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Enough Abuse: Close Seaworld

| April 18, 2015

Seaworld orcas killer whales abuse

Seaworld calls it ‘Believe’: Killer whales as circus clowns. (Matt McGee)

Four years ago People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the insurgent organization better known as PETA, sued Seaworld on behalf of five killer whales. That was ridiculous in itself. Animals have protected rights. But there is no legal basis for suing on behalf of an animal that has no say in the suit, however imposing the animal may be. PETA named the five orcas as if they were suing, and did worse. It invoked the 13th Amendment, comparing killer whales to slaves, and arguing they should be freed just like slaves. PETA marketed the lawsuit as groundbreaking constitutional law. The Greenpeace of animal rights can’t be faulted for creativity. It got plenty of attention for that angle before the insulting nature of the suit caught up with it and a federal judge tossed it.

pierre tristam column flaglerlive The problem with the lawsuit wasn’t its intent. It was its sensational gamble that making a link between animals in captivity and slaves would capture the public’s imagination and sway judges. Instead of truly breaking legal ground for animal rights, and that has yet to happen, PETA went the lazier route of mooching off the 13th amendment and lost. So did the animals it claimed to represent. Because however mistaken was PETA’s strategy, its intentions were correct, so was some of its reasoning: the animals it intended to save are still in prison, still being tortured for our pleasures. Calling them slaves was unnecessary. It’s bad enough they’re captives, exploited, demeaned.

Killer whales at Seaworld are not just in captivity. They are there to be subjugated to a lurid form of human entertainment. None of it meshes with the whales’ nature even as Seaworld, among so many of its perversions of the wild, pretends to be “educating” audiences about the wild. Orcas’ captivity is cruel. Their confinement is inhumane by any measure. Nothing justifies it, not even the supposed “research” that gives Seaworld cover for its brutality. The animals’ treatment, if a recent book by a long-time trainer of these animals is to be believed, is sadistic. (John Hargrove, the author of “Beneath the Surface,” has his own demons, not least of them his drunken bigotry, now that Seaworld is going Nixonian on his rants by trying to discredit him. But his Southern-white racism toward blacks, nothing new among Southern whites, didn’t keep Seaworld from employing him 20 years, and doesn’t diminish the validity of his conclusions. He’s apologized for his bigotry. The scurrility of Seaworld’s tactics speak for themselves, and Seaworld is apologizing for nothing.)

The circus acts killer whales are forced to perform at Seaworld should turn anyone’s stomach. Those acts are no different than forcing elephants to behave like clowns. Or to put it in terms humans might perhaps understand, those acts are no different than forcing human beings to behave like animals. Last month Ringling Brothers circus announced it will be retiring its elephant acts by 2018. I have no idea why ending something that should have never started 145 years ago should wait another three years, but let’s give the circus credit for finally doing the right thing.

Seaworld is nowhere near such a move. The company is a chain of three water parks that attract 11 million visitors a year. That’s where the problem starts: in the complicity of people buying into what will one day be recognized as depraved and immoral entertainment. One questions how parents and grandparents can in good conscience take their children to these shows. What, precisely, is the difference between taking a child to a cockfight and taking a child to exhibitionism forced on an Orca? Sure, Orcas aren’t getting bloodied and killed by jumping and splashing. But what keeps them there is no less a form of bondage than the motive behind cockfighting: making money off of exploiting the unnatural, humanly-instigated behavior of animals. The captivity does nothing to keep them healthier. It shortens their lives, deadens what soul they might possess (and should offend ours for their sake). These are extremely social animals meant to be in the wild, among their kind, their pods. At Seaworld, they’re caged automatons. They’re reduced to playthings. The same parents who’d curse the living daylight of a man arrested for abusing his dogs don’t think twice about paying $75 a pop to watch a killer whale’s abuse dressed up as a “family show.”

Seaworld in Orlando had the decency two months ago to stop selling $7 fish trays so people could feed dolphins, but it still sells tickets twice that cost and allows people to pet dolphins. The intrusive difference is indistinguishable. It took three death and a judge’s ruling to stop Seaworld from mingling trainers with killer whales during those lewd splash shows crowds love so much. But the shows go on with trainers as drill sergeants, even though the judge said Seaworld makes up claims that aren’t scientifically valid.

Trying to defend itself from accusations of mistreatment two years ago, Seaworld claimed that it had spent $70 million in three years on its killer whale habitats, and millions more in maintenance each year. So what? A Supermax prison for 3,000 inmates in California cost $230 million to build and $190 million a year to run. That doesn’t make its prisoners any less confined, but more so. That’s the point. And it certainly doesn’t make them happy to be there, although lucky for them, they don’t have to put on daily shows for masses of stupid, gaping spectators. That would be illegal. Why it isn’t so when animals, who have less say—who have no say—is incomprehensible. Seaworld’s more recent campaign is focusing on answering criticism about the way it separates calves from their mother. But even the criticism misses the point. Whether Seaworld does it humanely or not (Seaworld’s claims on that score are as suspect as the validity of those scientific claims the judge found to be bogus), it doesn’t address the matter of the Orcas’s captivity, their confinement in shocking conditions and the denial of their nature.

Seaworld in its marketing propaganda peddles allegations of good works, of “research,” of accreditation,  as if any of that makes a difference. Its PR flackers sound like the warden talking up the air conditioning and cable TV available to his inmates. The warden, of course, is morally more justified than Seaworld’s flackers: one presumes that the warden’s prisoners have been convicted of crimes. Orcas have not. Only Seaworld has sentenced them to a life of profitable desecration.  Happy are the shareholders, for their kingdom is of this abusive world.

Lately the company has seen its profits take a dive, finally. That’s encouraging. Only this will make a difference: when people realize that watching these noble animals being forced to perform for our pleasure is obscene, and keeping them confined should be a crime, even if animal-rights organizations haven’t yet figured out how to prosecute them. In an age of IMAX theaters, enormous flatscreen TVs and masterful wildlife documentaries that place viewers in the maws of creatures and truly educate them about the wild without infringing on the creatures’ autonomy, there’s no longer any excuse for these zoological concentration camps. Ignorance excused them in 1964, when Seaworld opened. Nothing excuses them now.

Orcas born and bred for captivity can’t be freed of course. That’s like sending a lamb to slaughter. But if Seaworld wanted to make good on its bogus claims of being humane, it could do what the likes of Andrew Carnegie and Andrew Mellon did when they figured out that they’d screwed enough workers out of their dignity, and discovered that philanthropy might ease their camel’s journey into heaven. Seaworld could end orcas’ exploitation tomorrow, stop these outrageous shows and build a large, unconfined habitat for these creatures whose rights to the wild Seaworld has ruined, but who could at least live out their days without daily torment. It might be the end of Seaworld. It would not be much to ask by way of atonement of a company that’s spent the last half century abusing killer whales for our repugnant pleasures.

Pierre Tristam is FlaglerLive’s editor. Reach him by email here or follow him on Twitter @pierretristam. A version of this piece was broadcast on WNZF.

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54 Responses for “Enough Abuse: Close Seaworld”

  1. I love sea world. Can’t wait to go again.

  2. Never been. Never will be.

  3. Eh get rid of the whales who cares, we’ve been there like 5 times and never went to see them

  4. You know what through, India recently awarded Dolphin the designation of Non-Human Persons, thereby grinding them (and Orca) all the “rights” of humans. I believe several other countries are seriously considering following in their footsteps, so while PETA was being ridiculous by an American standard (not the toilet company), the thinking behind it wasn’t all-together flawed. :-)
    PS – I dislike PETA so intensely it makes my toes curl.

  5. Abuse? Gimme me a break! If I was captured by anyone, Seaworld would be my first pick!

  6. Susan says:

    You should be ashamed of yourself for this posting!! I am a pass holder and am in love with SeaWorld. The trainers there are truly amazing and the care for all their animals. Watching the interaction between trainer and whale is breathtaking. The whales are not, in ANY WAY, abused. This posting is gut wrenching. We put children in schools to learn… Should we call that abuse? We put patients in rehab to learn certain behaviors… Should we call that abuse? The ignorance of this editor / publisher is overwhelming and enough for me to never check out Flagler live again. I’m totally disgusted.

    • Rick says:

      Susan your post makes absolutely NO sense. These orcas are not at SeaWorld to learn how to be orcas. They also are certainly not being rehabbed. The cruelty of keeping these animals in such tiny unnatural environments is inherent. They can not use their echolocation, they hunt, can’t choose their own mate, they can’t explore their world. It’s like you or I being locked up in a room our whole lives. These are not real whales, maybe in the flesh but not in spirit.

    • Alyson says:

      Placing the ocean’s apex predator in a barren tank for entertainment and revenue purposes is abusive

  7. So does this mean all zoo animals should be returned to the wild as well? People pay to see them pace their cages.. As long as there is money to be made people will continue to profit from what they can..

  8. confidential says:

    I agree one hundred percent with your editorial! Animal circus and any other event featuring animals acting or competing out of their normal habitat should be banned! Including bull fights and bull rides as they enrage the bulls and horses by tight rope excruciating pain in their genitals when released on the ring so the rider can try to stay on the longest time on those saddles while horses and bulls kick the hardest to try and get rid of the painful ropes.

  9. hello says:

    Free the Whales.

  10. keeping it real says:

    Close Disney too then!

    • You're Right! says:

      Disney World and all those bogus theme parks literally ruined the State of Florida! Disney and all those other parks should’ve built in someplace like Las Vegas.

    • NortonSmitty says:

      I would also scream “Free the Mouse”, but where would all the child porn fans work?

  11. NortonSmitty says:

    Orcas migrate constantly, traveling up to 16,000 miles annually. It’s in their DNA. Confining them to a pool only a couple hundred feet wide has to be considered abuse.

  12. Sea World is one of the greatest attractions in Florida.

    Sea World is responsible for the rescue of hundreds of animals here in Florida and all across the world. Funded by the ticket sales. It’s a fun place to visit and it’s a beautiful way to enjoy what the sea has to offer. It teaches children of the problems with pollution and why we need to protect the Seas. You could learn a lot if you went there and learned how much good they do. Did you know not one of the Killer Whales (Orcas) they have was captured in the wild to be performers? Didn’t think so.

    You sit in an office and pontificate to get subscribers for personal gain. I don’t think that’s bad, but the motives of Sea World are not either.

    I support Sea World and we all should.

    • Just a thought says:

      Where did the first orca for the first show back in the 1960’s come from?

    • Kyle Gerson says:

      Your claim that SeaWorld does not have any killer whales that were captured from the wild to be entertainment is completely false. There are 5 of them that are still living; Corky II, Tilikum, Kasatka, Katina, and Ulises. SeaWorld also collected or bought numerous other wild captured orcas, all of whom have died. They were a part of the many captures that took place in the 60s and 70s off the Pacific Northwest and later Iceland. In fact, SeaWorld was ordered out of Washington State by a court because of the horrific methods of capture. This is why it is good to have all the facts before you post something. PS, I am not a PETA member or supporter; I just do not agree with what SeaWorld is doing.

    • Nanagrant says:

      Please do some research!Their rescue is funded by millions of dollars in grants from the government!They are making money on it,not spending!And yes,their Orcas were captured in the wild,and since have been force breeding them.Then take the you g from their mothers while still babies.In the wild they stay with their mother and their pod(family) their entire life.In the wild they swim 100 miles a day instead of in circles in a very small tank.They put whales that are not compatible with each other in the same small tank,which results in fights and injuries.They grind their teeth down to nubs with no anesthesia,don’t you think that would hurt!They with hold food from them before shows so they will perform,which is making them beg for food.In the wild they eat only fresh fish.In captivity they are force fed frozen fish which is not their diet.The frozen fish is a type they won’t even eat in the wild.These are just a few of the ways these mammals are abused!They are not ours to hold captive,they belong to the ocean!All I ask is that you do a little research instead of just believing Sea Worlds propaganda.They are hurting right now,their stock has dropped,attendance is down and they are being sued by stock holders for fraud.They have hyped up their propaganda with known lies to try and off set the loses they are suffering.Bands and entertainment have been canceling their gigs because they have become aware of the abuse.Please just check,think you will be surprised.And no,Im not a PETA nut,just someone concerned and upset by the way the Orcas and others are treated,

    • Julie Casey says:

      Seaworld would like you to think that they are one of the top rehabilitation centers for animals, however they are not even respected by most other true non-profit rescue / rehab centers. Seaworld handles less than any other non-profit rescue center in California yet has thousands more employees and millions more in funds available. The reason people think Seaworld is a top zoological rehab and research facility is because Seaworld publicizes every single rescue they do, however minuscule, when other non-profits handling one thousand times more rescues yearly don’t alert the media non-stop for positive news coverage-the true rescue and rehab centers do the work but aren’t in it for the glory. Seaworld pays millions for a publicity department that exists purely to make the public think Seaworld is all about the animals. Not so – Seaworld is all about money. This is proven by their absolute adamant stance on NEVER releasing their whales into sea pens for retirement since they literally work their whales to death. There is so retirement option for Seaworld’s animals-that would result in a loss of profits, which is the sole goal of Seaworld. Period. This is a non-debatable fact.

    • Linda Hernandez says:

      those supporting sea world. Please open your eyes and hearts. The abuse these annals endure is horrific! I saw the SW horror show and it made my seven year old son cry!! Would you want to be locked up, force to eat the same unutural food and your children taken from you!! I think not! Oh and be abused by others in your small prison!

  13. All these people talk about is the killer whales at seaworld!!! What about all the other animals else where?? Animal kingdom, Zoo’s, ???

  14. Watch documentary “Blackfish” for more on the capture and captivity of killer whales (dolphins).

  15. Agree. Can we free the animals from Jacksonville Zoo as well? It is one the most depressing Zoo I’ve ever been to.

  16. Footballen says:

    I am southern and white, do you just assume I am racist too?

  17. Yellowstone says:

    And, what do you think about Marineland?

  18. ted bundy says:

    what a ridiculous headline..sheesh

  19. Jim O says:

    You are off the deep end. I know you want to be entertaining in your quest to be a journalist and your mission was accomplished on this piece. Congrats for writing garbage.
    Free all the animals on the earth…. Free all the people that are incarcerated…Open access to our boarders…
    Dude… Seriously… Are you all there?

  20. Aquaman says:

    Ah Pierre….. You dare to state the truth, even though it’s unpopular.

    Well maybe we can shutter the Sanford Zoo too.
    Some years back, my wife and I went to this zoo and were shocked at the
    extremely tight confines for the pair of elephants they had on “display.”
    Those poor behemoths had no room to stretch their legs. There was a
    moat contstraing their movements. The elephants would stand there
    all day rocking back and forth, and back and forth in the hot Florida sun.
    At least they had an oversized metal shed to take cover in.
    What a wonderful life for these magnificent animals there just to entertain you
    and your kids.

    The highlight of the day was watching a macaw drop dead off its perch
    right before our very eyes. We tried to get zoo staff to check on the creature.
    They seemed disinterested. What a sad place.

    Don’t teach your kids that animal confinement is ok.
    Go camping instead.


    • We are all responsible says:

      Aquaman: There are standard that need to be met when caring for animals. This is true of any caretaker. Along with that, there are professional organizations that make sure those standards are met. If the zoo is a member of the AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) and you see something like what you described, please report that zoo.

      I see that “Central Florida Zoo” is AZA accredited, as is Jacksonville Zoo, and, of course, all of the SeaWorld and Disney facilitates. Oddly enough, Marineland isn’t listed with AZA, but it is a member of a few other accrediting bodies.

      • Aquaman says:

        “Some years back” it was called the Sanford Zoo.
        A zoo represents loss of liberty to living creatures.
        Standards and good intentions still make for imprisonment.
        Animals don’t belong to us.

        Having dominion does not mean ownership.
        The Central Florida Zoo (SANFORD ZOO) should give way to a
        nature preserve with indigenous animals roaming free.

        So much for the AZA. Let them regulate Florida’s human prisons.


    I’m one of those “so-what” people. But I did notice one thing:

    In all his wailing from the bandwagon, Pierre never once mentions that Marineland, right up the road in Flagler County, “kidnaps” dolphins, who also travel long distances in large groups, and keeps them in small holding tanks.

    Marineland also makes a profit off these dolphins, charging people to interact with them. Ranging from $35.95 for a five-minute “Touch and Feed,” to $475 for “Trainer for a Day,” anyone, trained or not, can get into the water with the dolphins and disrupt their lives. See

    But Marineland isn’t part of the bandwagon.

  22. Deanne Pace says:

    Pierre Tristam – Great article! Totally agree. Also, Attorney Steven Wise and the Nonhuman Rights Project is an organization working through the common law to achieve actual LEGAL rights for members of species other than our own. Looking forward to their success!

  23. YankeeExPat says:

    Say what you will about the care of the Whales. But the bottom line is that the audience is watching a Big Fish (Mammal) swim in an oversized toilet.

  24. karma says:

    Maybe a fair story would have in included how much Seaworld helps the sea animals recused right here in Florida. A quick phone call to FWC may have helped with your in depth reporting.

  25. Citizen says:

    What about the people that have a bird in their house standing on a stick in a cage? or fish in a small box? or animals they have to have a leash on so they will not run away? People, get a life! Seaworld is a reasearch facility that has saved the lives of THOUSANDS of animals! Its tru;ly amazing to see the relationship they have established with the animals they do work with. SEAWORLD IS AWESOME!!!!!

    • Alyson says:

      Seaworld is an entertainment facility first and foremost, they have only released a handful of research papers on their captive orcas in 50 years, the majority relating to how they can keep their pools populated with money makers. Helping some animals does not give them the right to exploit others. Please do not try to compare a captive apex predator to a caged bird, a domesticated house pet or a goldfish. Apples and oranges

  26. Jennofur OConnor says:

    Pierre Tristam rightfully condemns keeping social, intelligent marine mammals in tanks for the public’s fleeting diversion. But he misconstrued PETA’s work on behalf of the orcas.

    Legal scholars weighed-in positively on PETA’s precedent-setting case calling for SeaWorld’s captive orcas to be granted protection under the 13th Amendment, which prohibits the condition of slavery without reference to “person” or any particular class of victims. Slavery does not depend on the species of the slave, any more than it depends on gender, race or religion. A U.S. District judge listened to arguments and gave careful consideration to the idea that the definition of slavery does not exclude any species. Even though the judge ruled that the amendment doesn’t apply to nonhumans, this historic first case for the orcas’ right to be free under the 13th Amendment is one more step toward the inevitable day when all animals will be free from enslavement for human entertainment.

  27. Rose Louise says:

    PETA’s lawsuit on behalf of SeaWorld’s orcas was groundbreaking. Other animals do not exist for human amusement.

  28. Lullabelle says:

    I agree fully with this article then I am anti captivity and make no apologies for it. I have animals who are rescued from despicable people who had no respect for a living being I’ve never bought, captured or stolen a pet from the wild. Mostly they have found me. Would I be happier if they were in the wild? Yes because that would mean they haven’t been abused. I’m afraid the size of the tanks and also knowing people personally who worked at seaworld and hearing how traumatised they are after leaving and seeing the bigger picture that’s not a positive experience! The same goes for ANY facility with animals for entertainment including gator parks it makes me shudder to think about it… Call me a hippy or a lefty I will happy take the misguided label but try and say I’m not educated or haven’t researched both sides of the arguments is silly. Smart people research both sides then pick one.

  29. LucyP says:

    I’ve been avoiding SeaWorld (and urging all my friends to do the same) ever since PETA opened my eyes to how marine animals suffer in captivity. Imprisoning animals and forcing them to do tricks isn’t entertainment, it’s slavery.

  30. Teresa Wagner says:

    Amen to this truth. So well said. Thank you.

  31. KimMarie says:

    It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that holding orcas captive is cruel. Thanks to documentaries like Blackfish, the ugly truth is out about SeaWorld and what they do to marine animals. It’s time for them to retire the animals to reputable seaside sanctuaries.

  32. Alyson says:

    Fantastic article, agreed 100%. Thank You

  33. Mary P says:


  34. Jane G.Y. says:

    We thank you Pierre also… We don’t always agree but your words are very passionate and humane.
    Hope Seaworld goes way way ‘under’ – ever since the trailer was killed it was time to call it a day…
    Wish they had someone like you in Miami-Dade where the cock fights go on and on and on also.

  35. NortonSmitty says:

    It all started with Flipper!

    I knew him when he was on the street in Opalocka near Miami. After his TV show got canceled, he hit hard times. Used to smoke anchovy paste and was reduced to giving fin to the tourists in bars, trading on what was left of his fame. Then he got fat and nobody wanted him even for that debasement. One sad night after a beating in the parking lot of the Dania Hi-Lai he rolled around for hours until his ribs were stained black from the fresh asphalt. Next morning Saul Rabbinowittz, a near- sighted talent agent looking for a new act stumbled over him walking out of an all-night game of 5 Card Monty, and recognized him from his glory days. Out of the kindness of his heart, he put him in rehab and sold him to SeaWorld as midget Killer Whale, because of some unsubstantiated rumors about an Anchovy Paste deal that went wrong years previously. That was Sauls genius, he knew in his heart that nobody would pay $30 to see an Orca of any size, but a Killer Whale would pack the house, and they would go back to Wisconsin and tell all the neighbors all winter. That’s also why the first SeaWorld stadium made you sit back so far from the water, so you couldn’t tell it was just a fat dolphin with waterproof black spray-paint on his ribs. Saul’s promotions and Flippers talents made the SeaWorld extravaganza a worldwide instant hit! It was so successful that in a few years the owners were able to build a full-sized stadium and hire Guatemalan fisherman to capture real Orcas for the show. Flipper was able to save enough money to retire to a small canal behind an International House of Pancakes in Boca Raton and live out his days with his girlfriend, a retired Massage Therapist from Poughkeepsie.

    This is a true story. I heard it from a friend of mine who saw the whole thing, and I know he wouldn’t lie to me.

    You’re Welcome.

  36. Catherine says:

    Thank you, Pierre for another excellent article!

  37. Heather Moore says:

    I agree with the “close SeaWorld” part. When I was young and naïve, I went to SeaWorld and gawked at the performing dolphins and orcas. I was entertained, not educated. All a marine park experience teaches people is that it’s acceptable to keep animals in highly unnatural environments and make them to do tricks for our amusement. People don’t see marine mammals behaving like marine mammals at SeaWorld — they see sick, stressed captive mammals behaving how someone manipulates them to. Even more people would be horrified if they saw Blackfish and understood what really happens behind-the-scenes at SeaWorld—death, abuse, and exploitation.

  38. happening now says:

    OK. Not impressive SeaWorld. My thoughts are——if left alone, they would be killed by fishermen anyway, Look at slaughter in Cove. Maybe better to save something before all animals are gone , look at the bear approved killing week. And it goes on and on.

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