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Many agree that killer whales and other aquatic animals that are held captive in the various SeaWorlds around the globe should be released, and their arguments are justifiable. Animals that are held in human-made habitats should be treated well and with the utmost care. SeaWorld has announced in mid-March that they have ended their orca breeding program, and “SeaWorld’s 29 [remaining] killer whales—ranging in age from 1 to 51 years old—will remain in captivity, but in new, inspiring natural orca encounters,” (Kay). These whales will help change the future for companies around the world that keep animals in captivity. However, some still argue that the remaining whales must be released or placed into sea pens. The remaining whales must not be released or placed into sea pens, as their chance of survival will exponentially dwindle down compared to if they were still in captivity.
SeaWorld first introduced orcas into their parks in the 1960’s and have introduced 150 orcas into their parks since. SeaWorld has announced the end of their orca breeding program, following the thousands of complaints and pressure from animal activists groups. The orca has become SeaWorld’s “most powerful engagement tool”, and after the remaining orcas die off, it will become difficult to “reinvent [their] core signature attraction”, according to Kay. SeaWorld plans to focus more on marine life science and animal rescue operations, which would be a positive change and a step in the right direction. SeaWorld plans to use the remaining orcas to help educate and inspire children.
Even as SeaWorld has announced that they plan to end their orca shows some time in 2016, they still plan to have the orcas aid in their new upcoming projects. Kay states that SeaWorld plans to focus more on marine life science, which will help inspire and educate children about the wonders of the ocean. Walczak states that SeaWorld’s new plan will be a, “…way to escape daily life and connect back to nature,” (2). SeaWorld also plans to focus more on animal rescue operations, which connects to the controversial issue of other aquariums and zoos that house captive animals. Many see SeaWorld’s change in orca planning as an incentive to start protesting against zoos and aquariums. Zoos and aquariums are an important part in animal rescue operations. Louisville Zoo in Kentucky had taken in the remaining 18 black footed ferrets in the world, and, thanks to their animal rescue operations, have brought the population up to over 700, writes Louisville Zoo director Walczak. SeaWorld has also been formally accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, also known as AZA. AZA helps zoos and aquariums focus on animal rescue operations, and help bring nearly-extinct animal populations back up to safe numbers. SeaWorld has had many issues, but they are turning their whole operation around to create something helpful and important to marine biology education.
Ever since SeaWorld has started operating orca performances, hundreds of animal rights activist groups have protested, complained, and signed petitions to eradicate the orca shows. Another powerful incentive and persuader is the 2013 documentary Blackfish, a story about one of SeaWorld’s most famous orcas named Tilikum. Tilikum is famous for fatally injuring three people in SeaWorld parks, and the documentary shows how little we know about whales and why Tilikum’s behavior was expected. Out of the 150 orcas captured, 127 have already died due to poor health and poor living conditions at SeaWorld parks. According to Wikipedia, many captive orcas experience diseases which lead to a shorter lifespan in captivity, such as how, “The shallowness of orca tanks forces orcas to spend a lot of time at the surface. So much time at the surface leads to prolonged exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays. Prolonged exposure to the surface and UV rays is attributed to sunburns and the development of cataracts in orcas in captivity. Orcas in the wild would live at higher latitudes, meaning less intense sun, and spend more time in deeper, darker waters.” Many orcas have died in captivity to diseases, and the information leaked to the public is not always truthful. However, although orcas in captivity are dying rapidly, if the remaining orcas were to be released or put into sea pens, they would be exposed to many disease and viruses from the ocean that they have no resistance against, and would most likely die.
The majority of killer whales that are alive today have been in captivity their whole life. They are domesticated, and have only survived because they have been cared for by humans. Many have created campaigns that the remaining orcas should be released into the wild, and many have pleaded to at least allow the orcas to live in sea pens, which are man made habitats in the ocean. Since the orcas are domesticated, they would not be able to survive long if they were released. They would get caught easily in nets and either suffocate, or would be injured so greatly they would have to be cared for by humans, which defeats the whole purpose of releasing them. Sea pens are a better alternative, but still not the best option. Similar to releasing them, the domesticated whales have zero resistance to foreign diseases and viruses that live in the ocean, and would quickly become ill and die. Also, the ocean quite frequently is exposed to harsh weather, and many orcas live in colder temperatures, which leads to the death of many whales by pneumonia. They would also not be able to hunt as they have no experience in doing so. Sea pens are also extremely expensive, and the funding to create these pens would waste time and money that could be used to help fund other animal conservation and protection movements. Sea pens have also been used in the past, as the infamous killer whale Keiko, star of 1993 film Free Willy, died after escaping his sea pen. Releasing the remaining whales or putting them into sea pens would only extend their life for several weeks, before they die due to their domesticity.
The remaining orcas at SeaWorld’s parks should not be put into sea pens or released, as the whales are already domesticated after years of captivity and they would not survive for long. SeaWorld also has plans to end the orca shows, and focus on more educational aspects that would help educate visitors on marine biology and the ocean around them, operations that would be more influential if they were working along live orcas. To support SeaWorld’s positive decision and big change, visitors should not see the orca shows but instead check out SeaWorld’s animal exhibits, to help raise money for SeaWorld’s change.
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