ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED DECEMBER 18, 2013
I’m hoping this is the last time I write about the Blackfish/SeaWorld thing for a while. I really need to move on to other posts, like the one about plans for the Disney birthplace to be used for pagan rituals. I have photographic evidence.
It’s been interesting to read what others have to say in the comments section on this blog and other sites about what I wrote. Quite a few have tried to correct my statements.
There were those that said I didn’t know the history of Six Flags because TimeWarner never owned Marine World. While this is true, during the period that TimeWarner owned 100% of the chain, two bottlenose dolphins, Cody and Avalon, performed daily at Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey. That’s why both the ownership and subsequent licensing were listed separately.
There were those that said I was wrong about CNN producing or owning the film. I never mentioned that they produced or owned it. They purchased the North American broadcast rights and they make money off of rentals and purchases of the film and off of advertising surrounding their coverage of the film’s subject matter. My concern isn’t that they showed the film, but rather that at the same time they’re advocating against SeaWorld’s treatment of orcas, other divisions of the same corporation are maintaining business relationships with parks and aquariums that house captive marine mammals, including performing dolphins. And orcas are dolphins.
It’s not the first time this has happened at TimeWarner. On January 18, in response to the school shooting in Sandy Hook, Time Warner Cable announced it would no longer accept ads “showing semiautomatic weapons and guns pointed at people.” In a prepared statement, the TimeWarner subsidiary noted, “We stand by this policy. If it’s essential to a business owner to show this kind of imagery in their commercials, there are other advertising options in the marketplace.” Eleven days later, Warner Bros. premiered the film Bullet in the Head in New York.
But I guess that’s what you get with big corporations – one side’s not always talking to the other.
And now it’s disclaimer time.
I’m a journalist covering the themed entertainment industry for a number of trade publications. The comments, thoughts, and observations that appear here on ThemedReality are my own and do not in any way reflect those of any other publication, website, or podcast on which I may appear, unless they specifically state so.
ThemedReality is a blog about the themed entertainment industry that caters to professionals in this industry and its followers. Typically, my blog posts involve insider references and dark humor, and if you’re not familiar or comfortable with these things, you might get a bit confused. And you’ll be very confused with the next blog entry about the Disney birthplace and the role my friend and colleague Robert Coker (visit him at www.thrillride.com) will have in raising the dead. (Sorry Robert, but you were warned when you skipped out on CGA to rush back to LA for a “work meeting.”)
When I wrote the Blackfish piece, I was pretty straight forward and honest, but I threw in two jokes that very few people seemed to get. There were a lot of comments trying to correct my statement about orcas not having developed civilization. Folks, that was a joke. And it tied in directly with the other joke, the Douglas Adams book cover at the top of the piece. Certainly you know Douglas Adams, the famed science fiction satirist who was also an amazing environmental activist. Adams’ book Last Chance to See is one of the best testimonials ever published about viewing endangered species in their native habitats.
There have been a lot of people accusing me of being pro-SeaWorld and anti-peta. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. I admire some aspects of both and dislike others. I’m not a big fan of a number of actions that Sea World undertook in the 1970’s and 1980’s with regard to the capture of its animals and the initiation of the orca birthing program. But I support today’s SeaWorld. I support its management and ownership, knowing they are not the same ones that were present at the time many of the incidents in the Blackfish film took place. At the time of Dawn Brancheau’s tragic passing, Terry Prather, SeaWorld Orlando’s current President was managing a waterpark in Virginia. Unfortunately, the fact that today’s SeaWorld is not the same as the one where the issues started is often not mentioned by advocates for orca rights and is never mentioned in the film.
So dear SeaWorld protester, do you want SeaWorld to close? Quite a few marine biologists and conservationists became interested in the marine environment because of their visits to SeaWorld and many young people continue to pursue careers in the marine sciences because of their experiences at the parks.
Do you want them to set the orcas free in the wild? The 1997 Frontline episode “Whale of a Business” showed the effort to return Keiko, the orca star of Free Willy, to the wild. This included trying to train him to hunt his own fish. After rehabilitation at the Oregon Aquarium, Keiko was released in the wild off Iceland in 2002. According to documentation from the Keiko-Free Willy Foundation, the orca learned to hunt on its own, and socialized with and was accepted by local pods, finally dying in 2003 of pneumonia.
However, an academic paper, “From Captivity to the Wild and Back: an Attempt to Release Keiko the Killer Whale”, published in the July 2009 issue of Marine Mammal Science, contradicts these assertions. It mentions that Keiko approached orca pods, but never joined them, swimming at the periphery. The whale also sought out human contact and eventually returned to the ocean pen that had been used to acclimate it to its environment.
I, personally, do not believe it a good idea to let these orcas return to the wild. As Keiko has shown, it is difficult for an orca to adjust from a domestic situation to a wild one, fending for itself. All of SeaWorld’s orcas were either brought in as calves or bred in captivity. They will need to be trained to fend for themselves and there is no guarantee that they will be accepted by wild populations. As the paper, which was written by a team led by Marlene Simon of the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources, states about cetacean releases prior to Keiko: “As a rule, the animals released successfully into the wild had been captive for relatively short periods of time, were held in sea pens rather than concrete tanks, and some were released in the company of conspeciﬁcs [same species].”
I’m a big admirer of Dr. Naomi Rose, now with the Animal Welfare Institute (which is why I placed a link to the organization on the previous post), and her research and advocacy. She has put forth a proposal for SeaWorld’s orcas to be placed in sea pens or a penned off cove, where they can swim freely and still be cared for by people, with SeaWorld possibly charging admission to see the swimming orcas and profiting off it. The filmmakers behind Blackfish have also embraced this proposal. I don’t see it happening. Although it would be a grand gesture on the chain’s part, I can’t figure out how it makes business sense for a for-profit corporation. But I’m open to possibilities and if someone can show a viable business plan for sea pens that meets SeaWorld’s financial requirements, I will back it wholeheartedly.
Then there’s the issue of the net being cut. This will eventually happen. There are fringe elements to the animal rights and environmental movements that have no issue with undertaking illegal actions to meet their goals. It was because of the very fear of the Sealand pen being ripped open by activists that Tilikum was kept overnight in a 20 x 30 foot sealed container with no light where he was continually abused by the two females housed with him. This was only part of the horrific abuse that whale endured at that park, which traumatized him prior to his move to SeaWorld.
As much as I’m a fan of the current SeaWorld, I’m also a fan of much of what peta does. I applaud them for their work on ending the fur trade, animal testing, and their concerns with circus animal welfare, animals in movies and television, domestic animal abuse, and making sure pets are safe, secure, and comfortable during inclement and harsh weather.
There are some of their campaigns I don’t agree with, especially with regard to zoos and aquariums accredited by the AZA and similar organizations. This is where peta and I part ways. I am a supporter of the humane treatment of captive animals, not an animal rights activist. Animal rights activism, which is at the core of peta’s mission, fights to free all animals from captivity. Zoos and aquariums have become important sources of public education and conservation. I support them as they develop new ways of presentation that reduce stress and increase behavioral stimulation among their animals. I support them as they continue to expunge almost two centuries worth of archaic collection and exhibition practices, replacing them with more humane methods. And maybe that’s the key with this whole SeaWorld/Blackfish issue. Maybe there’s a way SeaWorld can have the orcas and create a new type of experience where they can have viable lives in captivity and the public can be just as excited. This could be the next generation of TurtleTrek, the next Antarctica.
Now those are my thoughts. So let’s move on to you, dear reader. If you’re writing comments and signing petitions encouraging SeaWorld to release its orcas, realize that, by the very nature of the beast, you have entered a larger campaign to remove every animal from zoos, aquariums, and museums. It’s just how it is.
There are alternatives to harassing SeaWorld. You can encourage SeaWorld to investigate and pursue viable alternatives to housing and maintaining its orca population either on premises or elsewhere (such as, yes, potentially, a sea pen).
You can contact your local house of legislation and ask for changes in regulation and oversight. In the United States, the regulations have been out of date for decades, especially since the passing of the Animal Welfare Act of 1966 (which ironically I was taught at Sea World while attending their summer camp there in the early 1980’s). Wild marine mammals are considered fisheries commodities and are regulated by the National Marine Fisheries Service, part of the Department of Commerce. This concept goes back to the days before our moratorium on whaling. Once captured, they are considered livestock and are monitored by the Department of Agriculture.
So think about this, instead of the government treating SeaWorld like it’s a ranch with cows and bulls and calves (holy crap, that’s what they’re called!), there could be a regulatory agency that actually understands the needs of zoos and aquariums, making it easier for them to get things done instead of tying them up with regulations based on a commercial agricultural industry they’re not even in. It’s these screwed up regulations that caused the pre-Busch owners of Sea World to create a Iran-Contra caliber scheme to collect cetaceans from the wild (it’s well documented. Look it up).
The animal welfare act also gives the dimensions for a pool for an orca:
“The required minimum horizontal dimension (MHD) of a pool for Group I cetaceans shall be 7.32 meters (24.0 feet) or two times the average adult length of the longest species of Group I cetacean housed therein (as measured in a parallel or horizontal line, from the tip of its upper jaw, or from the most anterior portion of the head in bulbous headed animals, to the notch in the tail fluke 8 ), whichever is greater; except that such MHD measurement may be reduced from the greater number by up to 20 percent if the amount of the reduction is added to the MHD at the 90-degree angle and if the minimum volume and surface area requirements are met based on an MHD of 7.32 meters (24.0 feet) or two times the average adult length of the longest species of Group I cetacean housed therein, whichever is greater.”
San Diego’s show pool is 36′ deep, 180′ long, and 80′ wide. Orlando’s show pool is 36′ deep, 190′ long, and 90′ wide. San Antonio’s (the newest of the three) is 40′ deep, 220′ long, and 150′ wide. These are just the show pools. I’m not including auxiliary tanks or the medical pools. If you feel these tanks are too small, keep in mind that they meet the Federally mandated guidelines. And they weren’t built by SeaWorld. They were built by Sea World, back in the 1980’s, when it was owned by the Bookseller.
You can also start a petition to SEGA and the BBC encouraging them to build Orbi in the United States. It’s a new kind of wildlife park that doesn’t have any animals. Go figure.
But I digress. In the spirit of all fairness in this holiday season, I present news of a miraculous birth in San Antonio on December 6, from both SeaWorld and peta. First Sea World:
SeaWorld has one more reason to be thankful this holiday season. Takara, a 22-year-old killer whale, gave birth to a calf today at 12:08 a.m. The yet-to-be-named calf is the 29th killer whale born in SeaWorld’s history, and it joins five other killer whales that reside at the San Antonio park.
Takara gave birth to a female calf – estimated to measure 7 feet long – in Shamu Theater’s main pool after being in labor for slightly more than one hour. Immediately after birth, the baby whale instinctively swam to the surface of the water for its first breath of air. SeaWorld veterinarians and animal care specialists, who have devoted the last several weeks to 24-hour watch of the expectant mother, were on hand to witness the birth.
“We’re delighted to welcome the newest Baby Shamu to our killer whale family,” said Chris Bellows, SeaWorld San Antonio vice president of zoological operations. “Successful births like this are further evidence that SeaWorld parks have created healthy, enriching habitats for these animals. Millions of guests visit our parks each year and gain a greater appreciation for killer whales and other species in our care. No other organization on the planet connects people with wildlife better than SeaWorld.”
This is the fourth calf born to Takara, a 16-foot-long, 5,000-pound killer whale. SeaWorld animal care specialists are cautiously optimistic about the progress of the baby and her mother.
“The mom and baby appear to be doing very well, and we’re hopeful that this is a strong and healthy calf,” Bellows said. “As with any newborn, the first few days are critical. We’re looking forward to the continued bonding of mom and calf, and the baby beginning to nurse. ”
And now peta:
SeaWorld has bred another orca into a life of captivity, where she will never be able to swim outside a concrete tub or interact with her family, from whom she will almost certainly be separated—just as were her siblings Kohana, who was sent to the notorious Loro Parque in the Canary Islands, and Trua, who was sent to SeaWorld Orlando. She’ll be forced to perform cheap, circus-style tricks and bred to build SeaWorld’s dirty business. She may also become dangerous. Her mother, Kasatka, nearly killed trainer Ken Peters in 2006, and her father, Kotar, harassed another incompatible orca in a tank at SeaWorld for years, ultimately severely wounding the other animal’s genitalia in an attack. Kotar was then sent to SeaWorld San Antonio, where he died in 1995 when a gate fell and crushed his skull.
Love them both. Happy holidays.