sure orca’s were doing just fine in the wild without our supposed “help”.
      This is not about trainers, I’m sure most of them are good people and genuinely love these amazing creatures, this is not the point. The point is about the animals!
      Who cares if the film blackfish dramatized certain situations, taking a baby away from its mother in any animal species is wrong, capturing a wild animal and putting it in a cage is wrong, this not an “opinion” its a fact.
      And if you are at all a moral human being dramatized orca screaming isn’t at all necessary to convict you of that. Captivity for animals is wrong, and it done primarily to make money. What gives anyone the right to capture something wild, put it into an environment that’s not even close to accurate, and make it perform for any length of time?? Forget the “trainers” and “trainer accidents”, this is not the point, these people have a choice to subject themselves to being in close proximity to a large animal with teeth, or to appreciate, learn and respect from afar.
      Seaworld is a corporation, they make money by exploiting animals doing stupid tricks. Seaworld might do other things that are good for animals, but that doesn’t cancel out the bad things their doing.
      And you don’t need to watch a documentary to figure this out. Its simple, an orca who is supposed to be able to swim distances of 1000′s of miles, migrate, stay with their family unit and learn from one another, cannot survive in a alone in swimming pool. The nutrients the ocean habitat provides cannot be duplicated with mere salt and veterinary care.
      I will say again the issue has nothing to do with trainers and how much they love and care for these animals. Orca’s don’t need that kind of care, they need the ocean and absence of human interference.

  2. Hearing from both sides gives a more balanced view of the issue.

    But what if there was also a third side to the issue? One from ‘outside’ the system as it were.

    Not many people remember, or even know, that in 1980, before all their training, Sea World had four young orcas, Kasatka, Kotar, Katina and Canuck II in their public access petting pool with the dolphins. There, for over a year, they interacted with thousands of visitors to the park hands on, with no trainer oversight and no one was ever hurt. They were gentle, friendly and inquisitive towards people who weren’t trying to tease them with fish trying to touch them.

    I was one of those people and that is Kotar. His unhappy captive life is a story unto itself.

    I spent many hundreds of hours at the wall of the tank patiently waiting and earning their trust. They even gently grabbed my arm in their mouth, in the same manner as official reports state how Dawn was grabbed by Tilikum, over a dozen times testing the trust I showed them. I am alive, whole and unharmed. I was under constant observation by the exhibit monitor and once they were consistently coming to me, I was also constantly observed from across the pool by staff from the Orca show, who were trying to figure out how I got them to come to me since I never tricked them over with fish as most other visitors at the exhibit did. Had I been doing anything improper or unsafe I would have been challenged and possibly ejected from the park. This never happened so apparently everything I was doing was safe as far as management was concerned. Nor am I the only person to have interacted with them this way during their time in the exhibit. Photos of my interactions with them are in my FB photo album as proof.

    I an not now, nor never have been a trainer or worked for a park such as Sea World. I have worked on three interspecies communications project including Dr. John Lilly’s project JANUS and have spent several thousands of hours working closely with many Cetaceans including the four Orcas mentioned above which may have helped me get close to them so quickly and easily.

    Now over three decades later, after all the operant behavior training, food and social depravation they have been subjected two, the only two of the four who are still alive, Kasatka and Katina, are considered problem animals by Sea World.

    If the Orcas are ‘such dangerous and unpredictable animals’ why where they placed in such an uncontrolled environment where the untrained public could interact with them? Logic would dictate that they are not inherently dangerous but that it is what they have been subjected to over the last three decades in captivity have done this to them. This is why these now highly trained Orcas are killing and injuring trainers who are ‘specially trained to work with Orcas’ when decades earlier untrained Orcas interacted with untrained humans and no one was hurt. EVER.

    Back then I wanted to be a trainer so I could work with the Orcas. But getting to personally know them the way I did, I learned what they were truly like and it changed my mind. Captivity is toxic to Cetaceans in its current state of making them perform ridiculous tricks for their daily food for human entertainment in overcrowded, undersized tanks.

    You speak of risk but apparently only to humans with no concern for the Cetaceans themselves. It is fact that over 85% of all captive Orcas, weather wild caught or captive born have died in captivity. What other captive animal has such a poor success rate in captivity? It needs to end. I have lost too many friends to those tanks.

    • “It is fact that over 85% of all captive Orcas, weather wild caught or captive born have died in captivity.”

      You are aware that the mortality rate for any zoo or aquarium is 100%, right? On a long enough timeline, every animal in every zoo or aquarium will eventually die. The same goes for all animals everywhere on the planet; animals in the wild are not immortal. This is a meaningless statistic, delivered without context. How many of these animals died of illness? Of old age? How many were stillbirths or died shortly after birth (studies of wild killer whales give very high calf mortality rates, as high as 50% in the first year)? It is disingenuous to simply state a statistic without context or with improper context, particularly when this is one of the techniques the blog author is specifically criticizing.

      To provide context to this statement, you would need to compare the death rate to the birth rate and also evaluate how these numbers have changed over time as changes to the animals’ care and facilities have been made. I imagine you would find it compares much more favorably. You would also need to identify how many of the animal deaths were directly attributable to flaws in their facilities or care, if you are using this information to make a case against captivity. Finally, you would need to compare the birth/death rate in aquariums to that in the wild in order to give a meaningful comparison. Since all animals die, both in the wild and in aquariums, it would be necessary to demonstrate a significant statistical difference between the success rates in the two scenarios in order for your claim to (pardon the pun) hold water.

      “If the Orcas are ‘such dangerous and unpredictable animals’ why where they placed in such an uncontrolled environment where the untrained public could interact with them?”

      The SeaWorld of 1980 is not the SeaWorld of today. Many aspects of the facilities, care, training, and interaction with the killer whales have changed in the last 33 years, as you might expect. For one thing, the parks are much larger now than they were then, and have many thousands more visitors on a regular basis. I don’t know which of the 3 SeaWorld parks your photos were taken at (in 1980 those parks would have been San Diego, Orlando, and Aurora, Ohio), but to use the San Diego park as an example, in 1980 the killer whale show took place at what is now the dolphin stadium, a significantly smaller facility than the current killer whale stadium which opened in 1987. With fewer whales, fewer guests, and a smaller park and smaller facilities, many interactions like the ones you experienced took place not just at SeaWorld but at other marine life parks around the world as well. As late as the early 1990s, the Shamu show included a segment where a killer whale would slide out of the water and a child volunteer would be seated on its back for a photo, something that is not done today. As the facilities, number of whales, and number of guests have all increased over the decades, the interactions with the whales have become more and more controlled. To compare the situation in 1980 to that in 2013 is to compare apples to oranges.

      “Logic would dictate that they are not inherently dangerous but that it is what they have been subjected to over the last three decades in captivity have done this to them.”

      Killer whales are top predators, weigh thousands of pounds, and can remain submerged for well over 10 minutes. To suggest that there is no inherent danger in humans interacting with them–simply because the public was, decades ago, allowed to do so at some parks–is very naive. In any human/animal interaction there are inherent risks to both parties. However, the risks to both humans and animals can be mitigated through proper care, advanced training techniques, and controlled interactions (and, of course, appropriate safety response measures).

      “This is why these now highly trained Orcas are killing and injuring trainers who are ‘specially trained to work with Orcas’ when decades earlier untrained Orcas interacted with untrained humans and no one was hurt. EVER.”

      This is simply untrue. SeaWorld has been displaying killer whales since 1965, and other facilities were doing so before that. There have been injuries and incidents in nearly every decade since killer whales began to be housed in aquariums, involving both trainers and non-trainers. The most notable injury in the earliest years involved a person who was not a trainer (it’s depicted in Blackfish, but to the best of my recollection no date is given to inform the viewer that the footage being shown is from the 1960s; one of my critiques of the film is that many such incidents are depicted back-to-back in rapid succession without datestamps, making them appear as if they happen frequently, when in reality these are a few notable incidents spread out over nearly 5 decades).

      In those early decades the behavior of the whales and need for control over the interactions was not as well-understood as it is today. That you interacted with particular whales at a particular park during a particular timeframe and were not injured does not mean that there was no risk. However, as the author of this blog points out, when comparing the number of injuries to the literally millions of human/whale interactions that have occurred at SeaWorld parks over nearly 50 years, the risk factor is about .0012%.

      Also, it is highly unlikely that the whales you interacted with were “untrained”. Simply because they were not performing in shows does not mean that training was not taking place. Killer whales at SeaWorld are trained throughout their lives, and that training involves many aspects beyond just shows. Health care, exercise, and desensitization are examples of non-show trainings that occur both with performing and non-performing animals. It is likely that the whales you interacted with were desensitized to such interactions and trained to perform a variety of actions that may not have been obvious to you because they were not performing in a show.

      • It’s the short time frame for such a high rate of deaths that shows how unsuited they are for captivity. I doubt most zoos have such a high death rate on a particular animal, but if they do, they should be closed as well. The statistics showing this are out there on the web, you only need to look. No need for me to find it for you as you would just disregard it if it came from me. :)

        It’s understandable that you missed the point about them being on public display, the fact that it was 30 years ago is really irrelevant and glossed over the fact it’s the highly trained staff being killed when untrained civilians did fine, and still do fine interacting with them. You obviously have not spent any hands on time working with Cetaceans as I have. Since no one was hurt with such open interaction, unlike the modern shows where it his highly controlled and those highly trained staff are being killed and injured it clearly shows things are not as the public is being told. Some people find it highly upsetting that being a trainer is not required to interact with such a sentient and highly intelligent being as an Orca. Perhaps you are a wanna be trainer, is that why you are only identified with a single initial and seem so pro Sea World? :)

        Showing them trust and respect is what is needed which is something lacking in current shows. There was some of it 3 decades ago, but it is entirely gone now.

        Perhaps if you had some actual experience with cetaceans you would have a better understanding of their situation and how the 33 years of operant behavior modification, food and social deprivation and performing stupid tricks for their daily food for human entertainment in undersized and over crowded pools has affected them.

        The “untrained” I was talking about was that at that time, they had not been through over 3 decades of operant behavior training, food and social deprivation to bend and mold them in to something they are not, show animals. Now two of the ones I personally got to know are classed as ‘problem animals’ by Sea World which shows now ineffective and damaging their training has been to the Orcas.

        Now after 33 years of it they are a problem when before they were ok and anyone could interact with them. Captivity is toxic to cetaceans and needs to end.

    • What percentage of whale death would you see if the whales had been returned to the wild? How old were the whales that died? Why do you think these whales were sad? Seems to me one sided as well with no real scientific facts to back you up.

  3. Good article.

    The mission creep from ‘Blackfish’ can already be seen as regards other animals being kept in human care. We have now automatically moved from killer whales to dolphins and ALL cetaceans; despite the fact the bottlenose dolphins survive longer in captive care and successfully breed and rear young; the majority of US and European aquarium dolphins are captive bred.

    We now see ex-trainers used by ‘Blackfish’ making comments such as: “…Yes, large cetaceans, seals and sea lions all suffer terribly in captivity…” with promised extra footage of allegations of sea lion abuse to be appearing on the ‘Blackfish’ DVD.

    Already, we see elephants as the next target and so on until we eventually hit pets and companion animals. This is no exaggeration; the schema is well defined by groups like PeTA and others as they following an polical animal-rights ideology not an animal-welfare agenda.

    In addition, the film’s director make an on-screen pronouncement in a video promoted by PeTA stating that: “I feel very, very strongly about marine mammals, or really any animals, for entertainment (sic). I think that’s the lowest rung on the ethical totem pole.” Without seeing the irony that her film – as far as fairness, historical context and objectively is concerned – could also be said to be “the lowest rung on the ethical totem pole”.

  4. Thank you for posing this finally there is someone to SPEAK THE TRUTH ABOUT BLACKFISH ITS FULL OF LIES! and very misleading i have always said its misleading and that almost all orca human interactions where perfectly safe and very few resulted in injury

  5. I’m another one of the ‘civilians’ who came to know Canuck II, Kotar, Katina, and Kasatka across 1979 and 1980. I had no prior knowledge of interacting with orcas before Canuck II literally got in my face. I had many fewer hours with the orcas than Russell, but the orcas seemed to put me through a “crash course” in friendship.
    My second visit, Kotar closed his mouth on my hand and began pulling me into the pool. He closed his mouth very slowly, giving me every opportunity to pull my hand away. Canuck II and Kotar had already demonstrated such gentleness and consideration for my uncertainties by this time that I was willing to trust. Kotar allowed me to decline his invitation at the last moment before falling in.
    Other orcas repeated the invitation to join them on subsequent visits. I was never once hurt in any of our interactions [one of which was rather more exciting than hand-in-mouth].
    Like Russell, I never used fish to try to bribe friendship. I’m convinced from my experiences that the key to bonding with orcas was close physical interaction and absolute trust. This is exactly the opposite from the direction that is being taken today.
    I’m against captivity for cetaceans. I’m saddened and sickened by the fates of these 4 lovely orcas. But I acknowledge that I only reason I had this incredible opportunity was their presence at the San Diego SeaWorld.
    I think the experiences of the ‘civilians’ who befriended orcas shows what COULD BE if humans and orcas under some venue where both were entirely free to interact or not.

  6. You write that >>The death of Dawn Brancheau was a true tragedy.<< True, indeed, but perhaps not in the way you meant it.

    Before it was watered down to mean just about any kind of unfortunate and sad event, "tragedy" was what happened when humankind set itself up against nature, fate or "the gods". The conclusion was always the downfall of the king, queen or other hero and a profound lesson about the consequences of "hubris" or arrogance in the face of nature (and our own nature). At a typical Greek drama festival, everyone in the town would attend, and would come away having experienced a "catharsis" or cleansing of the denial and self-deception that characterizes our daily lives.

    What happened at SeaWorld to Dawn Brancheau is, in those terms, classic tragedy. The hubris of believing that we can control the great forces of nature and tame them to our convenience and entertainment – as Icarus thought he could fly close to the sun or King Oedipus thought he could defy the fate that prophecy had determined for him.

    To believe that we can bend nature to our will, that we are superior to our fellow animals and the natural world, and that we can treat them as little more than resources for our convenience and entertainment is hubris taken to a level that the Greek writers of tragedy would have truly appreciated, so brazen is it — so destructive and self-destructive.

    "Shamu" will never be bent to our will. The writer of the biblical Book of Job poured scorn on the arrogance of those who would try when he wrote:

    "Will you put a ring through the nose of the sea monster?
    Will he plead with you for mercy and timidly beg your pardon?
    Will he come to terms of surrender and promise to be your slave?
    Will you play with him like a sparrow and put him on a leash for your girls? …
    Go ahead: attack him: you will never try it again."

    Yes, you can catch him in a net as an infant, tear him from his mother, and require him to be your slave and do tricks for your girls and boys. But eventually nature will have its day and the balance will be restored, as it is whenever captive animals say "Enough!"

    We are not superior; we are not exceptional; we are just the stuff of tragedy.

  7. Very good article, thank you for posting this.
    After reading the comments above, I had to roll my eyes.
    in regards to the whales that where in the petting pools: did you guys actually believe that you befriended those whales when you walked away from those pools? do you think them tugging on your arm was an invitation to swim with them? Did these whales actually tell you that they are sad and with then miserable? News flash. Those animals did not care about you. You have no social or reinforcing relationship

    • I have worked on three interspecies communications projects including Dr. Lilly’s JANUS project so I have more experience in the area than you do. You have the standard attitude of humans who have never spent a significant amount of time around cetaceans. I understand such a concept upsets your world view but it is time to grow.

  8. Yes and what “research” at SeaWorld has learned is that these animals don’t do well in captivity or belong in captivity. Don’t fool yourself, SeaWorld is not some non profit educational institution. It’s an amusement park interested in making money and entertaining customers. So do us a favor and think about that for a while.

  9. I am so happy JLPP decided to devote another of their weekly slots to such an important and timely discussion. With all things happening in the world, who doesn’t want to read more articles on animal captivity? Its not like we want the journal to report on anything that anyone really gives two wits about.

  10. I was a narrator at the Whale and Dolphin Petting Pool at San Diego Sea World when Kotar and Kasatka were in the pool. What the former “special whale friends” are either forgetting or haven’t considered relevant is that when the orcas were in that pool, they were 2-4 years old. They were young, and that is likely why they were safe for the public to interact with. And of the two I mentioned, Kotar was known as the sweetheart, while Kasatka was more of a “diva” (for lack of a better word). She exerted dominance over Kotar and certain dolphins. That attitude continued to grow as she did. It’s not as simple as “they used to be sweet and now look what training has done…”

    • So you’re saying what OSHA calls a “wild and dangerous animal” is not when young but after 3 decades of operant behavior modification, food and social deprivation gets turned into one by captivity. Sea World now considers Kasatka a “problem animal” when she wasn’t that way to begin with. Being young has little to do with it other than not having been through the 3 decades of training so it is a metric in gauging its effects on the animals.

      Being a “narrator at the pool” hardly comparable to having worked on three research projects and spent thousands of hours hands on with individual cetaceans. Typically I saw 2 or 3 different people during the day doing the job back then.

  11. Another fluff piece written by a SeaWorld spin doctor. The director of Blackfish, Gabriella Coperthwaite, openly admits that she is not an “animal rights person,” just a mother who used to take her kids to SeaWorld. She didn’t make this film because of a hidden animal rights agenda, she just wanted people to know the truth about SeaWorld. And one of those truths is that there have actually been more than 100 *reported* attacks on trainers by frustrated, psychologically damaged captive orcas in recent years, as Blackfish provides ample evidence of.

  12. If you read this carefully, you will note that she doesn’t actually accuse Blackfish of lying or saying anything that isn’t true–she just criticizes it for being extremely effective, which, if I were the makers of Blackfish, I would take as a compliment.

    • the outcome of SW’s appeal at federal level is still unknown as it has not yet been decided, so what are you talking about? SW is appealing because the initial ruling – which was in OSHA’s favor – was then upheld but diminished (willful neglect to serious violation). nevermind the fact that the original trial wasn’t even over when BF was filmed. duh.

  13. When I was younger, I went to SeaWorld and gawked at the performing dolphins and orcas. I was entertained, not educated. All a marine park experience teaches people is that it’s acceptable to keep animals in highly unnatural environments and make them to do tricks for our amusement. People don’t see wild orcas behaving like wild orcas, they see sick, stressed captive orcas behaving how someone manipulates them to. It’s sad that we can be so selfish and detrimental, and then make excuses for it to boot.

    Blackfish has opened many people’s eyes, which is evident by SeaWorld’s desperate attempts to save face and profits. Money talks, and SeaWorld stands to lose money if more people realize that orcas don’t belong in captivity. They’re thinking about their bottom line, not marine mammals.

    • The article moans that Blackfish is one-sided…and then uses Jack Hannah (a man who makes a living from zoos) to argue why Orca’s should be in captivity?! What hypocrisy! The fact is, there is no convincing argument as to why Orcas and dolphins need to remain in captivity, regardless of how you critique Blackfish.
      That said, I actually think ‘A Fall From Freedom’ is a better documentary:

  14. I’m not any kind of an animal expert. I’m simply a person who loves and enjoys animals, birds, marine life of all kinds. As a kid, I really loved Sea World, and went several times in my life to enjoy interacting with the dolphins and seals. However, what bothers me most has not been addressed in this article. You can point out all the statistics you want, but the real issue is respect for sentient life. These whales (that studies have proven) are extremely social (within their own pods) and family-oriented. Being taken away by force from their natural environment is no different than kidnapping a person, taking them away, and forcing them to work. For the ones in captivity, separating them from their young when it has already been proven that their young stay with the mothers for life is just cruel. These things are not done for research, but for entertainment. Learning this, whether it was one-sided or not (doesn’t matter as now both sides have had their say), makes a difference for me. I’m happy to observe these animals only in their natural environment. The only time I will be okay with them in captivity is if it’s for the purpose of rescuing and rehabilitating the animals/mammals. This is just my personal evolution over time learning how these whales end up at Sea World to begin with. The reality is simple. No size tank created by Sea World can replace the vastness of the oceans which is where these whales belong. No trainer can replace an orca mother/offspring. And doing tricks for fish food is not normal or natural for them. For myself, Sea World is no longer a place I wish to visit.

  15. I agree that Blackfish was one sided and thus did not even attempt to present a different side or counterpoint. Moreover, I can accept that there is a certain amount of risk being a whale trainer and this risk includes injury if not death.

    What I did find compelling is the harm done to the whales from being in captivity. I thought the evidence that whale’s brains are developed enough so they realize they are in captivity and separated from relatives was compelling. Regardless of whether the sound was accentuated in the documentary, if whales truly do realize they are being separated from relatives and put into captivity, then some consideration must be given to this fact when considering the ethicity of capturing whales. Like someone noted in the documentary, how would you like it if you were stuck in a bathtub?

    For full disclosure, my political leanings are to the right and I will never join PETA or some similar organization.

  16. I’d like to remind every one where animals from the first zoos came from. You all need to realize that like the killer whales and Tillikum in Blackfish they were taken from their mothers their families. Though it was for entertainment man is killing off the creatures of the world in his own way. Zoo’s, wildlife centers, and Sea World are trying to show people the beauty of these creatures and the danger they are encountering in ‘Our’ world. Like the domesticated dog/cat they will take their play to far and may attack when we do something they don’t like. People do the same thing to each other but to take away these parks your taking away the future generations to help change the world, how will these animals be able to go back into their natural habitat if we are killing it with the things that we call our ‘basic’ needs. Yes the whales went through a traumatic past and yes OSHA is trying to help but we can not deprive future generations the knowledge of the cteatures they share the world with because they will never be free.

  17. I have to agree with Brian’s comment .

    This really has nothing to do with law and public policy. Instead it sounds very much like a defense of SeaWorld and condemnation of the documentary, Blackfish.

    The tone and bent of the article strongly suggests that the authour is in some way associated with the SeaWorld organization.

  18. When SeaWorld was REPEATEDLY asked to participate in the film and declined, they don’t get to then call the film “one sided”! C’mon people! To commenter K… I don’t think OSHA lost…that OSHA hearing is the reason there are no trainers swimming with orcas today. SW has appealed, but experts don’t expect a reversal.

  19. Do keep in mind that this article is also extremely one-sided. It’s all a game of rhetoric and Blackfish did a great job following Aristotle’s rhetorical strategy. Blackfish had a story to tell and the producers did it extremely well. It’s now Seaworld’s turn to try their hand at rhetoric and, in my opinion, it will take a lot more than a few press releases to win the argument. Blackfish=1 Seaworld = 0

  20. It’s about time someone explored “the other side” of the issue instead of parroting the comments made in “Blackfish” as if they were truth not to be challenged. So, thanks for that.

    Blackfish is full of emotion and opinions and “selective” truths.

    The glaring half-truths and outright lies lurk in what “Blackfish” does NOT discuss:

    1. The lawsuit brought by PETA to get “equal rights” for animals and “abolish slavery for animals” was lost. Why? Because PETA doesn’t want people to care for animals at all. Their stance is: Let them roam free. And not only let them roam free, but set them “above” people. You can’t have it both ways. In PETA’s view: Either they roam free and get NO help from people, or people are subjugated to animals. Neither is an argument based in fact or law…only an emotional argument.

    2) If Seaworld grants their request are they ready for the consequences? So, if the animals are dumped back into the ocean and die…will they be happy then?

    3) The animals kept at Seaworld were not “captured”. Some were brought in for treatment and deemed “unworthy of release” by the laws that govern sea animals both state and federal – so Seaworld keeps them. Those that are deemed “releasable” are released back into the wild. Some are bread in captivity, and most of them come from other facilities and are not “releasable” according to state and federal laws.

    4) The people included in the film are not as they claim, to paraphrase: “I am not an animal activist, I’m just a concerned citizen”. Well, that’s not exactly true….

    Excerpt from above link:
    “Although Gabriela Cowperthwaite, the director of the film, claims she does not come from an animal rights background and that it was never her intent to make an animal rights film, this is indeed an animal rights film. Advocacy films tend to end with images of common people working to make a change. Blackfish ends with footage of animal rights protesters at SeaWorld’s entrance. in addition, Cowperthwaite has both embraced and been embraced by peta.

    3. The neurologist who features prominently in the film, Dr. Lori Marino of Emery University, is Science Director for the Nonhuman Rights Project, a fact not disclosed in the film. This organization’s mission statement is “to change the common law status of at least some nonhuman animals from mere “things,”which lack the capacity to possess any legal right, to “persons,” who possess such fundamental rights as bodily integrity and bodily liberty, and those other legal rights to which evolving standards of morality, scientific discovery, and human experience entitle them.”

    4. There are two edits in the film that can lead to an easy misinterpretation of the facts. The first is at the end of the film, where a charity run for the Dawn Brancheau Foundation and an interview with her sister about the Foundation’s work immediately follows the footage of animal rights protesters at SeaWorld’s entrance. This gives the impression that the Foundation and her family support the removal of orcas from the parks, which could not be farther from the truth. The family has and continues to refuse to discuss the issues of Dawn’s death and of orcas in captivity.

    5. The second edit takes place near the beginning of the film. Following footage of the 1970 captures in Puget Sound, which were done for Sea World when it was owned by the partnership of Milton Shedd, Ken Norris, David Demott, and George Millay, and mention of the Orca deaths during those captures (which has been documented for decades), the film mentions that Sea World switched their capture location to Iceland. The film then immediately cuts to footage of Tilikum being captured in the North Atlantic. I have seen numerous comments about SeaWorld capturing Tilikum and how his family died during the capture. Sea World was not involved in the Tilikum capture and there is no evidence of orca deaths during that incident. The entire third chapter of David Kirby’s book Death at SeaWorld dramatizes Tilikum’s capture and does not mention any orca deaths.

    There are sites on the internet that provide the same sort of distortion. mentions in an article titled “Ten Things You Don’t Know About SeaWorld” that “Orcas that were at SeaWorld before 1972 were likely kidnapped from their ocean homes. For example,Tilikum, a 32-year-old orca, was captured at the age of 2 by a marine “cowboy.” Tilikum wasn’t taken from his natural environment because he was injured—instead, he was torn away from his family against his will and confined to a small concrete tank for a hefty profit.”

    The piece fails to mention that Tilikum, who was captured in 1983, resided at Sealand of the Pacific in Victoria, British Columbia until the park closed in 1992, at which time he was relocated to SeaWorld Orlando. Many of Tilikum’s issues are the result of his treatment in Canada and not at SeaWorld. Note that SeaWorld of Hurt is a website owned by peta.

    6. All of the performers who have cancelled gigs at SeaWorld have and continue to perform at casinos. These are institutions where large numbers of people are encouraged to perform addictive and potentially damaging acts of gambling in an enclosed environment without natural sunlight while having their judgement distorted by copious amounts of free alcohol.

    7. Without CNN and now Netflix, public exposure to the film would be minimized. Theatrically, the film only showed in 99 theaters (my market not being one of them) and made just over $2 million in box office receipts. CNN continues to promote its ownership of the film. has posted a news piece each time a band has canceled its SeaWorld performance. Each piece mentions both CNN as owning the film and having broadcast it. For instance, the piece on REO Speedwagon states: “The fans became upset after watching the CNN documentary “Blackfish,” which first aired on CNN in October.” CNN also has used the sensationalist headline “SeaWorld Fights for its Survival” for an on air segment about SeaWorld appealing the ban on trainer contact with whales. As evidenced by the company’s recent expansions – Manta, Turtle Reef, Explorer’s Cove, Aquatica in San Diego, Aquatica and its expansion in San Antonio, and TurtleTrek, Antarctica, and expansions to Discovery Cove and Aquatica in Orlando – I’m pretty sure that SeaWorld is not dependent on human interaction with orcas for its future survival. Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo, CA also gives a good example of how a marine life/theme park can survive without orcas.

    8. Although the switch from Anheuser Busch to Blackstone is discussed in the director’s commentary on the DVD, ownership of SeaWorld and ownership changes are never mentioned in the film itself. This gives the impression that SeaWorld is under the same ownership and management now that it had been in the 1970′s and 80′s. At the time of Dawn Brancheau’s death, Terry Prather was managing Water Country, a waterpark, in Virginia. Prior to that, he was with Jazzland/Six Flags New Orleans and Six Flags America. Before that, he was Managing Director of the prestigious Witte Museum in San Antonio. Now, I’ll grant that Terry did work in maintenance and water quality at Sea World San Antonio from its opening in 1988 to 1997, but from knowing people in those fields at theme parks, I’m pretty sure that gave him an intensive understanding of the importance of safety.

    9. If the footage of animal rights activists and Lori Marino’s testimony are removed from the film, it becomes a documentary about workplace safety.

    10. One thing I learned early on in the marketing of attractions is that the key to successful marketing is to target mothers – they’re the ones who make all the decisions in today’s modern family. And mothers feel sympathy for other mothers. The filmmakers play on this in their publicity for the film. Cowperthwaite frequently refers to herself as having been a “SeaWorld mom” who regularly took her kids to the park. The producers of the film, Judy Bart and Erica Khan are described as moms who, once their children were grown, decided to start a production company to produce films that “both inspire and entertain.” (Not sure how all of Khan’s children can be listed as grown, when her bio mentions them as ranging from ages 10 to 25). I’ve been unable to find anything about these two women. Their production company, Our Turn Productions, is registered with LA County to a nice three bedroom home in Huntington Beach owned by a lawyer. I have no desire to pursue this further, but there certainly is a question as to where these two women procured the funding for the production.

    Other than the two edits and the lack of labeling of Dr. Marino that I’ve described above, I have no issues with the film. It’s a good movie and I encourage you to see it if you’re interested. But it’s not the definitive piece on the issue and I will continue to do research on the business, scientific, and historical fronts before I get to the point where I’m comfortable making an opinion on the matter.

    Blackfish should have been a murder mystery. It should have been about what led the whale to kill. Instead, it’s been appropriated as a tool of the animal rights movement. And this, along with the distorted and untrue facts that are being presented about the movie by pundits and posters on air and online, make it a venomous tool in their arsenal.”

    5) NOBODY is forced to get into the tanks with these animals:

    6) Animals are NOT people:

    I’ll leave you with that information and let you do something that Blackfish is not designed to do: Let you think for yourself.

  21. I’m not coming here from an animal rights site or a corporate blog. I’m just someone who happened to stumble on this article and recently watched Blackfish.

    That said…these two articles are killing me. Yes, the author has made a great case for why SeaWorld’s ass is completely legally covered. That doesn’t change SeaWorld’s perverse actions. Applying operant conditioning to sentient beings with 30-60 year lifespans and sticking them in living spaces that are the size of cupboards to them is pretty sociopathic.

  22. I would like someone to define sentinent. I have read of no instance where a marine life form has attempted to communicate with humans. If they are so intelligent why have they not made their needs more apparent. Why not? because they are animals only capable of basic emotions. I do not believe an Orca is capable of living “in the moment” so to speak. the way sentinent beings do. They can only understand what they need to for survival. We are fortunate to live in a country that values and protects these creatures. To allow PETA or any other organization to completely remove these animals from public showing would only open a flood gate. You would eventually see the elimination of zoos nation wide. PETA’s efforts would be better directed on the humane, safe treatment of these animals in captivity. To allow no compromise is not what our country stands for. This is a democracy. I think a lot of people are missing the real point of this fight. You have one group of individuals completely dictating moral behavior to another. They have willfully twisted the truth to accomplish their goals. Because of this alone I’m against them. Everyone who has read these posts needs to be open minded. There are two sides to this story. From every prospective the whales are going to lose, regardless of who wins this argument. I suggest we start working together on a compromise or shut up.

    • I apoligize for the misspelling. SENTIENT not SENTINENT. I have no doubt a weak minded individual will grab onto that as an excuse to back PETA.

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