By Kamakshi Dadhwal
SeaWorld recently petitioned the California Coastal Commission to fund the building of its new BlueWorld project: a 1.5-acre interactive facility for orcas. On Thursday, Oct. 8, the commission agreed to fund the project with an amendment that bans SeaWorld from practicing “captive breeding, artificial insemination, and the sale, trade or transfer of any animal in captivity.” Although this development seems fantastic on the surface to most animal rights supporters, an in-depth analysis of what this decision means for the dwindling killer whale species is likely to change many opinions. As other details of the amendment emerge, it is evident that it will neither ensure a better treatment of orcas nor mark the end of SeaWorld Entertainment. It is a bad move on the Coastal Commission’s part that will do more harm than good for orcas.
Since the release of exposee documentary Blackfish in 2013, SeaWorld has faced immense criticism based on the shocking accounts revealed. Although the film’s claims are unproven, SeaWorld’s treatment is possibly a major cause of aggression in captive-bred orcas. This may be why they ultimately attack trainers, as it was observed in the brutal death of Dawn Brancheau in 2010. The documentary incited an uproar to boycott SeaWorld amongst animal rights activists, and has caused an 84% drop in SeaWorld’s profits, as of 2015. It seems obvious that the $100 million dollar BlueWorld project is SeaWorld’s attempt to salvage itself. They are trying to make things right as they should.
The Coastal Commission claims that while the idea of a bigger habitat for the giant sea predator is worth funding, the amendment will ensure the proper treatment of orcas in it. According to the commission’s authorities, the amendment will eliminate further harm to human trainers, at least for reasons that were portrayed in Blackfish. Unfortunately, the commission’s gauge on the situation is the complete opposite of what is bound to happen. Firstly, banning breeding in San Diego alone is not going to have much impact on the way training and breeding programs work at SeaWorld’s sites in Orlando and San Antonio. Moreover, the inability to breed in San Diego, combined with the inability to ship orcas in from the other two SeaWorld locations, will cause a bigger problem.
In order to maintain the number of orcas that BlueWorld plans, the commission has decided to let SeaWorld capture orcas from the ocean on a federal permit. So basically, instead of preserving the magnificent creatures that have been on the U.S. List of Endangered Species since 2005, the commission is indirectly forcing the incarceration of orcas from the wild. The inevitable increase in the number of captives for “educational,” but mostly commercial, use is the worst possible scenario for the aquatic beauties.
Now, to make SeaWorld’s case, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to recover from a bad reputation. Any organization working with mammals as intellectually complicated as orcas should be given a chance to change its approach in order to improve. Furthermore, everyone ought to understand the value of multiplication for endangered species. According to its official website, BlueWorld will be “50 feet in depth and will enhance dynamic opportunities for play, including a “fast water current” that allows whales to swim across moving water,” for them to experience the ocean. If SeaWorld is committing to rectifying the aggression problem associated with captive whales while playing a huge role in increasing their populations, then it is an honorable act on their part. Their plan is simple: provide an illusion of the ocean for the whales to feel a part of their natural habitat, while preserving their populations.
BlueWorld, as well as the petition that comes along with it, will do more harm than good.