SeaWorld CEO Slams Activists

I came across this article earlier today featuring an interview with SeaWorld’s CEO Joel Manby.

Here are a few highlights:

After activists petitioned for a ban on killer-whale breeding, arguing that orcas die younger in captivity, SeaWorld launched an ad campaign saying the whales live as long in its theme parks as they do in the wild. Experts told PolitiFact that SeaWorld’s claim was backed by some research but that it ignored issues such as the animals’ quality of life.

The first half of this is misleading and the latter is simply untrue. 1) The argument against cetacean captivity has been lead by some of the world’s most respected marine biologists for decades – not merely by animal rights activists who saw the movie Blackfish. 2) There are certainly some wild killer whale population’s that, comparative to captive whales, have shorter life spans. That being said, wild killer whales on average have longer life expectancies. We’ve known this for years and this research is readily available.

“The CEO says that he believes in SeaWorld’s mission but that many people misunderstand the company. Backlash against SeaWorld has been driven by “lies” and people lacking in “critical thinking,” he said. One hundred years from now, people are going to be begging for zoos and aquariums to take the animals from the wild because the extinction rate is so high,” Manby said.

Extinction is a serious cause for concern for many species. But we can’t compare an entertainment facility (SeaWorld) that focuses somewhat on conservation (mostly of other species, not orcas) to that of an AZA accredited institution that works to ensure the captive environment/habitat/enrichment/diet/social structure of each species aligns, to the best of that institution’s ability, with what it would experience in the wild. (This is why we are seeing facilities phase out elephants and retire them to sanctuaries.)

“People are wrong to focus on SeaWorld while fishing kills numerous sharks, dolphins, and whales every year, Manby argued.”

Actually, a lot of people – and quite a few organizations – are focused on raising awareness about the commercial fishing industry, on by-catch, and the impact it has on our ecosystems.

“Those are the issues we should be talking about, not 29 whales at SeaWorld that have been born at SeaWorld and have lived there their entire life and cannot be released to the wild because they would die,” Manby said. “So I get frustrated with the small-minded arguments from activists that really don’t know what they’re talking about.”

Born in captivity or not, these animals are complex.  Those 29, as small of a number as it may seem on paper, deserve better. It has been common knowledge for years now that the amount of space being provided by SeaWorld for the orcas was not nearly enough – that the level of aggression between the orcas was abnormal – that the self mutilation was unnatural – that the habitat (a concrete pool) needed a complete overhaul. If SeaWorld as a company truly cared about the quality of life it was able to provide for the orcas it would have begun making those changes years ago.

SeaWorld has lost an estimated 100 orcas in 50 years. Should we talk about the quality of life in captivity vs. the wild? Could we clarify the need for administering benzodiazepines to the orcas? Does it stem from the stereotypic behaviors displayed by captive cetaceans? Given the exceptional level of veterinary care available to these animals, should captive orcas be dying from seemingly preventable diseases like bacterial infections?

All things considered… why couldn’t these animals adapt to a life at a seaside sanctuary?

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