Sea World Animals In Captivity Essay

Ever since I was 6 years old, I dreamed of working with killer whales. I always loved animals, but I fell for whales in particular during a childhood trip to SeaWorld. They are magnificent, intelligent, sentient beings.

In 1993, when I was 20, my dream came true: I was hired by SeaWorld. I rose through the ranks and eventually became a senior trainer, working at both SeaWorld of California and SeaWorld of Texas. I also supervised killer whale training at a marine park on the French Riviera.

I worked with 20 different orcas and performed in the water with 17 of them — including the corporation's riskiest and most dangerous killer whales. I formed truly reciprocal relationships with the animals. I loved each of them as deeply as possible and have memories I will cherish for the rest of my life.  But unfortunately, not everything is the way it seems. On August 17, 2012, after several years of growing uneasiness about SeaWorld's killer whale program, I quit.

SeaWorld just announced that the company will end its breeding program and that this will be the last generation of orcas in captivity. Am I elated? Yes. Do I still have questions? Sure.

What it was like to work at SeaWorld

At first, and for many years, I was happy working at SeaWorld. I didn't understand what was healthy or unhealthy, normal or abnormal. I was just thrilled to have accomplished my dream, my passion.

But the more I learned and the further I moved up the ranks, I saw and did things that haunt me to this day. I realized that we were exploiting these whales for enormous profit and disguising it as education and conservation. The reality was that I was being exploited too, but it would take years and the deaths of two colleagues for me to truly understand that.

I was part of the first artificial insemination on an orca, in the year 2000; it was on a wild-caught Icelandic orca named Kasatka, and the program grew from there. I remember my supervisors telling me we had a moral responsibility to diversify the orca gene pool, and that we were actually caring for the whales by experimenting with artificial insemination. At first I believed what we were being told — that it was a good thing and we were pioneers, the first in the world to achieve something groundbreaking. Then it became clear to me what the procedure was really for: Whales were becoming baby machines for profit.

SeaWorld crossbred whales through forced confinement together or through artificial insemination, creating hybrid whales that don't even exist in the natural world. Inbreeding, which also doesn't happen with orcas in nature, started becoming common: SeaWorld had a male, Taku, who bred with his own mother, Katina, resulting in the birth of a calf named Nalani.

To make matters worse, SeaWorld also separated mothers from their calves. Separation doesn't happen in the wild. Family units stay together for life. When I was at SeaWorld, calves were typically taken away from their mothers around age 3 or 4, but I witnessed it as early as 20 months of age.  Keet was still nursing from his mother, Kalina, when she was taken from him and sent to another park. To my knowledge, they were never reunited.

I witnessed the physical and emotional ravages of captivity. The whales would bite the steel gates, causing their teeth to fracture and completely break off. The whales would excessively bite on the corners of the concrete tanks and peel off the blue paint, causing their teeth to wear down to the point where we, the trainers, had to manually drill a hole in the tooth and then invasively irrigate this hole with a hydrogen peroxide solution, using a metal catheter.

Another symptom of boredom: I saw the whales float motionless for hours upon hours every day, leading, among other things, to complete dorsal fin collapse on 100 percent of all captive adult males and even some females. This happens in fewer than 1 percent of wild adult males. In the wild, it's believed to be caused by traumatic injury such as being struck by a vessel — in captivity, it is the unnatural amount of time spent at the surface and the inevitable pull of gravity.

I witnessed and distributed the enormous amount of drugs the whales were doped up on: antibiotics to treat chronic infections, medication to treat ulcers and fungal infections, drugs to treat epilepsy. I even gave whales Valium when we would do an invasive procedure, take a calf away from its mother, or move whales from one park to another.

Though SeaWorld claims to offer its whales world-class care, some of the whales were dying in their teens or younger. (National Geographic lists average life spans in the wild to be between 50 and 80 years.) Unna died at the age of only 18 this past December from a rare fungal infection resistant to treatment, and now SeaWorld has announced that Tilikum is dying from an as-yet-unnamed bacterial strain.

The last three or four years of my career, I fought constantly with management regarding separating mothers from their calves and the intensified artificial insemination program, but nothing I did changed anything. Despite being one of the most experienced killer whale trainers in the corporation, I was powerless.

(John Hargrove)

What finally made me decide to leave

A huge turning point for me came when two of my colleagues were killed. Alexis Martinez was killed Christmas Eve in 2009 at a marine park in Spain by an orca that was born and trained at SeaWorld. Then Dawn Brancheau, who I had known personally for nine years, was killed just two months later at SeaWorld Orlando. I could comprehend and accept their deaths: every experienced trainer knows what killer whales are capable of. I myself have been a victim of at least 10 major aggressions in the water with orcas where I was fortunately able to redirect the whale and safely escape. Unfortunately Martinez and Brancheau were not as lucky.

As I remember it, SeaWorld blamed both the trainers for their own deaths, at least within the company. It was said of Martinez that he was relatively inexperienced and most likely panicked and drowned when Keto pulled him under. The autopsy report and trainers who were there tell a very different story: He had been crushed, and his chest exploded with massive internal injuries. He died a violent death; when he was pulled from the pool, it appeared he had blood coming from his nose, ears, and mouth, indicative of the scope of his injuries.

For Brancheau, the explanation from senior management was that she was too complacent and put herself in too vulnerable of a position. SeaWorld's expert witness, Jeffrey Andrews, testified in the 2011 federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration hearings regarding Brancheau's death that the only thing that led to this fatality was a mistake by Brancheau.

The truth is more complicated: We will never know why Tilikum made the decision to grab Dawn, pull her in, and dismember her, but what we do know is that it was an aggressive attack. These are wild apex predators.

SeaWorld officials claimed they had no knowledge that it was unsafe for trainers to work in close proximity to killer whales or with them in the water — which is ridiculous. The signatures of these same SeaWorld managers were all over internal documents describing how dangerous the whales were and the need to have only the most experienced trainers work with certain whales.

Federal Judge Ken Welsch wrote, "No reasonable person ... would conclude that SeaWorld was unaware that working in close contact with killer whales during performances creates a hazard for its trainers." SeaWorld lost the case and its appeal.

Why I'm cautiously optimistic about the future

I chose to speak out for the first time when I was interviewed for the documentary Blackfish, only seven days after I resigned. Since then, I have been fighting to achieve what SeaWorld has just announced: the end of captive breeding and the orca captivity program. This is terrific news that I greet with cautious optimism.

One reason to be concerned is that a SeaWorld whale is pregnant right now. I'm assuming she was impregnated well before SeaWorld chose this historic new direction. But it does unfortunately mean one more whale will be born in captivity.

Another reason is this: Talk can be cheap, and SeaWorld has made announcements similar to this in the past. Those have amounted to nothing more than PR moves. Now I would like to see SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby, who took on the job about year ago, back up those words with actions. For a new leader to make a change, he needs a team that will help him with his new vision for the future, which means firing the old guard and hiring the new. With an executive level shake-up in February, this process has started.

Next, we need to see exactly what his plan of action is. Yes, we need to be sure the protocols won't allow an accidental pregnancy in the future. And what, if any, side deals have been made to make this happen? How will this affect not only the orcas but other animals in captivity at SeaWorld? Answers to these questions won't come overnight, but I hope they come soon.

Despite my concerns, I say bravo to Joel Manby for seeing the writing on the wall and making decisions that could save the company, decisions no one before him was willing to make. I choose to support Manby and give him a genuine chance to do the right thing. If he backs up his words with actions, which I believe he has already begun doing, then this is a historic change and a win for the whales that so desperately deserve it.

John Hargrove is a former senior killer whale trainer at SeaWorld. After resigning from SeaWorld, he was featured in the Sundance-selected documentary Blackfish. He is the author of Beneath the Surface: Killer Whales, SeaWorld, and the Truth Beyond Blackfish.


First Person is Vox's home for compelling, provocative narrative essays. Do you have a story to share? Read our submission guidelines, and pitch us at firstperson@vox.com.

Animals In Captivity Essay

There is much conjecture over whether captivity is good or bad for wild animals. Many people consider it will bring negative impacts for wild animal to live in captivity. Others believe wild animals should be taken captive for both environmental and physical. I faced this controversial essay topic and fell into much contemplation.

It's undeniable that most animal zoos or such organizations really have relevant knowledge, offer suitable environments and rescue animals from danger. It seems animals can live safely and freely in captivity. However, it is too hasty to say so, since they would lose the most essential characteristic, which is called feral behaviour. There is no any difference between a cat and a Chinese Tiger, if the tiger lost its feral behaviour and ate artificial food without pursuing. Moreover, if giant pandas live in a wild environment instead of a man-made greenhouse, would they still sleep eighteen hours per day and eat or play during the rest of time? Absolutely no. They will adapt their habits in order to survive and maybe they will not be called rare creature any more. Likewise, for other wild animals, it is better to live in the wild. Based on food chain, there would be an upheaval or ecological problem for us to protect some species regardless of others. Although the wild animals will confront difficulties or even extinctions, those spontaneous happenings won't destroy our environment too much.

However, when this issue comes to situation as China, further details should be carefully examined. Most of wild animals are hunt and maltreat in China, especially Asiatic Black Bear and Pere Davids's deer. After Black Bears...

Loading: Checking Spelling

0%

Read more

Should Animals Be Kept in Captivity

2110 words - 8 pages Animals should not be kept in captivity for any reason unless they have been harmed and need to receive treatment but they should be released as soon as they are healthy and capable of taking care of themselves again. The use of a captive animal for research, education, or entertainment is just wrong no creature deserves to have their life taken away for our benefit. Would you want to be captured and put in a tiny box or a fake little ecosystem,...

Performing Animals: The Ill Treatment of Performing Orca’s in Captivity

2070 words - 8 pages Immanuel Kant, an 18th century philosopher argues that human beings have an intrinsic worth that makes them valuable above all else, especially animals. In his argument, Kant postulated the soul as necessary for giving unity to the human person and found that it is not the human body that gives human beings their dignity, but their rationality and their status as rational beings and moral agents. Animals in Kant’s state of mind are a means to an...

Profiting on Conservation: Animals in Captivity Abused for Human Entertainment

1179 words - 5 pages Animals have been used in entertainment before Shamu became the headliner at Sea World. Ancient Romans threw innocent people and animals into a coliseum solely to entertain the spectators in the stands. People have been paying to see animals perform tricks for the past two thousand years. Marine animals are often captured or rescued from the wild under conservation terms, but trained by punishment instead of positive reinforcement to perform in...

Stop the Madness

1892 words - 8 pages We have all seen animals in the house, bored without anything to do. They are basically locked in the house all day while parents are at work and children are at school or daycare. Or some animals may be roaming around land free but the animals do not have true freedom. Some may be sitting around in a cage. Pacing around a cage can drive anyone insane. It definitely drives animals insane. Animals should not be in captivity for the benefits of...

Whales in Captivity

1180 words - 5 pages “… building a tank the size of Rhode Island wouldn’t be large enough for a six-ton male killer whale such as Tilikum, an animal capable of swimming 100 miles a day,” states an anonymous whale expert. Whales have been in captivity since 1861 when P.T. Barnum displayed the first live whale that was captured in Canada. However, Barnum had no idea how to care for the mammal and it died after only a week in captivity. (Animal Legal and Historical...

Born Free: Killer Whales

1580 words - 6 pages When I was younger I always wanted to be a trainer at SeaWorld and work with Shamu, but of course I didn’t know how controversial captivity was. As I got older I started researching the issue and came to the realization that Orcas, also known as Killer Whales should not live in captivity. In captivity Orcas are in danger as well as the trainers who work with them. Orcas are the largest of the Dolphin family and are found in all oceans. They range...

The Necessity of Animal Captivity

1159 words - 5 pages Animal captivity is a much discussed issue for both its benefits and detriments to the animals. Many people view animal captivity as a harm and believe that it should be stopped; however, what is not taken into account is its benefits. Animal captivity aids both animals and humans in multiples ways, but the majority of help animal captivity offers is through preservation of animal species, and education benefits that zoos and aquariums represent...

symbolaw Symbols and Symbolism - Birds as a Symbol in The Awakening

621 words - 2 pages Birds as the Symbol of Bondage and Freedom in The Awakening Birds that are enclosed in cages indicate solitude and bondage; those that roam in the open air above the seas represent freedom and happiness. The captivity or freedom of these animals is the symbolism that Chopin uses to illustrate the captivity Edna experiences from society and the freedom she desires.  Through this vivid bird imagery in her novel The Awakening,...

Killer Whale in Captivity

2418 words - 10 pages Captivity is the state or period of being imprisoned, confined, or enslaved, according to Wiktionary. Every year, marine parks and aquariums, like SeaWorld, make billions of dollars through ticket sales. SeaWorld estimates about 70% of their total revenue is due to their performing killer whales (Jeffs). People visit from all over the world to encounter killer whales up close. “Their beauty and power, combined with willingness to work with...

Zoos: The Reality Of It All

1125 words - 5 pages There are too many zoos where animals pace metal cages and cramped outdoor enclosures. If there is a wild animal in a zoo, it just means that there is one less animal in the wild. It is better to see animals in the wild, not in captivity. Despite professed concerns for animals, zoos remain more "collections" of interesting "items" than actual havens. Zoos teach people that is acceptable to keep animals in captivity, bored, cramped, lonely and...

Orcas in Captivity

822 words - 3 pages A problem that goes highly unnoticed is the horrifying treatment of orcas that are in captivity. Now I personally have an irrational fear of this species, but even this topic has pulled my heart strings and has me wanting to make a difference.The first story I heard that referred to orcas being held in captivity, was about a young orca named Tilikum. He...

0 thoughts on “Sea World Animals In Captivity Essay

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *