• Should You Visit Sea World?

Should You Visit Sea World?

If someone had asked this before the documentary

Black Fish, people would answer sure, why not? But after the scathing expose, many boycotted Sea World indefinitely.

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”.

Should You Visit Sea World?

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.

Should You Visit Sea World?

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.

Should You Visit Sea World?

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.

Should You Visit Sea World?

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?




About the Author:

Rachel Jones left a career in nursing and lived on the beaches of Goa, India for the five years. Now she lives in Mexico where she gives advice on the 40+ countries she’s visited in the last 10 years. She’s the author of two India travel e-books: Guide to India and Insider’s Guide to Goa. Her blog, Werkenntwen, like its name, is a contradiction combining off-beat adventurous places with glamorous and bespoke travel. Werkenntwen has been featured in ELLE, Marie Claire, Grazia, and Cosmopolitan magazines. She’s a writer for Bravo TV.


  1. Jess August 3, 2016 at 6:17 pm - Reply

    I went to Sea world pre Blackfish and I felt so guilty when I watched the documentary ‘cos I had such an amazing time there. Not just seeing Orca’s but seeing such a huge variety of sea creatures. I think you’re right though when you say that if you boycott SeaWorld surely that means boycotting all zoos and aquariums?

    I personally really enjoy zoos and aquariums and as a kid I went to loads. I think if it wasn’t for seeing lions and elephants and nemo’s in the flesh I might not be as passionate about conservation and the enivornment as i am now.

    Great post, I think everyone should always look at both sides of the arguments before making decisions :)

    • Rachel Jones August 6, 2016 at 4:39 am - Reply

      Thanks for your comment Jess. I’m also still torn on this subject and really am not sure what to think about zoos and aquariums in general. I loved them as a kid but now feel bad when I go.

  2. Danielle August 4, 2016 at 1:44 am - Reply

    Great article – thanks for sharing your experience. It’s promising to see companies changing the way they operate in light of societal pressures, as we move away from ‘animals as entertainment’ to a more educative and conservationist approach. Being Australian, my mum has told me when Sydney’s Taronga Zoo first opened, visitors could ride the elephants! Obviously that hasn’t happened for a long time and Taronga now runs some of the best conservation projects in the world.

    I’m not comfortable with orcas in captivity at all – but I have been fortunate enough to see them in the wild as I currently live near the San Juan Islands in Washington State. I do believe that there is a place for aquariums for education, conservation and research purposes. I think the trick is picking the right ones – there are many that operate as not-for-profits. Monterey Bay Aquarium in California is one that I’d recommend, based on my experience there.

    • Rachel Jones August 6, 2016 at 4:41 am - Reply

      Hi Danielle. It is really good to see that companies are listening to what the public says. I found it interesting that when we talked to Sea World they kind of implied that they didn’t think breeding was wrong because they were learning about the whales and it is what happens with pandas, etc in the zoos. They decided to stop because they were going to lose their customers. I wonder if zoos would put conservation that was GOOD on the back burner because the public was against it – but didn’t really know all the details about it!? so confusing.

  3. runawaybrit August 4, 2016 at 4:23 am - Reply

    This is such a complex issue all round – it was very brave of you to write this! You are right, the world has changed, and mainly for the better when it comes to animal welfare. I hate to see such magnificent animals cooped up in tiny tanks when they should be living free in the wild. BUT, my #1 Bucket List item is to see an orca in the wild and has been since I was 11 years old. Why? Because when I was 11 I saw a captive orca at Windsor Safari Park in London. Having never seen anything of the kind before, I was immediately captivated and followed up my trip by learning absolutely everything I could about orcas. I had pictures of them on my walls, I bought orca toys (the proceeds of which went to charities such as Save the Whales), I donated my pocket money to ‘Sponsor a Wild Killer Whale’ programmes (her name was Sharky and she lived in British Columbia). I desperately wanted to become a marine biologist or a Greenpeace activist when I grew up (a path that I still wonder whether I should have taken). If I hadn’t seen that killer whale at the safari park, I never would have grown to love these animals.

    That’s not to say that I think they should be in captivity – my heart breaks for them in those tanks – but I wonder if we’ll be heading for another generation who simply doesn’t care about these animals once they no longer have the chance to learn about them firsthand, which is often the case. One day, I’ll get to see orcas in the wild, but they don’t hang out in cheap countries!!

    I’ll be interested to read the comments in this thread – once again, you are very brave to write about this :-)

    • Rachel Jones August 6, 2016 at 4:41 am - Reply

      I love seeing your comment as you are such a whale lover! It’s really interesting- I also wonder that. I think in the next 10 and 20 years we will see a lot of changes with zoos and aquariums.

  4. Cavaforlunch August 4, 2016 at 2:16 pm - Reply

    After watching Black Fish I just feel too guilty about any place that uses animals as entertainment. As a non-American, I am not too familiar with the differences between Sea World and Sea Life, but in Europe I always tend to stay away from places like that. It is something that I, as a blogger but also a human, cannot participate in and promote. But great article. This is a very important issue that needs to be discussed!

    • Rachel Jones August 6, 2016 at 4:42 am - Reply

      Yeah I also feel guilty when animals do entertainment. I didn’t see that at Sea World but am told they still do shows. Even when I see videos on Facebook of dogs dancing for people I feel bad because it could hurt their back :/

  5. Isla August 12, 2016 at 7:16 am - Reply

    Put simply, how would like to you spend your life in a bathtub being given “treats” to perform tricks for others pleasure and corporate profit? Those beautiful creatures need to be in the open ocean. Those tanks are literally the equivalent of a bathtub to a human. Animals, no matter where they are “bred”, do not belong in cages or tanks any more than you do. Sorry, but there are not 2 sides to this issue. You can try to rationalize it all you want but it’s still wrong. Captivity is just that. Being held painfully captive against their will. It’s wrong. No to Sea World, No to zoo’s. Yes to centers that rescue, rehabilitate and release whenever possible. We can learn from and educate people from research at these centers. We don’t need to steal animals from their homes and families or breed them into a life of misery.

    • Rachel Jones August 12, 2016 at 7:16 pm - Reply

      Isla, I agree with what you’ve said. I think the other side of it which you didn’t mention is you’re saying no to zoos but some zoos do an awful lot of good in terms of research and have even save species that would have otherwise been extinct. So, do we say no to zoos that having breeding programs for “just in case”?

      • Isla August 16, 2016 at 6:20 am - Reply

        I am not aware of any Zoo that has saved a species from extinction. Please educate me. Thanks.

        • Rachel Jones August 16, 2016 at 6:22 am - Reply

          You can find a lot of information on this with google search.. here is one such article: http://www.vetstreet.com/our-pet-experts/8-zoos-helping-animals-edge-out-of-extinction

          • Isla August 18, 2016 at 6:34 am

            I’ll read up, thanks.

  6. [email protected] The British Berliner August 12, 2016 at 12:02 pm - Reply

    Thanks for writing this post Rachel.

    It’s such a controversial topic and as such, I too am loathe to tell people what to do. I think the best way is exactly what you’ve done.
    Present both sides of the argument, then people can make an informed decision.

    p.s. Personally, I’m not comfortable with animals being treated as entertaining pieces either, but I understand the need for education and knowledge, and hope that this is done in the least harmful, and non-interfering way. Sadly, it’s already too late as most animals bred in captivity can never really survive in the wild, as they no longer have the “survival” instinct and are comfortable with human .

    • Rachel Jones August 12, 2016 at 7:18 pm - Reply

      Victoria, you’re right, they can’t go back out to the wild. It’s such a tough subject. I also wonder a lot about the idea of if we didn’t interfere with these “breeding programs” to save extinct animals, and they did die off, is that what was meant to happen… are people supposed to interfere?

  7. Leslie August 12, 2016 at 8:11 pm - Reply

    Absolutely NO. Im really surprised that anyone is subscribing to the justifications put forth by Sea World. And for those still believing that captivity is conservation and that zoos do an “awful lot of good in terms of breeding and saving endangered species” -You still fail to see things from the animals perspective. I wonder, how you would feel living in a shoebox, with your every natural impulse denied, and orchestrated, even down to when and how you procreate. Separated from family, social structure, stimulation, freedom to move as your DNA is coded for …-but hey, you are alive. Would it be worth it to you? Is life in prison a LIFE? And make no mistake, no matter how “nice” they are, they cannot come close to approximating the natural habitats animals thrive in. Zoos are prisons to the animals. And just a small tidbit; Elephants bred in captivity die THREE times faster than elephants born in the wild. Is that conservation?
    Anyone and everyone who is “on the fence” and believes that zoos play an important role in conservation PLEASE read this. If you are truly interested in “all sides” Please read the side of the animals themselves.

    • Rachel Jones August 15, 2016 at 2:28 am - Reply

      Hi Lesley, thanks for sharing your thoughts on this and resources for people to read further!

  8. Nathalie October 19, 2017 at 4:35 pm - Reply

    This article is awesome! I’m actually going to visit SeaWorld this weekend and it’s hard to even mention it to friends without them starting a riot. I also get sad seeing animals in captivity, but they truly are beautiful. I can’t wait because I haven’t been since I was about 8 years old.

  9. Nicky Smith June 15, 2018 at 8:34 pm - Reply

    I’ve just found this article as I’m having a dilemma about visiting SeaWorld in Orlando next August on a family holiday. I don’t think I can bring myself to go as it just feels so “wrong” – but if they’re stopping the shows then that’s a huge improvement as there is no way I would have watched them even if I did go. I’m not 100% against animals in captivity but I so wish they would make their enclosures as large as they can possibly be. I went to Busch Gardens 25 years ago and got upset about a crocodile in a small enclosure which was repeatedly scraping at the glass, so much so that I wrote to them when I got home to the UK. So again I’m having the same dilemma about visiting next year; hoping it has improved since then. 95% of the animals seem to have spacious enough enclosures but there’s always a few I look at and think “surely they could have given them more space” and that’s it, the day’s ruined.

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