The Blog Post Wherein I ask About Domesticated Orcas

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED JANUARY 12, 2014

I’ve thought about the issue of freeing SeaWorld’s orcas quite a bit, especially after seeing Blackfish and reading Death at SeaWorld.  I remain open to the idea, but almost all the comments and writings I’ve seen on the subject are either of the straight forward “free them and let them enjoy the wild” variety or blue sky ideas which, though commendable, remain hypothetical and often don’t take considerations such as financing into account.

I’ve thought about whether the fact that four people have been killed by captive orcas, three by a single whale, and countless more have been injured, justifies their release.  If worker safety becomes the question at hand for eliminating orcas from the parks, I keep the following factors in mind:

  • In 2010, the year of Dawn’s death, there were an estimated 3,155 injuries on amusement rides (fixed and mobile) in the United States according to the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission.
  • For the same year, the National Safety Council, in a report commissioned by IAAPA, reported 1,207 injuries on fixed amusement rides, 59 of them reported as serious.  The report defines serious injury as “an injury resulting in immediate admission and hospitalization in excess of 24 hours for purposes other than medical observation.”
  • Ride accidents covered by ridesafety.com for 2010 include 13 incidents at theme parks, carnivals, waterparks, and FEC’s worldwide that resulted in 18 deaths.
  • OrcaHome.de lists 113 incidents between captive orcas and humans from 1967 to 2010.  The list includes incidents resulting in injury or death along with behavior considered threatening to trainers.  Based on the fact that not all data is in the public domain, this is obviously not a complete list.  Of the 113 incidents over the 46 years, four have resulted in death.
  • According to the Statistics from Exotic Animals Incidents Database, published by Born Free USA, Over the 21-year period between 1990 (the earliest year on record in the database) and 2010, there were eleven deaths attributable to animals at AZA certified zoos.  These involved elephants at the Oakland Zoo, San Diego Wild Animal Park, San Antonio Zoo, Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa, and the Pittsburgh Zoo; multiple lions at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo; a jaguar at the Denver Zoo; tigers at the Miami Metrozoo and the San Francisco Zoo; and the killings of Daniel Dukes and Dawn Brancheau by Tilikum.
  • Between November 2, 2012 and July 6, 2013, 67 trains hauling 3,830 tanker cars of crude oil passed through the city of Lac-Mégantic.  On July 6, 2013, one of those trains derailed, causing major explosions and the deaths of 47 people.

You may disagree with me on this, and you’re certainly welcome to, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s far safer to be a well trained orca trainer (emphasis on well trained) than it is to live in a small lakeside railroad town in Quebec.

If animal welfare is the reason behind relocating the orcas, I have a lot of questions that I’d like to see answered before I commit to anything.  This is a sampling, and I encourage you, dear reader, to see what kinds of answers you come up with for yourself:

  • Who will pay for the relocation of the orcas?
  • If a sea pen is used, who will pay for the daily care of the orcas?
  • If SeaWorld foots the bill on either, how will it affect their finances?
  • What is the potential financial loss to SeaWorld if the orcas are removed from the parks?
  • What would SeaWorld need to do to maintain profits and a return on its investments equal to when the orcas were in the parks?
  • Does SeaWorld have any plans in the works for larger tanks or programs to improve the orcas’ mental and physical health?
  • How have court cases like PETA’s 13th Amendment case affected SeaWorld’s plans for improving conditions for captive orcas?
  • How long will the relocation and adaptation process take?
  • As the hybrids were born in captivity, trained for performance, and rely on human care, should they still be considered wild animals in captivity, especially as their genetics is not found in the wild?
  • Or should they be considered domesticated animals?
  • Will hybrids be accepted in the wild by families they only share partial genetics with?
  • If different geographic groups of orcas have different vocalizations, what orca language is being spoken at SeaWorld?
  • Does a captive orca that was caught as a calf and raised in captivity have the same mental maturation as one that’s lived its entire life in the wild?  In other words, are they mentally children locked in adult bodies?
  • If a captured orca is returned to the wild and reunites with its family, how will the family react to behaviors acquired in captivity?
  • What is the benefit to the public of a sea pen away from tourist zones and in an area where the public can view wild orcas instead?
  • If SeaWorld releases the orcas, should they be able to keep their other marine mammals?
  • If SeaWorld releases all their marine mammals, should they be able to keep other animals, such as birds and fish, and the animals at Busch Gardens?
  • If SeaWorld releases the orcas into the wild or a sea pen, how should they convey the story of orcas at the parks?
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