If someone had asked this before the documentary
I saw the documentary and was very upset after, as was pretty much everyone. Sea World responded calling it propaganda and listing what they argued were inaccuracies. Recently, they said they would stop their whale breeding program which was pretty big news to fans of the brand who had boycotted them after the documentary.
When I visited Florida recently with Visit Florida I was surprised to see Sea World on the itinerary. Of course, I wouldn’t have gone if I didn’t want to and in the end decided to go see what changes had been made. I wanted to see what they had to say and share that with you. I’m no whale professional (clearly) so am just sharing my experience.
Here’s the thing you HAVE to keep in mind after you watch a documentary that is one sided, there is another side. It’s our responsibility to always try to learn both sides or we could be tricked to believe anything.
One thing that drives me nuts are when people want to talk to me about the US and they have seen non-objective documentaries (or conspiracy theories) who after 60 minutes officially believe the US government made 9/11 happen. You could watch a 60 minute documentary on big foot sighting and be totally on board that he’s real. My point is you need to always look at the other side as many of these films have a purpose and some are even funded by groups that oppose the company or people they want to “take down”.
It’s been a while since I saw Black Fish. It definitely upset me and I went to Sea World thinking that nothing would change my mind.
You could read their 69 reasons you shouldn’t believe Black Fish to see the full other side of it. It would take some time as for each statement they link out to the “proof”.
I went to Sea World with less than an open mind to be honest, but in the end was actually surprisingly more open to what they were doing than I thought I would be.
As we were bloggers, we got to meet with a trainer so that we could get photos, ask questions, and learn from their experiences. I thought they would be defensive but actually the trainer was very relaxed and open to discussion when us bloggers grilled him about Sea World and Black Fish.
We weren’t being rude about it but we wanted to learn and see the other side of it. We didn’t want to write about Sea World or promote something that was bad. I would never want to do that.
What I learned at Sea World
One of the biggest things I took away was that back when Sea World opened and they DID capture whales from the wild, the public was very on board. In the 70’s they captured over 90 whales. So was the government. People were stoked and they couldn’t wait to bring their kids in to see the shows. The tides have very clearly changed. This is not just with Sea World, but with zoos as well.
Now people don’t want to go to zoos where animals have been captured from the wild. When I was a kid, that is how most of the animals ended up in zoos. Times have changed.
While when I was a kid, no one wanted to go to Sea World unless there was an awesome Orca show with the trainers doing tricks with them, now no one will go if there is an Orca show with the trainers.
Sea World stopped capturing whales after a Supreme Court decision in 1976 made it illegal. They bred whales in captivity after that. Just a few months ago they released a statement they would stop breeding whales. The public was very happy with this news.
I do wonder though, does the public feel the same outrage of the breeding of all the animals in zoos who they breed in captivity? Pandas, Lions, and tigers? They are also bred and part of the reason is to keep a back up in case of extinction in the wild. In fact, some populations have only been saved because of zoos and aquariums back up plans.
A lot of what we know about Killer Whales is thanks to Sea World. They did a lot of research with the whales who survived capture and the whales they bred in captivity. It was the same was zoos who captured animals and researched them.
They donate a LOT of money to animal rescues. Your ticket goes to a generous organization. Kids also learn a lot when they visit Sea World.
The trainers do not get in the water with the whales but they do get on the platform. I can’t pretend like it didn’t make me nervous. Whales can and have grabbed trainers from the edge of the water and pulled them in.
The trainers now wear mini-scuba equipment in case of an emergency.
Tilikum, one of the whales heavily featured in Black Fish was bought by Sea World from Sealand of the Pacific where he (according to Sea World) wasn’t treated well prior to their buying him. He has killed three people. He was in the back while we were there. Sea World says he had a rare lung disease but is getting better and will recover.
Orcas were only trained with positive enforcement according to the trainer. This made me think of when I learned how elephants were trained in Asia for tourists to ride them (they are beaten so severely) and I vowed to never ride one again. I had thought whales must have been abused but apparently they are trained with snacks.
I asked why they could not release the whales and they said the whales would surely die. The water is kept so perfectly balanced at Sea World they couldn’t make it in the real ocean water, would die from a variety of other reasons. They did unsuccessfully release a whale once (the whale from Free Willy) who did eventually die in the wild. The release was done because of the outcry from people who saw the movie and thought it was ironic the movie whale got to be wild but not the real one.
Do whales in captivity get health issues? The documentary says they do and that they’re life is cut short. Sea World says they live longer in captivity with them. They also mention the curvature of the fins, which Sea World says is normal in all whales. I don’t know they answer here, but my gut tells me that ALL animals in captivity probably have health (whether mental of physical) issues. But, my gut isn’t an answer. You can check out Born Free and Care for the Wild International for more information and reach out to them with questions since they know real answers, not just “gut answers”.
Animals as Entertainment
The orca shows are still happening (without people in them). This is a problem with a lot of people; the idea of using animals as entertainment. I can agree and think of many cases where it’s wrong: elephants learning to paint, tigers jumping through fire hoops at a circus, dancing bears in India… all of these are considered wrong now, no questions. All of those examples use mean training techniques (torture often) to get the animals to perform.
As I mentioned, Sea World says they use only positive reinforcement with treats, similar to training a dog. One could ask why can we train horses to jump and do shows but not orcas? It’s really a never-ended conversation and I don’t know the answer.
Another element is not just how they are trained, but just using them as entertainment in general. It brings to mind San Fermin Festival (running of the bulls) where many bulls are hurt, scared, and injured. I was told they are even killed after the run. Using animals for festivals, entertainment, or even “temple elephants” isn’t cool.
The shows will end. In San Diego, then are being phased out in 2017. In Florida and Texas shows will end by 2019. From the CEO shows will focus on “new, inspiring, natural orca encounters” with educational programs emphasizing enrichment, exercise and health with its remaining killer whales.
So, should you visit Sea World?
Maybe they made mistakes (or maybe the world is just a different place than it once was). They are trying to fix those mistakes the public has called upon. They don’t capture whales and they don’t breed them. It’s up to you if you want to go. It’s not only whales, but a wonderful aquarium (unless you are against sea turtles and fish being behind the glass and not in the wild).
You can also consider waiting to go until the orca shows stop. Animals for entertainment is a big reason people are boycotting Sea World.
I did not like the option for dolphin rides as I feel strongly against that which were offered at the sister park Discover Cove.
I mentioned on my social media I visited Sea Life (an aquarium) and had only positive comments. If I posted about Sea World, would it have been the same? The answer would be no I think, and that would be because of the Orcas. Now that they no longer breed them, it’s a question of do you forgive them for their past captures like you’ve forgiven (or never thought about) the captures of other animals around the world in zoos.
There is a new rollercoaster called Mako; the tallest in Florida. I do think they will start to focus more on thrills like this as once their whales pass away they won’t have them anymore. This is the end of whales in captivity.
I suppose I’m still on the fence. While at a safari from another company in my past I left feeling like it wasn’t something I could promote (and haven’t written about because of that), I didn’t feel that way about Sea World.
To me, they did what the world thought was okay in the 70’s. It’s not okay now, so they’ve stopped. Trainers were killed and it was extremely tragic. That has also happened at zoos as well.
I think the documentary made people outraged, but if you want to boycott Sea World because of the whales, I suppose you would need to boycott all zoos and enclosed (out of the wild) safaris too that have animals bred in captivity. Those animals got there in the same way as whales did to Sea World… by capturing their parents or grandparents.
I do understand that a place that using animals as entertainment is a reason for boycotting, and that’s a valid point. I guess it comes down to if you believe that only positive reinforcement is used and it’s ethical. I don’t know that answer. I know I train my dog and the “pros” say dogs love being mentally stimulated to do tricks (simple things, sit, lay down…) but I couldn’t tell you if whales like it. Who could know!?
I imagine a similar documentary could be made about lions taken from the wild for zoos long ago, their children being separated, people accidentally being killed over time with them, and them being bred in zoos now, and people would say no zoos just the same.
While I don’t enjoy seeing animals locked up, no one can say that the sight of a lion or orca isn’t INCREDIBLE. They are just such amazing creatures. Obviously, it’s best to go to somewhere like Seattle and do a boat tour to see the orcas (totally possible and affordable). I guess it does bother me to some extent that some of the people who are very worked up and against Sea World don’t care about the other animals locked up who are also very intelligent and majestic animals, or other animals doing tricks i.e. horses.
If you want to visit Sea World, or are open to learning more about the positives that come from the organization I suggest you check out their page I linked about with 69 facts about Sea World that were shown “wrongly” in Black Fish.
I personally do not like zoos or aquariums as I love to go on real safaris and scuba dive when I travel. I know that isn’t an option for everyone. I imagine one day I’ll have kids and want to take them to a zoo to see an animal they might not see in the wild. I am also aware of all the help that zoos and aquariums do so even though I don’t love to visit them when I travel, I think they have done a great help to some animals species (well, some have).
Whether or not you go, it’s always important to try and see both sides of an issue just so that you can make your own informed position. I’m not trying to make you think one way or another. I was against them because of the documentary, I met a trainer learned more, and now I’m on the fence. Because aquariums don’t interest me and in general I feel bad to see animals not wild, I may not go back but I am not opposed to others who would want to.
So tell me, would you go to Sea World and give them another chance?
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