The Last Generation

SeaWorld’s Orca Breeding Program Comes to an End

Esther Chung

Captive Orca (also cover image)
One of the many captive orcas at SeaWorld

For many years, animal rights activists and the general public alike have been lobbying for SeaWorld to change the way they treat and house their many animals, in particular, orca whales. Finally, after decades of protest, SeaWorld has announced that the orcas currently under their care will be the last generation enclosed in their park. In their March 2016 statement, they revealed that “the company will end all orca breeding as of today (March 17th, 2016).” However, there are still quite a few people who remain skeptical that these changes will be able to solve the many problems with how the animals are treated at SeaWorld. This clash of opinion has left the public pondering these questions: what is really changing at SeaWorld, and what will the effects of this change be?

After being under fire for years for its poor treatment of killer whales, multiple protests, significant drops in ticket sales, and other “attitudinal changes” in the public are, according to SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby, some of the driving factors for this revolutionary change. However, despite many promises to keep the orcas healthy and happy, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) still maintains that SeaWorld has a long way to go before these animals are treated as they should be. One of their arguments is that the habitats of these animals are not fit for healthy living, as the tanks often appear small and cramped. With large bodies and the second biggest brain size out of all marine mammals, it is inevitable that these conditions take a toll on orcas’ mental health as well as physical health. Orcas often become sunburned due to shallow habitats, and damage their teeth from biting at the metal in their enclosures in attempts to escape.  While these symptoms are clearly visible to the public, SeaWorld has denied most of these accusations.

SeaWorld News
Despite recurring near-death situations, SeaWorld had continued to carry out their circus like orca shows.


Not only do the orca exhibits at SeaWorld take a toll on the animals’ health, they also cause unnaturally early deaths. Orcas, which live an average of 30-50 years in the wild, have severely shortened lives in captivity, with the median being only 9 years.Orca and Trainer It does not take a genius to know that the stress of being held captive in terrible conditions has something to do with this great misfortune. “It’s sad to know how much shorter these orcas’ lives are due to the conditions they have to live in,” says sophomore Leo Oyo, who lives in Florida and visits SeaWorld every year.

Shamu
Tilikum (above), one of the orcas currently at SeaWorld, has a completely collapsed dorsal fin, something marine experts associate with cramped living spaces in which the orcas cannot swim freely and exercise their muscles. SeaWorld  maintains that this rare condition- almost exclusively found in captive orcas and extremely rare in wild orcas (to the right)- is caused purely by genetics.

While the changes made to SeaWorld’s policies will likely have little or no effect on the terrible conditions these animals must endure daily, it is clear that this is a step in the right direction. By ending breeding, there will be no more orcas condemned to this unnatural way of life, and SeaWorld’s promises for a more natural viewing of these animals means the orcas will be subject to less stress.Wild Orcas

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photos Courtesy of YouTube, Leon7, Milan Boers, and Robert Pittman NOAA