Initial Analysis of Potential Construction Issues with Blue World Project

By Joe Kleiman, The Mid-Cap Chronicles

© 2014 Joseph L. Kleiman.  All rights reserved. Content may not be reproduced, downloaded, disseminated, published, or transferred in any form or by any means, except with the prior written permission of the author.

Although I have relatives who have been employed by the California State Contractor’s Licence Board and the Navy Corps of Engineers, this is an independent assessment.  To the best of my knowledge, it does not represent the beliefs of any state or federal agency, my employer, or my clients.  I do not profess to be either a trained engineer or a construction expert and the following are solely my observations.

I shall not question whether or not the Blue World Project will take place.  For the purposes of this essay, it is assumed that it shall.  Neither shall I question where the funding will come from.  Although irrelevant to this discussion, including the three orca habitats and additional announced improvements at the Texas park, I have low balled the cost at $375 million, with a high ball figure based on potential cost overrides and delays at $600 million.

According to the current plans, all three SeaWorld parks will maintain the existing stadium pools, and ancillary pools for holding orcas and medical examination. The existing stadium grandstands will remain, as will performance-based orca shows.  In San Diego and Orlando, an existing secondary show pool currently used for “Dine with Shamu” presentations will be enlarged into the Blue World Project habitat.  In San Antonio, where such a pool does not exist, the habitat will be all new construction immediately adjacent to the existing Shamu Stadium.  In addition to the orca habitat, San Antonio is also set to begin construction on a new sea lion habitat featuring a new counter service restaurant and a new dolphin habitat.

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Based on an overlay provided by SeaWorld, the San Diego orca habitat will be immediately surrounded by what appears to be a new support building to the south, the existing pools and grandstand to the east, the dolphin habitat to the north, and the park’s new multimillion dollar Explorer’s Reef entrance plaza to the west.  Based on the illustration, the sky bridge bordering the new habitat will be removed, while the eastern entrance to the stadium will now be accessed through the southern portion of the habitat.

Considerations include:

  • Construction noise
  • Dust, dirt, and other debris
  • Potential toxins underground

NOISE AND DEBRIS: It is common practice in zoological parks to relocate animals who reside in close proximity to construction zones to temporary housing farther away.  Three types of animals are directly impacted by the construction of the new orca habitat – the ten orcas currently residing in the park, one of which has recently been confirmed as pregnant, the dolphins residing in the interactive habitat immediately adjacent to the north of the construction zone, and the tide pool animals of Explorer’s Reef.  This may require the construction of temporary housing pools elsewhere in the park or the transfer of some animals to other facilities, be they operated by SeaWorld or others.  Other animals may be impacted by the construction noise as well, particularly if a thick cloud cover is in place over the park, deflecting the sound waves back to land.

The prevailing winds in San Diego flow from the northwest to the southeast.  Any dust and debris picked up from the construction zone will flow directly towards the park’s new entrance and its touch pools.  The construction may require a new temporary park entrance to be put into place during the two to three estimated years of building the new habitat.  At times, the wind shifts, blowing either directly south or to the southwest.  During these times, dust and debris from the construction site may enter the existing orca facility and the Shamu Stadium grandstand.

TOXINS: Approximately 500 feet due east of San Diego’s Penguin Encounter and Wild Arctic exhibits sits South Shores Park.  According to a 2000 article by Jeanette De Wyze in San Diego Reader, three workers excavating the site to build the park in 1988, were exposed to hydrogen sulfide fumes, with one dying shortly after. South Shores Park lies on what was between 1952 and 1959 the city’s landfill.  According to De Wyze, San Diego’s four main military contractors deposited toxic material at the site, including up to a million gallons per year “of chromic, hydrofluoric, nitric, sulfuric, and hydrochloric acids; dichromate; cyanide; and paint and oil wastes.”

A 2003 California Coastal Commission document on Sea World’s request to build it’s Journey to Atlantis facility (which falls outside the historic boundaries of the landfill) states the following:

“. . . one test well had produced an abnormally high reading for hydrogen sulfide during one test. The report itself goes on to state that this was either an anomaly or the result of a deposit of sulfur materials close to the probe, which took the sample from 15 feet underground, not on the ground surface. The report does not conclude that any immediate human health hazard exists at the site of the splash down ride, and monitoring for landfill gases continues at this time as recommended.”

The report goes on to state:

“. . . there is no indication the continued buildout of SeaWorld park in the already developed portion of the leasehold and not the site of the historic landfill, poses any risk to health and safety of the park users.”

As the site for the new orca habitat is on the far end of the property from where the former landfill stood, it’s unlikely, with the exception of toxins potentially having migrated below the water table across Mission Bay’s south shore, that the new facility will be affected by this issue.


Considerations include:

  • Proximity to existing orca pools
  • Noise
  • Sinkhole

PROXIMITY: San Antonio has the most space available for new construction and the greatest spacing between animal attractions of the three parks.  The new orca habitat will likely be directly adjacent to the small tanks of the current orca facility.  As the current stadium (though not the holding pools) is under a dome, it would be possible to close off the main performance tank from the construction zone (unlike the other parks, all six San Antonio orcas can remain in a single tank without conflict).  As with San Diego, proper zoo construction protocol would make it preferable for the orcas to be relocated during the construction.

NOISE: The noise from three major construction projects in a row, which may overlap in places, could prove to be irritable to park staff, guests, and animals.  Although animal venues are farther spaced out than San Diego, as with the California park, cloud cover could carry noise, including beyond park boundaries into surrounding commercial and residential neighborhoods.

SINKHOLE: The San Antonio park is built upon the limestone bedrock of the Edwards Plateau, however it does not appear that construction to sixty feet would have a negative impact on the Edwards Aquifer and its tributaries as the park falls outside of the Aquifer’s “fresh water zone,” according to the 1986 Geological Society of America publication The Balcones Escarpment: Geology, Hydrology, Ecology and Social Development in Central Texas.

According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), “Sinkholes are common where the rock below the land surface is limestone, carbonate rock, salt beds, or rocks that can naturally be dissolved by groundwater circulating through them. As the rock dissolves, spaces and caverns develop underground. Sinkholes are dramatic because the land usually stays intact for a while until the underground spaces just get too big. If there is not enough support for the land above the spaces then a sudden collapse of the land surface can occur. These collapses can be small . . . or they can be huge and can occur where a house or road is on top.”


Considerations include:

  • Noise and debris
  • Aquifer pollution
  • Sinkhole

NOISE AND DEBRIS: Same considerations as the other two parks.  Spacing between the new orca habitat and other animal venues is similar to the situation in Texas.  The conversion of an existing display into the habitat with its proximity to other existing orca tanks parallels the situation in San Diego with minor variables.

AQUIFER POLLUTION: The Orlando park is built on top of the Floridan Aquifer, from which Orlando and surrounding counties obtain fresh water.  In 2008, Scott Powers reported in the Orlando Sentinel that “Salt water from some of the giant pools and related plumbing at SeaWorld Orlando and neighboring Discovery Cove has been leaking into the aquifer, beneath those theme parks, in some cases for seven years or more, according to state environmental records.”

The contamination appeared to have been restricted to the near surface aquifer, and not the deep water aquifer, from which public water is obtained.  However, as Powers points out, “Government regulations forbid companies from degrading any groundwater, whether deep in the earth or near the surface, to levels below drinking-water standards, because that water could one day be needed for human consumption.”

SeaWorld patched up most of the leaking tanks and filtration equipment.  A swim through salt water reef aquarium at Discovery Cove was closed entirely and the space reopened as a new attraction, Freshwater Oasis.  In January 2014, the main show pool at Shamu Stadium was shutdown in order to perform maintenance on the structure without water being in the pool.  It’s not known if any of this maintenance was related to the earlier leakage into the aquifer and SeaWorld was not consulted in the research and writing of this piece.

SINKHOLE: Florida is as prone to sinkholes, if not more so, than Texas.  When one considers the amount of concrete that must be pored at the base of the structure to prevent leakage, and the fact the water depth in the tank is equivalent to a five story underground parking garage, the excavation could be as deep as sixty feet.

The USGS states this about sinkholes related to the Floridan Aquifer and man made structures: “Collapse sinkholes . . . form suddenly by the collapse of the roof of a large solution cavity Such large cavities commonly form where ground water circulation is vigorous, thus accelerating the dissolution of the limestone. As the cavity expands laterally, its roof gradually flakes off under the effect of gravity. Continued dissolution and spalling of the cavity roof proceed until the roof suddenly collapses under the weight of the overlying material, and a steep-sided, circular sinkhole forms. Collapse sinkholes form either in places where the cavity roof consists entirely of limestone, or where clay forms a bridge over the cavity; they are the type of sinkhole that usually forms in response to human activities. Additional loading of the land surface by construction of surface-water impoundments or buildings . . . or harmonic loads produced by the vibratory action of passing trains or heavy construction equipment have all been known to trigger sinkhole collapse.”

However, if proper engineering is used and salt water leakage is nonexistent, there should be no issue with a sixty foot construct, as it’s still a distance above the Aquifer.  A USGS research well in operation adjacent to SeaWorld is accessing the water at a depth of 239 feet.

But, let’s imagine for the heck of it that a sinkhole suddenly did appear beneath the new orca habitat.  What would it look like? If we imagine the orcas as expensive, rare sports cars, then we could imagine it would look something like this.


Benjamin White Open Letter on Paul Watson and Steve Wynn

Human Celebrities versus Animal Celebrities

by Benjamin White, Jr.

“The Cult of Animal Celebrity”, written by Paul Watson and published by Merritt Clifton, puts forth recent context for defending the captivity of marine mammals and opposes those that want them free: the theory that many millions of dollars are going into helping “celebrity animals” that could be spent better protecting wild populations.

The premise is false and is being used to defend Paul Watson’s ongoing funding by Steve Wynn of the Mirage Casino and Merritt Clifton’s clear allegiance with marine parks and aquaria. Three years ago I quit as president of Sea Shepherd when Paul changed the policy of the group toward captivity in order to appeal to Steve Wynn for funding. It worked, Paul got $50,000 as a first installment in appreciation for his backing off on the captivity issue and his trashing of the efforts of myself, Lisa Lange and Peter Wallerstein to close down the Mirage’s captive dolphin tanks. I guess Sea Shepherd’s motto could be changed to “No Compromise in the Defense of Mother Earth unless the price is right.”

Merritt Clifton, masquerading as the animal rights movement’s muckraking journalist, has made a career of late defending those that make a living from captive animals and trying to marginalize those that think zoos, circuses, vivisection labs and aquariums should be abolished, not reformed.

Saying that there is too much fuss being made over “animals with names” is a sly shorthand for referring to captive animals, they are the only ones up close and personal enough to have been given names. Paul and Merritt’s arguments offer a false dichotomy: that one must choose between helping named captive animals or wild unnamed animals. Amazingly, Paul is using his hero status as a militant defender of marine mammals to parrot the same arguments long used by the public display industry. How wonderful it must be for Sea World, that has virtually invented the world trade in marine mammals, to be defended by the likes of Paul Watson and Merritt Clifton.

The job of those that presume to speak up for animals, it seems to me, is to speak and act to stop animal suffering period, regardless of where the animals are. One need not choose between helping animals in the wild or in captivity, we obviously need to do both.

Paul writes, with his casual use for the truth, that the amount of money raised for the cause of freeing marine mammals with names may exceed $45 million a year. The use of the slippery word “may” gives license for vast exaggeration. Yes, contributions to free these creatures “may” exceed $45 million, but they don’t. Having been involved in all four of the efforts decried: the campaigns to Free Willy, Free Lolita, Free Corky and Free Hondo, I can attest that the amount is nowhere even close. The Free Willy campaign, headed up by Earth Island Institute, was started with a grant from Warner Brothers for two million dollars essentially to deal with an in-house problem: Warner was coming out with Free Willy 2 and knew that if there was no plan afoot to move Keiko from his tiny tank in Mexico City, they would be raked over the coals. The entire budget for the tank being built to house Keiko in Newport, Oregon is about 11 million. It will be used as a stranding rehab facility once Keiko is gone. I personally opposed the building of yet another tank and favored a sea pen in Nova Scotia for Keiko, but there is not a shred of evidence that any of the money going into this project was subtracted from any effort to save life on the high seas.

All of the money for all of the other projects, to free the whales Lolita, Corky and the sea lion Hondo tally up to far under a hundred thousand dollars. The only reference anywhere to Free Hondo was on a banner I tied to the side of the cage out in Puget Sound near Seattle when I locked myself inside on February 1. Hondo had been caught in the same cage a week earlier and was being held for execution by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. After my cage-sit, and the resulting front page picture and article in the Seattle Times, state officials announced that Hondo would no longer be killed because he had become too much of a celebrity. He was released in June. I consider one animal saved a tiny victory, whether named or not. Contrary to Paul’s assertion that Sea Shepherd is opposed to captures from the wild, he was at the same time offering to capture the sea lions for the National Marine Fisheries Service and transport them via the Edward Abbey to California. This gave exactly the wrong message: that it is the sea lions that are to blame for the steelhead trout decline instead of the people that had driftnetted, deforested and dammed the steelhead and salmon to oblivion.

What Paul is really expounding is the old finite funding pie argument, that there is a limited amount of money going into animal protection and more should go to what he once did so well: the interference with the killing of sea mammals at sea. But even in this context it is bizarre to defend marine parks and aquaria. For many years representatives of this industry have attended the meetings of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and the Convention in Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) with one purpose in mind: to prevent the extension of protection from the great whales to the smaller cetaceans. Any measures that would have protected small whales and dolphins have been successfully blocked, enabling not only the ongoing trade in these animals but their continued slaughter worldwide.

Paul’s description of Sea World as having saved more animals in the wild than all animal advocacy groups combined is both wildly numerically inaccurate and reminiscent of Weyerheuser calling itself the tree growing company. After having their corporate butt thrown out of Washington state for killing four killer whales in capture nets and trying to hide their bodies, Sea World went to Iki Island, Japan to find a new source for entertainers. There they revived the waning drive fishery by agreeing to take the prettiest of the dolphins and pseudorcas off the hands of the fishermen for a handsome fee. They describe this as a “rescue” because the fishermen slaughter all dolphins not taken by the display industry. None of the thousands of animals destroyed over the years by this industry funded slaughter had, as far as I know, been given names.

It’s embarrassing to hear Paul, one of the founders of Greenpeace, credit the marine park industry with having caused the public’s love affair with marine mammals. That assumes the industry’s primary fallacious argument, that they educate in a positive direction. They do not. They teach dominance: that might makes right. Every child admitted is taught, through his parent’s passive consent, that having whales and dolphins against their will, away from their family, doing tricks for our amusement, is all right. Paul also adopts the “it’s a jungle out there” defense, an old saw of the industry, to try to pretend that captivity us for the victim’s own good. Who among us would choose permanent “protective custody” instead of facing the rigors of freedom?

Paul laments that none of this attention focused on captive animals has served to help whales and dolphins in the wild. That claim may help in fundraising but it is not true. The killing of dolphins in tuna nets worldwide, mainly as a result of an Earth Island campaign and monitoring program, has dropped from hundreds of thousands a year to about 3500, obviously, still 3500 too many. During the twenty years Paul mentions, the killing of whales has gone down from tens of thousands a year to hundreds. None of this steals from the urgency of stopping the murder of those, but it is simply untrue to say the movement to assist wild cetaceans, of which Paul has played a huge part, has not swelled in parallel to the increase of compassion for captive cetaceans.

While we’re on the subject, why does Sea Shepherd only defend animals on the high seas out of U.S. territory and only when the killing does not have the sanction of the International Whaling Commission? Paul has been highly vocal lately in opposing the Makah Indian Nation’s intention to begin killing whales again, but if they get IWC approval, as now seems likely, he will do nothing to stop them. If a group’s mandate is to protect marine mammals, but they exclude those captive, those in U.S. waters and those being killed under the approval of the International Whaler’s Club, it would seem their scope of responsibility has shrunk almost to the size of Greenpeace’s (that now doesn’t oppose the killing of 200,000 Canadian harp seals a year.)

Paul Watson and Merritt Clifton have joined the public display industry. The posting by Paul that I am responding to is really the second in a series, the first one was called Moral Relativity and Marine World, Africa. In that article, Animal People editor Merritt Clifton defends not only that amusement park’s purchase of pseudorcas from the Iki Island drive fishery but the expedition the company took to Alaska to pay Inuits to kill mother walruses so their babies could be taken into captivity.

Paul complains that divisiveness in the “movement” is becoming increasingly negative and destructive and that we need to have peace among all factions, by agreeing to disagree. The trouble with this happy scenario is that the industry he and Merritt defend is predicated on taking what doesn’t belong to it and then lying to keep it. Have we lost the capacity for telling right from wrong? My own moral touchstone for determining if a situation is justifiable for an animal is to consider if the same situation would be tolerable for a person. Would Paul and Merritt justify centers where people were taken against their will from their families, force fed until they submit, kept in an environment far diminished from their natural home, have children taken from their mothers routinely, and then forced through food deprivation to perform until they die? To call this industry, as Paul does, part of the animal protection movement or to define this debate as one over “moral relativism” does not tell the truth or help us into the future. To the degree that we, the people who supposedly stand up for critters, acquiesce to animal suffering based on such fuzzy and self serving logic, we surrender both our value to the animals and our moral compass. By compromising with those that deliberately cause suffering by stealing animals from their home and family we become the protector of the jailer, abandoning the jailed.

Paul Watson’s benefactor Steve Wynn promised (to me and many others) that his casino would have dolphins only temporarily, serving as a halfway house for dolphins taken from abusive facilities on their way to freedom. Problem is, Steve forgot that freedom part. Then he acted as point man for the industry and sued the National Marine Fisheries Service, resulting in them losing purview over almost every aspect of captivity. Due to his efforts, captive cetaceans are virtually unprotected.

As far as I can see, there is very little division among animal rights groups over this issue. Ten years ago, there were a bare handful of us fighting for the abolition of whales in jails. Now it is embraced by virtually every group, including such previously immovable rocks as HSUS. We do not have a worsening rift in the movement but two people with guilty consciences that want to solicit new members for their Quisling Club. If Paul and Merritt want to denigrate those who work to free wildlife and glorify those that work in institutions founded on cruelty, that’s fine, but they should admit they have acquired a vested interest in the subject. They should say how much they have received from the industry (Paul has garnered well over $100,000 from Steve Wynn) instead of pretending they are just another objective activist giving advice on strategy.

I have a bias. I am an abolitionist. I have sworn to the dolphins that I will stop at nothing to save every life, to free every creature and close every facility that I can. Like it or not, that’s where I stand. Paul and Merritt have a bias. They should own up to it.

On a personal note, I just can’t understand why Paul doesn’t get it. I was captive with him after being arrested stopping the Canadian Seal Hunt in 1983. We were both facing six years to life. We ended up in adjoining cells for ten days. One day Paul was so depressed he stayed on his bunk with his head covered up all day, talking to no one. He was my best friend and I was worried about him. The next day he was back in his typically wonderful good humor. But I’ve always wondered why he feels no connection with the orca that floats listlessly between performances, with nowhere to go, nothing to do, no stories to tell, no fish to catch, no life to live. These creatures have been sentenced to life imprisonment for no offense other than appealing to people.

The fact that they have been labeled with stupid pet names (how amazing their real names must be!) should not be used as a reason to encourage their jailers by dismissing their suffering. Free Willy? Free Hondo? Free Corky? Free Lolita? Yes! and Yaka, Bubble, Molly and all the rest. The only way to save a species is one by one. Free them all. And let’s not let anyone, friend or foe, plant false doubt and make us lose focus. Our enemies are real, they are those that cause animal suffering, whether on the high seas or in our backyard.

What does one say to an old friend that chooses to switch sides and speak for the enemy? Everyone makes mistakes. Come back to the fold. Money can’t buy you love (except on the sleazy side of town.)

Benjamin White, Jr.
Date: 3 August,1995