USF students may want to rethink the I-4 drive to SeaWorld in Orlando this summer, given the park’s continuing reputation since last summer’s documentary that shed light on the effects of captivity.
Since the release of “Blackfish,” the curtain has been lifted and it’s now clear SeaWorld is not as magical as its commercials might let on.
While having orcas on display is a great opportunity for people to see animals they will likely never encounter in the wild, the cost is too high. It’s time for the park to admit having such large animals in captivity has negative mental effects, such as stress and aggression, as reported by the Humane Society of the U.S. and Humane Society International. Also, according to OneGreenPlanet.org, physical effects can include a lack of exercise because of confinement.
According to Slate.com, SeaWorld has defended captivity as a way for the park to have easier access to orcas and to allow more opportunity for scientific research. However, the truth may be that SeaWorld is less concerned about producing useful research and more focused on distorting facts to hide the negative effects of captivity.
While recently investigating reports made by SeaWorld, marine biologist Ingrid Visser, who works with New Zealand’s Orca Research Trust, found a lack of credibility as well as a surprisingly small amount of research to speak for nearly 50 years of having orcas in captivity.
Visser noticed three duplicated reports, which suggests SeaWorld tried to increase the apparent amount of research it has done. This is undoubtedly a poor and blatant attempt to appear more productive than it actually is.
SeaWorld also had questionable reports that have no relevant link to captive orcas. Specifically, one report involved research done entirely with wild populations. Yet the most bizarre, perhaps, was a review written by a SeaWorld employee on a book about a man that claims to speak to orcas.
Other troubling finds in the research were that some weren’t peer-reviewed and others didn’t have traceable sources.
Given all of these issues, the scientific credibility of SeaWorld plummets when it’s known research is not taken seriously and the park can’t fully support its own claims that captivity offers better research opportunities.
According to GlobalAnimal.org, SeaWorld had misused Visser’s own research in an effort to claim collapsed dorsal fins, or back fins that begin to curl, are normal. However, these fins only appear in less than one percent of the wild, as Dr. Jeffrey Ventre, a former SeaWorld trainer, mentioned in “Blackfish.”
Though the orcas’ conditions won’t likely change, the research problems can. Chris Dold, vice president of SeaWorld veterinary services, claimed to be unaware of the errors and said they have since been fixed.
But, since it seems the orcas aren’t going anywhere soon, SeaWorld should prove it genuinely wishes to help marine life by producing research that is reliable and actually useful to the scientific community.
Aside from making sure all of the research is peer-reviewed, SeaWorld can expand on what is already known about orcas, especially since the park has direct access to them. For instance, the park can further explore the orcas’ emotions, intelligence and behavior in general. This could help show these animals as more than a circus act and at least gather more knowledge about them if they are going to be held in captivity.
Adam Mathieu is a junior majoring in studio art.