OPEN LETTER FROM SEAWORLD
& TWO OPEN LETTERS OF RESPONSE.
& TWO OPEN LETTERS OF RESPONSE.
Orca graphic via Bec Crawford
SEAWORLD DEFENDS RECORD IN OPEN LETTER
Added on December 20, 2013
SeaWorld is defending itself again from criticism surrounding the "Blackfish" documentary with a full page ad.
SeaWorld: The Truth Is in Our Parks and People
An Open Letter from SeaWorld’s Animal Advocates
Inaccurate reports recently have generated questions about SeaWorld and the animals in our care. The truth is in our parks and people, and it’s time to set the record straight.
The men and women of SeaWorld are true animal advocates. We are the 1,500 scientists, researchers, veterinarians, trainers, marine biologists, aquarists, aviculturists, educators and conservationists who have dedicated our lives to the animals in our care as well as those in the wild that are injured, ill or orphaned. Whether it’s a sea lion, manatee, sea turtle or whale, we are on call 24/7.
Here are some important facts about SeaWorld and our work:
SeaWorld does not capture killer whales in the wild. Due to the groundbreaking success of our research in marine mammal reproduction, we haven’t collected a killer whale from the wild in 35 years. In fact, only two of the whales in our care were collected by SeaWorld and they continue to be in our care today. In addition, our research has led to a much greater understanding of whales in the wild, giving researchers important scientific insights surrounding marine mammal reproduction.
We do not separate killer whale moms and calves. SeaWorld recognizes the important bond between mother and calf. On the rare occasion that a mother killer whale cannot care for the calf herself, we have successfully hand raised and reintroduced the calf. Whales are only moved to maintain a healthy social structure.
SeaWorld invests millions of dollars in the care of our killer whales. In the last three years alone, we have invested $70 million in our killer whale habitats and millions of dollars annually in support of these facilities. Our habitats are among the largest in the world today. They are state-of-the-art, multimillion-gallon environments of cooled and filtered water that allow for the highest and safest standards of care. We give our animals restaurant-quality fish, exercise, veterinary care, mental stimulation, and the company of other members of their species.
SeaWorld’s killer whales’ life spans are equivalent with those in the wild. While studies continue to define the average life span of killer whales in the wild, the most recent science suggests that our killer whales’ life spans are comparable — indeed, five of our animals are older than 30, and one of our whales is close to 50.
The killer whales in our care benefit those in the wild. We work with universities, governmental agencies and NGOs to increase the body of knowledge about and the understanding of killer whales — from their anatomy and reproductive biology to their auditory abilities. Some populations of wild killer whales have been classified as endangered or threatened, demonstrating the potential critical nature of these research opportunities. This type of controlled research and study is simply not possible in the wild, and has significant real-world benefits to the killer whales that live there.
SeaWorld is a world leader in animal rescue. The millions of people who visit our parks each year make possible SeaWorld’s world-renowned work in rescue, rehabilitation and release. We are constantly innovating when it comes to this care: Our veterinarians have created nursing bottles to hand-feed orphaned whales, prosthetics to save sea turtles, and a wetsuit to help injured manatees stay afloat during rehabilitation. Whether it’s the result of natural or man-made disasters, SeaWorld is always on call and often the first to be contacted. We have rescued more than 23,000 animals with the goal of treating and returning them to the wild.
Naturalist Baba Dioum put it best when he said, “In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we have been taught.”
At SeaWorld, this has been our calling since we first opened our doors 50 years ago. It is a responsibility we do not take lightly. More than 400 million guests have visited SeaWorld. We are proud that their experiences here have a lasting and positive impact on them, and on the world in which we live.
The truth about SeaWorld is right here in our parks and people. Our guests may enter our gates having never given much thought to the remarkable animals in our oceans. When they leave with a greater appreciation for the importance of the sea, educated about the animals that live there and inspired to make a difference, we have done our job.
Two open letter responses to SeaWorld.
Letter Number 1.
Reposted from Ocean Preservation Society
MARINE MAMMAL CAPTIVITY: THE TRUTH IS IN THE FACTS
An open letter from the informed American Public
Inaccurate reports from SeaWorld recently placed in full-page advertisements in major newspapers included a series of mistruths about the quality of life of the animals in its care. The truth is in the facts about its parks and management, and it’s time to set the record straight.
The men and women that we represent are true animal advocates.
We are the Oceanic Preservation Society, creators of the Academy Award-winning documentary The Cove, and we represent millions of American citizens including scientists, researchers, veterinarians, ex-trainers, marine biologists, educators, conservationists, mothers, daughters, fathers, sons, students,veterans, and many other compassionate and intelligent people. This growing sector of the public sees through the narrative that SeaWorld has crafted about its operations — they know that
ultimately SeaWorld is a business with a bottom line.
Here are some important facts about SeaWorld and its work:
○ SeaWorld is afraid that the truth about captivity is spreading, especially since the release of the film Blackfish.
The open letter advertisement placed by SeaWorld is in response to Blackfish, but steers clear of the title for fear of bringing the film further attention. Blackfish has already been seen by over 20 million people, has been shortlisted for an Oscar, and is negatively impacting SeaWorld’s public image and bottom line. Its stock price has dropped as much as 30% since the release of Blackfish, its CEO and institutional investors have dumped tens of millions of shares, eight internationally renowned musical acts have cancelled performances at the park, and the company has resorted to recruiting visitors with Groupon deals to boost failing attendance.
○ SeaWorld no longer captures killer whales in the wild — it now has other people capture animals for them.
The genetic diversity of orcas in captivity is low, often resulting in inbreeding. Since the Marine Mammal Protection Act prevents SeaWorld from capturing wild animals directly without federal permits, which would be open to public review and highly controversial, it resorts to creative ways of introducing new animals and fresh DNA into the system. One recent example of this involves an orca named Morgan. Documents filed by SeaWorld in April 2013 establish that it claims ownership of Morgan, who was rescued as an emaciated young animal off the Netherlands in 2010.
Morgan should have been returned to the wild after rehabilitation, but was instead sent to Loro Parque, a marine mammal park in the Canary Islands where SeaWorld holds several young animals in its corporate collection. Morgan is the subject of ongoing litigation to return her to her family.
Earlier this year, SeaWorld helped orchestrate the capture of 18 Beluga whales in Russia from a population that its own research shows may be threatened with extinction — a permit the United States ultimately denied.
SeaWorld is actively appealing the ruling.
In 2009, SeaWorld made an unsuccessful attempt to buy a dolphin that was stranded from the infamous dolphin drive fishery in Taiji, Japan. The demand for captive dolphins is thedriving force behind the largest slaughter of dolphins in the world in Taiji. The only reason SeaWorld hasn’t been importing dolphins from the Taiji dolphin drive is because conservation organizations have successfully prevented them — not because of the “groundbreaking success” of its breeding research.
○ SeaWorld routinely separates mothers, babies, sisters, brothers and all other forms of family bonds to accommodate its performances.
There are many instances of orca babies and children being removed from their mothers at SeaWorld parks. These families are broken up purely for business purposes, despite the strong and enduring bonds shared by pod members. In nature, males may stay by their mother’s side for an entire lifetime. Orcas have deeply complex social structures—the part of their brain that processes emotions may be even more developed than in humans—that a manufactured “family” and can in no way reproduce.
○ No amount of money can recreate an orca’s natural environment.
SeaWorld’s barren concrete tanks are an appalling substitute for nature. Orcas, one of the ocean’s fastest mammals, can travel 60 miles a day or more in a straight line. In a tank they are forced to swim in tight circles. The multimillion-gallon artificial habitats that SeaWorld boasts are less than one one-millionth of the animals’ potential daily range in the wild. In captivity, every male orca suffers dorsal fin collapse while only 1-5% of males display this deformity in the wild. As highly acoustic animals, orcas would normally rely on a complex array of clicks and whistles to build relationships with each other, communicate over vast distances, and hunt prey. No amount of human interaction and “restaurant-quality” fish can adequately reproduce an orcas natural interaction with their wild habitat. In fact, animals in captivity are often prescribed daily medications to treat or mask the symptoms of chronic stress associated with confinement, training, and performing for screaming
○ Orcas die prematurely at SeaWorld.
More orcas have died under SeaWorld’s care than are currently alive in all at its parks. Its orcas live, on average, as little as a third of the life span of wild orcas. Despite the veterinary care provided at SeaWorld, it has not improved the animals’ 50% infant mortality rate. A growing body of scientific evidence shows that orcas die an early death in captivity, with an annual mortality rate at least three times higher than in the wild. Most orcas at SeaWorld have died in their teens and 20’s (if they survived infancy in the first place), compared with an average life expectancy of 30-50 years in the wild (and an estimated maximum life span of 60-90 years). The few animals in SeaWorld’s collection who have lived closer to their natural average life expectancy are highlighted as poster children for the captivity industry. Instead they should be seen as extraordinary survivors.
○ Orca captivity is not a prerequisite to conducting scientific research; in fact, the captive environment often yields artificial results.
There are hundreds of scientists and research institutions that have contributed meaningful knowledge about whales in the wild — without confining them to captivity. As pointed out by Jacques Cousteau, there is as much educational benefit in studying dolphins and whales in captivity as there is in studying humans by observing prisoners in solitary confinement.
SeaWorld has published very few scientific papers on the species and what it has contributed to our understanding of their biology was learned some time ago. SeaWorld contributes almost no information today that addresses the protection of wild orcas.
○ The exploitation of sentient, self-aware, highly intelligent creatures is not necessary for rescuing and rehabilitating sick wildlife.
SeaWorld’s rescue and rehabilitation efforts have been struggling to keep up with the incredible efforts of dozens of highly qualified organizations across the country for many years.
SeaWorld Entertainment claims $1.5 billion a year in revenue, yet they have spent only $9 million on conservation in the last decade. This translates to only 0.0006 of the company’s net revenue being funneled back into research and conservation annually. For every hundred dollars made by the park, less than 1 cent is given back to research benefiting wildlife. Furthermore, most of its rescue work is with animals that are not profitable as performers in its shows.
SeaWorld has never released an orca back into the wild.
○ Captivity can drive orcas to behave violently, leading to unsafe working conditions for trainers.
A lifetime of confinement routinely causes orcas to behave in an unnaturally violent manner toward each other and their trainers. There is not a single known instance of an orca killing a person in the wild. There are dozens of documented cases of orcas attacking humans in captive environments. One animal in particular, Tilikum, has killed three people. An orca on loan from SeaWorld at Loro Parque rammed trainer Alexis Martinez to death just two months before SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau was dismembered at its Orlando park. In both cases, the parks downplayed the cause of death, saying Martinez had merely drowned, and Brancheau, who was rag-dolled and dismembered by Tilikum, was responsible because she dangled her ponytail too close to him. OSHA ruled that SeaWorld could no longer place trainers in the water with orcas, and yet the company is fighting the decision, stating that putting animals and their trainers together is an important part of its business of putting on shows.
Baba Dioum was right when he said, “In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we have been taught.”
We have been taught that captivity gravely harms the animals that we love; we understand that SeaWorld has a vested interest in keeping the public uninformed; and we can best carry out orca conservation by keeping them in the wild.
The truth about SeaWorld is in the facts.
Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s Blackfish and our film The Cove give viewers a deep and meaningful connection with the remarkable animals in our oceans. But this is just the beginning of a growing shift in public awareness about the impoverished lives of
animals at SeaWorld.
As Cowperthwaite says, young people today are becoming the “I can’t believe we used to do that” generation. No amount of advertising will counter the Blackfish Effect.
SeaWorld, your job is to now adapt to an informed public.
Letter Number 2
An Open Letter BACK to SeaWorld
December 20, 2013
LETTER of the DAY: In light of SeaWorld’s recent media push, a former casual visitor, now a practicing attorney, cc’d The Orca Project on her letter to SeaWorld and shares her views on the marine park’s self-serving (and costly) attempt to “set the record straight“.
Well done Amy! We couldn’t agree with you more. You can read SeaWorld’s open letter to the public HERE (published as full-page advertisements in U.S. Newspapers)
and then read the response from this everyday citizen here:
Dear Ms. Bides, Mr. Jacobs, and all other SeaWorld employees (including Mr. Jim Atchison),
I read your “open letter” (read: flyer) this morning in the Orlando Sentinel. It seems that the American public has grown wary of you and your operations since the release of the film “Blackfish”, and rightfully so. Since you are inclined to make public statements regarding the alleged care of animals, specifically orcas, in your custody, as a member of the public, I am inclined to respond to your claims.
Claim #1: SeaWorld does not capture killer whales in the wild.
It is true that the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 prohibits entities like you from removing marine mammals from their natural habitats. However, science and the incidents at your facilities have shown and informed us that we cannot breed out millions of years of wild instincts embedded in animals via evolution and biology. Even if you are not physically removing orcas from the wild, you admit to breeding them repeatedly in captivity. This is akin to prisoners having children in prison and those children remaining in prison for their natural lives. All you are doing is breeding wild animals for your own entertainment purposes. From my perspective, this is no different than breeding wild animals for circus performances, for canned hunts, or for the fur industry. You are not better for breeding wild animals in captivity instead of capturing them from the wild – stop pretending that you are.
Additionally, recent reports have indicated that you may have had a direct financial and consulting role in providing captured orcas for the 2014 Sochi Olympics, in that you were part of a consortium seeking an orca permit in Russia and helped pay for research there to justify the latest captures. The reports claim that you and other companies interested in obtaining more killer whales for entertainment venues communicated with White Sphere, the company tasked with capturing the killer whales for the opening ceremonies, in order to advise them on the best practices of taking killer whales out of the wild. These reports have not been verified, but I doubt they are far from the truth. If you did this (and I am sure we will find out of you did very soon), then your statement that you do not capture killer whales in the wild is a bold-faced lie.
Claim #2: We do not separate killer whale moms and calves.
This is a lie and you know it. In David Kirby’s (a respected journalist for over 25 years) book “Death at SeaWorld,” he writes extensively on the removal of calves from their mother. Here is an excerpt:
“The four young whales in the loan—two males and two females— had led lives that could best be described as “interrupted.” There was Kohana, three-and-a-half years old. When she was just shy of two, Kohana was taken from her mother Kasatka and sent to Orlando. Eighteen months after that, she was on her way to the Canary Islands. The other female, Skyla, was born in Orlando to Kalina and Tilikum, but at just two years of age was dispatched to Spain. Then Tekoa was born to the neurotic Taima, who showed aggressive tendencies toward him. In April 2004, SeaWorld sent Tekoa to live in San Antonio, before he was flown to Tenerife in 2006. Keto, 10, was born in Orlando but proved to be a rowdy and somewhat unpredictable calf. Before he was four, Keto was sent to San Diego, where he spent just 10 months before being transferred to San Antonio. Five years later, he was on the plane to Spain.”
You state that on “on the rare occasion that a mother killer whale cannot care for the calf herself, we have successfully hand raised and reintroduced the calf.” Again, this is a lie. You have shipped killer whales all over the world like they were Amazon.com packages, almost never reuniting mother and calf. These “rare occurrences” seem to happen quite often at your facilities judging by the numbers of frequencies at which you have broken up killer whale families. By the way, these “rare occurrences” that seem to, coincidentally, happen over and over again at your facilities is in direct contradiction to the scientific observations of orcas in the wild where mothers almost never reject their calves.
Additionally, the film Blackfish has footage of you separating a mother and her calf. The cries of the mother and the calf, as well as the depression and anguish of the mother, are shockingly clear. I’ll say it again – to say that you don’t separate families is a lie and I am calling you out on it right here, right now.
Claim #3: SeaWorld invests millions of dollars in the care of our killer whales.
This one’s easy and won’t take long. No one cares how much money you spend on your cages. A cage, no matter how gilded, is still a cage. All the money in the world cannot build oceans or repair the psychological damage you have inflicted on these creatures. Your money means less than nothing. I am sure all of the orcas in your care would trade in the $70 million you’ve spent keeping them prisoner for one day of freedom in the ocean.
Claim #4: SeaWorld’s killer whales’ life spans are equivalent with those in the wild.
You guys REALLY need to stop lying. It’s exhausting. Countless scientific reports show that orcas in the wild have an average life expectancy of 30 to 50 years—their estimated maximum life span is 60 to 70 years for males and 80 to 90 for females. The median age of orcas in captivity is only 9. While specific killer whales in captivity may live longer compared to others, overall, they don’t live as long as their counterparts in the wild. You know this. Stop lying.
Claim #5: The killer whales in our care benefit those in the wild.
This argument is my absolute favorite for several reasons. This is the part where you claim “the captivity of a few ensures the survival of the rest.” A very utilitarian approach, and probably your strongest point in all of this debate. Indeed, you state it’s all about the science: “This type of controlled research and study is simply not possible in the wild, and has significant real-world benefits to the killer whales that live there.” Here’s why you don’t have me (or anyone else of reasonable intelligence) fooled.
First of all, let’s be real – you guys are a corporation, a company, a for-profit entity that is interested in making as much money as possible. Profit, not science or research, is your bottom line. To put on a front that you’re in this in any way, shape, or form for the science of it is offensive to those of us who do actually care about conservation, behavioral biology, and field research. Any real scientist will tell you that the best scientific research on animals is done in the wild, not in a cage. Case in point: any lay person attending SeaWorld would think from your shows that killer whales swim in circles over and over and over again. In fact, they swim single file in straight lines throughout the ocean. How do we know that? Through field research and oceanic observations. We also know that their dorsal fins have less than a 1% collapse rate in the wild because the oceanic pressure of the water keeps them erect, compared to the almost 100% dorsal fin collapse rate when kept in a tank. Again, we know this from observation of animals in the wild – not because of you. Your “scientists” are merely paid lackeys who read from a script about the virtues of animals in captivity. Any real scientist would tell you that the ways wild animals behave in captivity is far different than how they behave in the wild. And you’re right, things in the wild can’t be controlled – that’s the beauty of it. It’s like animal reality TV: no filters, no controls, no editing, just the animals doing what they do and how they do it. That’s the best kind of science and that is the science that informs and educates, not the sham science you have going on in the form of keeping the equivalent of dinosaurs in the equivalent of buckets. Let me be very clear about the main point I am trying to make: no wild animal, regardless of species, would ever be held in captivity if there were not some lucrative profitable motivation behind it.
Speaking of dinosaurs, one argument pro-SeaWorld people make is, “if we don’t keep some orcas in captivity, how will be foster an appreciation for them in order to conserve them in the wild?” Here’s my question: if you need to see an animal in captivity, or swim with it in captivity, or watch it touch a ball with its nose in captivity to learn about and appreciate it…then how to children learn about an know about dinosaurs? After all, they can’t touch one, swim with one, see one perform tricks…and yet, kids seem to be fascinated by them and interested in learning more about them. There are even these places called MUSEUMS that contain the remains of these animals where not only people can not only go to in order to learn more about dinosaurs, but ongoing research about how they lived and behaved is happening. How does your logic explain the past, present, and future obsession with animals that cannot be seen, heard, touched, swam with, or observed touching balls with their noses?
Secondly, a desire for more education on a topic does not give you the right to harm and abuse animals either physically or psychologically or to subject them to things that could drive them mad and make them a danger to people and themselves. I can’t kidnap a Japanese person, hold them prisoner, and force them to breed Japanese children b/c I want to learn more about Japanese culture. But I can get myself on a plane and visit Japan. Once I’m there, I can take pictures of Japanese people in their homeland and of their behaviors. I can read a book or academic report on Japan. I can watch videos and documentaries on Japan. I can talk with other people about Japan and compare knowledge and experiences. In this way, I am becoming more and more educated on Japan, and I think I even like Japan! Maybe I will want to dedicate my life to learning about Japan…maybe I won’t. But either way, I am not harming any Japanese person through my actions.
(Writer’s Note: I specifically chose to discuss Japan b/c I know their role in dolphin captures and how they ship wild-caught dolphins to be held captive in aquariums all over the world.)
Third, in your flyer, you actually have the audacity and disrespectfulness to quote naturalist Baba Dioum as saying, “In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we have been taught.” This quote comes from a speech he made in 1968 In New Delhi, India, to the general assembly of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). In fact, he is a founding member of the IUCN. The IUCN is the group that puts out the “red list” of threatened and endangered species every year; it is the group governments, including that of the US, rely on for information in determining what animals and plants are at risk for extinction. Guess how IUCN determines which animals and plants are at risk for extinction? You guessed it – field research! If you go to the IUCN webpage, you’ll get a look at all of the research projects that they’re engaged in all over the world, and all of the ones regarding animals are being done by scientists who have gotten off of the couch and left their respective homelands to go to their jobs. I highly doubt Baba Dioum would support what you are doing, considering he helped found a conservation organization that relies on field research to do its job. Perhaps you should stop quoting him – the man and his work don’t appear to support your cause at all. In fact, they seem to go directly against it. Then again, considering your penchant for sham research, I would not expect you to fully vet your sources of information before using them.
Lastly, don’t try to sway the public by co-opting “experts” like Jack Hanna (who has no formal scientific training on how to work or study animals and was never an expert on animals to being with). We know that he sits on your board and thus has financial – not scientific – interests linked to the captivity of killer whales. I don’t know if you have seen Jack Hanna’s Facebook page, but if you haven’t, you should head over there –there’s a lot of disgust for that man right now and the American public now views him as a traitor to the cause of conservation.
We are not fooled by ANY of these tactics you use to make a case for captivity benefitting the wild. You should just stop talking.
Claim #6: SeaWorld is a world leader in animal rescue.
Except when it comes to keeping your most profitable animals prisoner. The good you do for some does not erase the evil you put forth on others in the name of money. Greed is what drives you – not love.
Captivity. Think about that word. It’s a word we use when describing pirates or hostage situations: “hostages held captive” or “pirates board ship and hold crew captive.” It’s not a nice connotation and we instantly have a negative reaction when we hear it. I have a similar reaction when I hear about“captive breeding” or “performance animals in captivity.” In a nutshell, SeaWorld employees, all of your points are worthless and without merit. The American public is sick of you. eight out of ten performers scheduled for your Bands, Brews, and Barbecue Festival are sick of you, and school groups are sick of you. You are about to become like the dinosaurs: extinct. Maybe you’ll be the ones in a museum one day. Who knows.
I sincerely hope and pray that the backlash that has fallen upon you continues until you come to the realization that it is time to change your current course of action and to empty the tanks once and for all. Until then, shame on you all – you are simply bad, heartless people.
Very and completely, 1,000,000,000% sincerely,
P.S. Stop blatantly lying to the American public – we are not stupid and we have these things called the Internet and books where we can research and document all of your atrocious actions against the animals you possess. Anything you say in favor of captivity, we will find facts and evidence to refute.
“Now you know, and knowing is half the battle.” ~ G.I. Joe
tags: Blackfish, Captivity Issues, Dawn Brancheau, Death at SeaWorld, Killer Whale, Open Letter, Orca, SeaWorld, Shamu, Tilikum