SeaWorld enslaves animals in tiny, concrete tanks at marine abusement parks around the country. Often housed in lonely isolation or with incompatible tankmates, dolphins, whales, and other animals at SeaWorld are regularly drugged to manage stress-induced aggressive behavior and relieve the endless monotony of swimming in circles. They break their teeth chewing on the metal bars and concrete sides of their tanks, and they’re forced to perform tricks for tourists in exchange for food—all in the name of “entertainment.” It’s a business built on the suffering of intelligent, social animals who are denied everything that is natural and important to them. As a result, animals imprisoned by SeaWorld often die prematurely from stress and other captivity-related causes.
SeaWorld, which owns all but one of the orcas held captive in the U.S., has a long history of mistreating animals. In the wild, orcas are intelligent predators who work cooperatively in search of food. They share intricate relationships in a matrilineal society. In some populations, orcas rarely leave their mother’s pod, but at SeaWorld, they have often been separated. These attributes, along with wild orca pods’ unique dialects, are considered a form of culture that is unrivaled by any species other than humans. Free orcas are among the fastest animals in the sea, and they swim as far as 100 miles every day. But at SeaWorld, they swim in endless circles in small barren concrete tanks.
It’s not surprising that these captive animals do not live as long as their wild cousins. While wild male orcas live an average of 30 years and up to 60 years and females an average of 50 years and up to more than 100, 38 orcas have died on SeaWorld’s watch at an average age of only 13. Not one has reached the maximum lifespan of an orca in nature. More than 100 other dolphins have also died, alongside countless other animals.
Although SeaWorld touts its conservation efforts in advertisements, it spends only about 3% of its profits on conservation. It’s a business first and foremost, and it chooses profit over the best interests of marine mammals. Animals who are members of endangered species are no happier in cages and tanks than are animals who aren’t endangered. The ultimate hope for those animals lies in protecting their habitats, not in life sentences in a tank.
PETA is employing a variety of tactics to help the animals held captive and forced to perform at SeaWorld’s parks, including public education and demonstrations, complaints to law-enforcement officials, corporate negotiations, shareholder activism, litigation, celebrity engagement, and more. PETA and many others are urging SeaWorld to modernize its business by ending the use of all animals and retiring the orcas, dolphins, and other animals to seaside sanctuaries, where they can thrive in the enrichment and diversity of the sea while still receiving care, feeding, and veterinary support.
In 2011, PETA, three marine-mammal experts, and two former SeaWorld trainers filed a suit that maintained that the five wild-caught orcas forced to perform at SeaWorld parks are being held as slaves in violation of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The filing—the first ever seeking to extend constitutional rights to nonhuman animals—named the five orcas as plaintiffs and sought their release into their natural habitats or to seaside sanctuaries. The suit was based on the plain text of the 13th Amendment, which prohibits the condition of slavery without reference to “person” or any particular class of victim. Although the court ruled against the orcas in this historic case, there is no question that these orcas are enslaved.
In 2013, the documentary Blackfish was released to critical acclaim and became an instant phenomenon, causing stars such as Willie Nelson and Martina McBride to cancel concerts at SeaWorld, schools to cancel field trips there, and attendance to drop. The film exposes SeaWorld’s horrific capture of young orcas from their families in the ocean, the misery of their lifetime confinement to tiny tanks, and how this cruelty has led the frustrated orca Tilikum—who has worn his teeth to the nubs from chewing on the underwater bars of his cement prison—to kill three human beings, although orcas in the wild have never hurt a human.
Since Blackfish, SeaWorld’s attendance has tanked. Seven of its highest-ranking executives—including its CEO—have stepped down amid hundreds of layoffs, numerous acts—including Willie Nelson, Cheap Trick, REO Speedwagon, Barenaked Ladies, and 38 Special—have canceled performances at SeaWorld’s concert series, and celebrities such as Harry Styles, Tommy Lee, and Joan Jett are speaking out against the company. Dozens of corporate partners—including Alaska Airlines, JetBlue, Mattel, Southwest Airlines, STA Travel, and Taco Bell—have severed their ties with SeaWorld.
In 2016, faced with plunging stock and impending state and federal legislation to ban orca breeding, SeaWorld was forced to end its sordid orca-breeding program because according to its CEO “the data and trends showed it was either a SeaWorld without whales or a world without SeaWorld.” But this does nothing for the 29 orcas that SeaWorld still imprisons who will continue to swim circles in their tiny tanks for decades. And it does nothing for all the other animals at SeaWorld who are still confined to tiny cages and tanks, and are forced to perform tricks for tourists in exchange for food.
To do right by the animals now, SeaWorld should follow the lead of the National Aquarium, which is moving all eight dolphins at its facility—including 17-year-old Jade, who was born at SeaWorld Orlando—to a seaside sanctuary, a decision that has been met with overwhelming public support. Captivity is killing these animals, and they deserve to be safely returned to their ocean home while still benefiting from humans’ care for as long as they might need to.
To help all animals held captive by SeaWorld, please never buy a ticket, visit the parks, or support SeaWorld in any other way. Urge SeaWorld to move the orcas and other animals to seaside sanctuaries where they can live safely with the benefit of human care, dignity, and peace.