The big news was released just days ago that SeaWorld is putting an end to its orca captive breeding program. Reading those words should be a cause for celebration. It is a huge first step in changing how the business model of orcas for entertainment is changing. As I read the headline, I was in disbelief at first. Is it possible that after so many years of a stranglehold on breeding these creatures for profit, a change is coming?
It is amazing that when people come together, positive change can happen. But what led to this change? A movie that you may be familiar with called Blackfish started the massive movement. Blackfish documented how SeaWorld began, how they captured wild orca whales and brought them to a park to live in a tank and perform for people. In between, there are many uncomfortable moments for the viewing public to see what life is actually like for these whales. It is shocking and enlightening. It made people finally stop and realize that this isn’t right and even question why these parks exist.
It has been three years already since the movie was released and there has been a lot of public backlash. People understood that in order to get a company like SeaWorld’s attention they had to hit them where it hurts. The public has said no in a big way by not visiting their parks. Attendance has been down and so has the stock prices. SeaWorld has been fighting a very hard PR battle for these last three years trying to justify why they should keep killer whales in tanks and performing in shows. The pubic however isn’t buying it.
The time has arrived and SeaWorld is finally recognizing that they have to do something that is right in order to keep themselves alive for the foreseeable future. They made the big announcement that they will stop breeding the whales they have in captivity at all of their parks. Yes, I said all of their parks. This is a historic moment in SeaWorld’s history.
This change is happening because people care and they took action. They used their voices and their wallets to send a message with a belief that keeping large intelligent mammals in a bathtub for show isn’t okay.
The next question is what SeaWorld will do with their remaining whales. Currently they have 29 in the entire collection. As of today, they have taken the stance that the whales will not be released from the parks and that their home is within SeaWorld. They would live out their remaining days still in a tank but without the show portion of it.
There has been a lot of pressure on them to possibly release the whales in a pen out at sea. This method would require a lot of oversight and dedication to make sure the whales could potentially be reintroduced to the wild. It can certainly have its own drawbacks and doesn’t mean the whales would survive and ride off into the sunset.
Releasing whales into a pen at sea is much different than simply releasing them into the wild. There are passionate individuals that understand the plight of these animals and believe SeaWorld should just “set them free.” Unfortunately, that can’t be done. You can’t let a captive animal go back into the wild expecting that it will go back to living a normal life and survive. It would certainly die as most of these animals now were born and raised in captivity and are completely dependent on humans for survival. Think of it like having a cat or dog. Your animal is dependent on you for food, water, companionship, etc. If one day you let it walk out your back door to fend for itself, chances are it may not survive. They don’t have the skills to forage for themselves. Starvation would be their first issue.
Getting back to the original issue right now is whether or not it is a win that captive breeding of these whales is being stopped. The simple answer is a resounding yes! This is a huge win in changing how we treat and perceive these animals. And it all started out with something as simple as a movie to bring awareness to the rest of the world. It was that first step in action to start a positive chain reaction.
I read many pieces talking about this announcement and their perspective. I talked with friends and environmental activists about this. One of the recurring themes or words I kept seeing and hearing over and over again was “but.” It is good that captive breeding is stopping, but….”
This is where I feel it is necessary to interject and say that we need to leave the “buts” at the door. We as biologists, activists and the public made change happen. This is simply the first step in completely changing how SeaWorld and other marine parks around the world do business now and in the future. We have to take this as a win for what it is and stop worrying that the entire model didn’t change overnight. It will continue to change for the better as long as we keep applying the pressure and holding them accountable. SeaWorld in their wildest dreams would never have thought that this day would arrive. Look at what has been accomplished. This is huge! Let’s be grateful and celebrate how we came together as a people and made a big impact on the lives of orcas forever.
Our next step is now to keep going. Sea pens and sanctuaries are a possible and viable opportunity. SeaWorld may today be saying that isn’t going to happen, but you can never say never.
I speak as a marine biologist and a human who understands the connectedness to our planet. Each and every living thing has a place on this planet and it deserves protecting. In the end, if we don’t protect earth, we are only hurting ourselves as a human species.
Join me in celebrating this truly monumental moment.