SeaWorld enslaves animals in small tanks at marine parks around the country, where they are forced to perform unnecessary tricks for “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 are often 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, orcas at SeaWorld often die by the time they reach their teens and rarely approach even the average life expectancy of wild orcas.
Their worlds have been reduced from an expansive open ocean to gallons in a bathtub, and they are driven insane by their diminished lives. Orcas who are trapped in tiny tanks at SeaWorld bite at the gates and concrete that confine them, breaking their teeth, and attack each other and the trainers who force them to perform unnatural tricks.
Although SeaWorld touts its conservation efforts in slick television ads, 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, and more. PETA and many others are urging SeaWorld to modernize its business by stopping its breeding program and retiring the orcas to sea pens, where they can engage in natural behavior.
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.
To help all animals held captive by SeaWorld, please never buy a ticket, visit the parks, or support SeaWorld in any other way.