What is a Mid-Cap? According to one of my twitter followers, there’s no such thing. And I have to agree with her. David Kirby, in the introduction to his book Death at SeaWorld, outlines that there are two sides to the question of orca captivity:
People opposed to captivity include some scientists, academics, veterinarians, and environmentalists, nearly all animal activists, a handful of former orca trainers, and a worldwide network of people who say that killer whales are too big, smart, sentient, mobile, and close to their families to be kept in tanks and trained to perform for tourists . . .
On the other side are aquarium and amusement park owners, managers, and investors, current and former trainers and staff, industry trade associations, some scientists and veterinarians, and most government officials, especially those whose constituents benefit from having a large oceanarium in the area.
He refers to the group against captivity as “anti-cap” and those in support as “pro-cap”. I, however, don’t fall into either category. I’m not an animal activist, but I am concerned about animal welfare. I fully support zoos and aquariums, especially in the fields of conservation and education. And I support SeaWorld, though I see the possibility for change in the near future.
I don’t mind trainers and behavior exhibition, but a number of years ago I soured on choreographed shows. Based on recent developments in zoo and aquarium design, I believe it’s possible to transition from a stadium with shows to an orca exhibit/attraction while maintaining guest retention equivalent to the length of a show. Ancillary revenue streams from dining, VIP viewing, new retail, and perhaps even an in-park hotel attached to the larger tanks could overshadow concession and souvenir sales from hawkers in the stands.
I’ve spoken with the authors of AB-2140, the California orca bill. I understand and appreciate their thoughts on sea pens and sanctuaries and how an animal returned to a facsimile of its wild environment begins to act in a more natural state. I’ve seen that with a number of apes and elephants. But I also know that the sea pen process is a long and costly one. There are numerous factors – location, water temperature, toxicity (look at the recent report on the Southern Resident population), funding, land acquisition, regulation, weather, and ownership, among others – that must be taken into consideration. I say ownership because there is a huge disconnect between the anti-cons, who consider orcas as sentient beings – non-human persons, if you will – and the companies and non-profits that own them and their governments, which consider them as natural resources and property assets.
I have heard estimates as low as five years for an orca sea pen sanctuary. In more practical terms, it will be ten to thirty years. Merlin Entertainments began working with WDC on a dolphin sanctuary concept five years ago. At this point, that project is another five to ten years from completion. In the interim, the discontinuation of choreographed shows to pounding music and disco lights and the move to larger tanks may be the answer.
There are three orcas in particular I’m concerned about in the Western Hemisphere. They each live alone and two of them reside in tanks that would be acceptable only by 1960’s standards.
I am also concerned about dolphins and other cetaceans in parts of Asia, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe, who may have been acquired through questionable means and many of whom reside in less than optimal facilities.
I take issue with the majority of swim and therapy programs. As these types of programs proliferate, new dolphins are taken from the wild to populate them – often young females.
Finally, I agree with Richard Branson’s statement that cetaceans born in captivity really can’t be set free. And I have concerns about reuniting wild-caught orcas with their pods, or families. Even though Paul Spong has written that Keiko would have survived had he reunited with his family, and there are plans to do the same with the Seaquarium’s Lolita, it’s a blue sky concept. It’s never been done with an orca and with other cetaceans has been hit or miss. Studies show that the longer a cetacean is in captivity and the more habituated it becomes to humans, the less successful a re-introducation to the wild becomes.
This blog has two categories. The SeaWorld/Blackfish archives are a selection of pieces I wrote for my ThemedReality blog. I pour on the sarcasm and sardonicsm and in areas these entries can seem cruel and just full of outright hostility. They pick on both the pro-cap and anti-cap arguments (a group of SeaWorld fans recently tried to re-title themselves “pro-conservation”, but I refuse to use that term since “pro-con” is such an oxymoron). What can I say? I’m an equal opportunity harasser. If you can’t see the dark humor and start to take things personally, then switch over to the other category.
SeaWorld Myths is a new selection of essays examining statements made both for and against the chain. Background history is explored and I look at the topic in-depth to examine its validity and its place in a wider picture. All effort is made to be fair and impartial and evidence is evaluated from both sides of the argument.
So who am I? I’m the News Editor for an industry trade covering the attractions and museum industries. That gives me a unique perspective into how attractions work and unique industry connections in emerging dolphinarium countries like, China, Korea, Singapore, the UAE, and Russia. I interned at SeaWorld San Diego in 1987 in the Aviculture (bird) department. This was a unique time when the park expanded with a larger Shamu Stadium and Marineland of the Pacific was purchased and subsequently closed, the animals all relocating to the San Diego park. I volunteered with the animals for a number of years at the San Francisco Zoo. I was there when Tatiana the tiger mauled her trainer then escaped from her enclosure to hunt down a couple of zoo guests. I have a fairly good idea of what goes on behind the scenes at a zoo and the personal impact keepers and trainers undergo from animal related injury or death.
I talk to everyone until they become abusive. I’ve talked at length with Naomi Rose and John Hargrove as much as I have with Chris Dold and Mark Simmons. If someone tells me something in confidence, it remains in confidence. But if someone asks for information, I’ll gladly give them anything that’s publicly available or guide them in the right direction. Doesn’t matter if they’re the people behind Yo!Oceans or Awesome Ocean.
I want to thank just a few of the many people who have been generous enough to share information on this topic:
Jim Smith, Ric O’Barry, Lauren Rhone, Kelly Hayward, John Hargrove, Lori Marino, Naomi Rose, Ceta-Base, Richard Bloom, Fred Jacobs, Dave Koontz, Tim Morrow, Mark Simmons, Eric Davis, Bridgette Davis, Mike Madsen, Erin McKinney, Lee Munro, and Doug Barnes.
– Joe Kleiman