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SeaWorld is getting a bad rap, Blackfish lies

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Jonathan Mohabir, Reporter

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After the release of the movie Blackfish in 2013, SeaWorld received major heat from animal rights activists as well as spectators of the movie.

But is this SeaWorld debacle really truth, or is Blackfish just a wash of propaganda in a sea of conspiracy?

Mark Simmons, who spent 10 years as a SeaWorld trainer and marine mammal behavioral scientist, appeared in the movie Blackfish. After seeing the finished product of the movie, Simmons said he was appalled at the twisted content shown.

“I was physically present during many of the events that (the inexperienced trainers) talked about in the movie, and I can tell you firsthand they completely misrepresented, provided disinformation and in many cases blatantly lied about those events,” Mark said.

“I’ve had thousands of interactions in the water with the whales, and never had a single injury caused by a whale,” he said.

Bridgette Pirtle, another former SeaWorld trainer, who also spent 10 years working as a trainer said, “It’s not a fact-based movie.”

“The film,” she said, “was produced to make money, gain an audience and push an agenda to release all killer whales and shut down SeaWorld.”

At first sight, Blackfish makes SeaWorld out to be a heartless, animal abusing, trainer endangering organization that covers up there evil inner workings, but after doing some in depth research, one can quickly discover the truth.

Animal activists groups like PETA have been feeding the public lies, and trying to slander the name of groups like SeaWorld to free “their whale friends.”

We all would hate to live in an area the size of our house for our whole lives, so why not let these orca whales go? Let’s look at the case of Keiko, the star orca whale in the 1993 movie, Free Willy.

After his performance in Free Willy, a fundraiser was started to release Keiko into the wild, what happened? Keiko lived a lonely, isolated life, unable to adapt to this new environment. One short year later Keiko, a young and healthy whale, died.

This will also be the fate of these orcas. By releasing them, SeaWorld as well as other orca sanctuaries would be sending these whales to their death.

There have also been accusations that SeaWorld has been ripping baby orcas from their mothers and moving them to other parks. While it is true that SeaWorld has moved orcas from their parents, the statement that these orcas where babies is outlandish.

The film depicted a whale named Takara being removed from her mother, and makes it seem as if she was still a calf at the time of this separation while in truth, Takara was 12 at the time of this separation. Takara was a mature and fertile female whale.

When it comes down to it, SeaWorld is doing its best to care and provide for these majestic creatures. Not only is it spending hundreds of thousands of dollars, on remodeling and expanding their orca habitats, making a more comfortable life for their whales, but also inspiring newer generation to take an interest in marine biology, as well as many aquatic sciences.

Even PHS instructor Elisha Dyer agrees.

As a marine biologist, SeaWorld is a pro-animal institution that funds animal rescue and inspires millions of every year to love the ocean and its inhabitants.

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19 Comments

19 Responses to “SeaWorld is getting a bad rap, Blackfish lies”

  1. SWMike on November 13th, 2014 2:12 PM

    Well written article. This is what I call real journalism, something which is sadly lacking in most internet articles these days. Nicely done and fairly written. Thanks for the information!

    Be ready for lots of negative rants. But don’t let it get you down. This is an excellent piece of journalism. Keep on writing!

    [Reply]

  2. Eric on November 13th, 2014 2:23 PM

    What a great well researched article! You should be proud of your work! I love how you handled this tough subject, and it reminds me of why I love SeaWorld

    [Reply]

  3. Bridgette Pirtle on November 13th, 2014 2:28 PM

    Well done, Jonathan! Thank you for creating a much needed awareness of the fallacies within the movie. Far too many people have fallen victim to its lies. The ones that suffer the most from it’s fabricated stories are the animals they claim to be trying to help. A job well done on fighting the hype and spreading the truth. Thank you for standing up with SeaWorld!

    [Reply]

  4. Erin on November 13th, 2014 2:36 PM

    What a well-researched, well written piece! Seeing the other side of an issue is critically important and you handled the topic well, bringing in multiple perspectives. Well done!

    [Reply]

  5. Jeremy on November 13th, 2014 5:46 PM

    Definitely well done. Giving some “however, in the past they HAVE done…..” points, so to make it more balanced. 🙂 great job!

    [Reply]

  6. SWC Member on November 13th, 2014 5:47 PM

    Great job Jonathan!

    -another high school student

    #standwithseaworld

    [Reply]

  7. Sharky on November 13th, 2014 7:02 PM

    Here’s the ultimate Blackfish review at http://nimwey.tumblr.com/blackfish. It goes over every single lie, deception, and half-truth it depicts. On top of that, there was never any mention of Namu, Shamu, Ted Griffin, or Don Goldsberry. Ted was the one who started the captive orca industry when he bought Namu and displayed him at the Seattle Aquarium after the orca was accidentally caught in a fisherman’s net in 1965. Shamu followed soon after and was the first deliberate capture of an orca. Ted sold her to SeaWorld San Diego after she showed signs of aggression toward Namu. He and Don captured orcas in the Pacific Northwest. They caught about fifty-five in which most came from the Southern Resident population. SeaWorld bought only seven of these orcas, and they were all Southern Residents. It also bought ten Icelandic orcas during the first two years of the captures. The other wild-caught orcas it had and currently has in its collection came from other parks. Those are the facts. However, Blackfish makes it seem like that SeaWorld orchestrated every capture operation in both the Pacific Northwest and Iceland. The filmmakers did this by deliberately leaving out information about Namu, Shamu, Ted, and Don. They knew SeaWorld wasn’t responsible for the captures, but they were determined to advance their anti-SeaWorld agenda and probably forbade the former trainers from saying anything about these two orcas and two men. If you want to watch a real documentary about orcas, watch “World of Discovery: Beautiful Killers.” This can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=giFPl6TeWAU. This program has more factual information about orcas than Blackfish will ever have. There is a section dedicated to captive orcas that features the opinions of real researchers. Footage of Yaka and Vigga at Marine World Africa USA (now Six Flags Discovery Kingdom) is featured. So is that of Orky 2 and Corky 2 at Marineland of the Pacific (now closed) and comments about their calves. This was made in 1990, but it is far more relevant than Blackfish can ever hope to be.

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  8. Zach on November 14th, 2014 1:14 AM

    This article contains many fallacies and grammatical errors. It also ignores most of the information against SeaWorld and inaccurately describes Keiko’s release (there is photographic evidence of him being with a pod…not exactly my idea of lonely and isolated). All of these hurt your credibility and I have a hard time believing your argument. Please do more research and check for errors.

    [Reply]

    Angelina Reply:

    On his first day out of the netted bay pen in the summer of 2002, Keiko leaves the tracking boat and begins spending considerable time in the company of whales. He is monitored in and around groups of wild whales for the next three weeks. He then begins an epic journey covering nearly 1000 miles across the North Atlantic, by the Faeroe Islands, and to the coast of Norway.

    The first observations of Keiko in Norway document that he is in excellent physical condition. Keiko has been on his own for close to 60 days without food from humans. His lead veterinarian, and a variety of other orca scientists, come to the conclusion that Keiko has successfully fed himself in the wild, a major milestone in his journey to the wild.

    Keiko follows a fishing boat inside a Norwegian fjord in the Halsa Community. He is an instant hit there with people coming from throughout Europe. Thousands of visitors come to see the friendly whale. The Project staff work closely with the Norwegian government to put in place regulations to keep people from swimming with, feeding, or getting too close to Keiko.

    Meanwhile, the Craig McCaw Foundation and Ocean Futures Society turn over the management of the project to the Free Willy Keiko Foundation and the Humane Society of the U.S.

    In December Keiko is walked to the Taknes bay where staff continue to work with and feed Keiko. For the first time ever, Keiko is in an area where he can come and go as he chooses. The Free Willy Keiko Foundation and the Humane Society of the US continue to care for Keiko while allowing his historic journey to the wild to move ahead.

    The Norwegian government gives its full support to the continued effort to give Keiko the chance to return to the wild.

    2003:

    December 12, 2003 — The Free Willy Keiko Foundation and The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) reported that Keiko, the orca whale, died in the Taknes fjord, Norway, in the company of staff members who have been caring for him there.

    Keiko’s veterinarian believes that acute pneumonia is the most likely cause of death, though he also cited that Keiko was the second oldest male orca whale ever to have been in captivity.

    The two organizations managing Keiko’s reintroduction effort expressed sadness at Keiko’s death while also heralding his amazing journey.

    The day before, Keiko had exhibited signs of lethargy and lack of appetite. Consultation was continuous between his caretakers and Dr. Cornell. His behavior was still abnormal the following morning and his respiratory rate was irregular, but, as is often the case with whales and dolphins in human care, these were advanced signs of his condition. With little warning, Keiko beached himself and died in the early evening local time. Over a decade ago, Keiko was featured in the Hollywood movie, Free Willy, prompting a worldwide effort to rescue him from poor health, in an attempt to allow him to be the first orca whale ever returned to the wild.

    In 1996 Keiko was flown aboard a United Parcel Service plane to a new rehabilitation facility in Newport, Oregon. There he was returned to health and trained in the skills necessary to be a wild whale. In late 1998, Keiko was flown in a U.S. Air Force jet to a sea-pen in Iceland. In the summer of 2002, Keiko joined the company of wild whales and swam nearly 1000 miles to the Norwegian coast. Since then, Keiko has been cared for in a fjord where he was free to come and go by his own choice.

    Keiko inspired millions of children to get involved in following his amazing odyssey and helping other whales. Keiko’s journey also inspired a massive educational effort around the world and formed the basis for several scientific studies. Thousands of people traveled to Norway in the past year to see Keiko, continuing his legacy as the most famous whale in the world. (http://keiko.com/history.html)

    Before you slam someone for not doing research, which it sounds like Jonathon did do his research you might want to do your own research Zach. All one had to do was google Keiko.

    [Reply]

  9. Katrin on November 14th, 2014 12:12 PM

    Bit of constructive criticism, if you’re writing about a problem, do research on the scientific background by reading scientific sources. You would not write a balanced article about the effects of smoking and only consult publicity pages of cigarette companies, you would look in scientific journals.
    These are some titles that of articles that deal with the issue:
    On the Behavior and Welfare of Killer Whales in Captivity (Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science)
    Evaluating and minimising social stress in the care of captive bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops aduncus) (Zoo Biology)
    Species differences in responses to captivity: stress, welfare and the comparative method. (Trends in Ecology and Evolution)
    Captivity effects on wide-ranging carnivores (Nature)

    In addition to this data presented at several marine mammal science conferences in the past year indicate that there has been no significant improvement in killer whale longevity over the past few years, even for captive born animals.

    Furthermore few activists want to actually release currently captive killer whales, merely phase out captive breeding and shows, which even Pirtle said they should do. Keiko was a poor candidate for release and nevertheless his health improved significantly when transferred to the sea pen and he spent 2 yeas living independently before dying of pneumonia at the age of 26, short of the estimated average killer whale life span but well within the life span SeaWorld quotes to their visitors.

    Recent studies have also questioned the ‘inspiring’ effect often mentioned by SeaWorld, a study published by an associate of Vancouver Aquarium actually suggests that shows may inspire utilitarian attitudes towards animals (An alternative paradigm for conservation education: innovations in the public presentation of killer whales at the Vancouver Aquarium).

    SeaWorld is outdated and while bigger tanks are nice, it ignores the most basic of facts, these animals are unsuitable for captivity and their presence at marine parks has little or no educational value.

    [Reply]

  10. Louise on November 14th, 2014 12:20 PM

    Perhaps the orcas would die if they were released but you are missing the simple fact here – These animals should not have been captured and forced into these barbaric tanks in the first place.

    You’ve accused the film of lying but have very convineiently overlooked the truths –
    Orcas are kept in tiny cages.
    An orca known to display aggression has given his genes to multiple offspring
    People have been hurt and killed as a result of orcas showing aggression which is a cause of their environment
    Orcas are ripped from their natural habitat and are no longer able to swim appropriate distances, hunt, mate etc in the usual way
    Regardless if the age of the child, the mother and child would not usually have been separated in the wild and the mother showed signs of grief
    Seaworld are concerned with profits rather than protecting their animals

    [Reply]

    SWC Member Reply:

    Goodness where do I even start with this one?

    [Reply]

    Angelina Reply:

    Maybe start with the fact that SeaWorld nor any accredited zoo/aquarium have taken orcas out of the wild since, what 1978-79?
    Then go on with the fact that orcas are not kept in cages at all; a simple trip to SeaWorld would prove that fact.
    You might even touch upon the fact that Tilly (that is of course the aggressive orca in question here by the way) has never actually shown aggression towards anyone. Current and former trainers have never seen him be aggressive and have always commented on what a “sweetheart” he is.
    Building upon the latter you might add that people have been killed by orcas not because of aggression but because mistakes on the trainer’s part were made. These are large animals that can hurt you, much like a horse can hurt you if you are not careful. Also there is no scientific proof that says that any orca is aggressive because of their environment. How would you explain the aggressive orcas in the ocean?
    Don’t forget to mention that mothers and children do not actually stay together in the wild. Talk about inbreeding if they did! No, not all of them will stay with their birth pod. Other pods need to be made or we’d just have one maybe two gigantic pods where whales are dieing because there isn’t enough food in the environment to feed them all. This would go against ANY animal’s instincts.
    And lastly please do not fail to mention the fact that SeaWorld has dumped millions of dollars into rescuing, rehabilitating and returning thousands of animals. They fund quite a few scientific research programs as well as dump a few million (70 million towards killer whale habitats in the last three years) in making sure their parks are equipped to handle all the animals that come through or need to stay (which is not SeaWorld’s decision to make; unless ruled by the government that the animal in question can go back into the wild and feed and otherwise take care of itself on its own it will remain at SeaWorld. Very few animals need to remain) in any of their three parks.
    But of course, you can freely begin where ever you feel best.

    [Reply]

  11. Professor Chris Parsons on November 14th, 2014 12:43 PM

    As a professor in marine mammal biology, I can attest that the material in Blackfish is in fact pretty accurate and they did not lie. Apart from everything else, if the material in Blackfish was wrong, SeaWorld would have sued producers of Blackfish for defamation/slander, as their stock prices and visitor numbers have fallen, and they have suffered major financial impacts as a result of the movie. There are at least two court cases currently launched by SeaWorld stockholders against the company for lying to their shareholders about, amongst other issues, the welfare of their orcas.

    You can get information from this (peer-reviewed paper) in a scientific journal that specializes in these issues http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/cog/tme/2012/00000008/00000003/art00004 . For a review of the science behind Blackfish (which is actually very accurate) see this blog on one of the top marine science blog sites http://www.southernfriedscience.com/?p=15500

    SeaWorld typically spends less than 0.04% of its annual profits on conservation and have done nothing to help conserve the world’s most endangered marine mammals: the Maui’s dolphin, the Mediterranean monk seal, the vaquita.

    SeaWorld routinely removes calves from their mothers at 2-4 years of age, which – as far as orcas are concerned – are babies. You have cherry picked one example. The transfers are a matter of record which can be found with a simple google search.

    Keiko was taken from Reino Adventura park in Mexico by the Free Willy Keiko Foundation in 1996 and died in 2003, which is 7 years not one year. When he died he was one of the oldest male killer whales that have been in captivity, ever – most captive males die before they reach Keiko’s age. He also did not lead a lonely life – he actually swam several times with his family pod in open Icelandic waters. In Mexico he only had a single dolphin for company.

    Quite frankly, there is so much factually incorrect material this article that I would recommend that Poinciana High School takes it down immediately. Even though it is a high school article, it is still viewable by everyone who has internet access and this extremely biased article reflects badly on the academic reputation of the school.

    [Reply]

    Angelina Reply:

    You must be a horrible professor.
    Blackfish did not lie you say?
    http://da15bdaf715461308003-0c725c907c2d637068751776aeee5fbf.r7.cf1.rackcdn.com/adf36e5c35b842f5ae4e2322841e8933_4-4-14-updated-final-of-blacklist-list-of-inaccuracies-and-misleading-points.pdf

    Come again when you have proof to back their claims. Also your figures on SeaWorld’s contribution to conservation are way off. And the reason the 4 1/2 year old whale was removed from her mother was because she was disruptive. “Babies” stop nursing around 2 years of age, can become mothers themselves at 11 (that at least is the youngest recorded mother for the Southern Resident killer whales in the Pacific Northwest.) and like our beloved pets, they age differently than we do. Stop treating and seeing them as human beings. They are far greater than we could ever be. Even with their wolf like hunting of cute and adorable seals and sea lions.

    [Reply]

    Professor Chris Parsons Reply:

    My comment above had references to peer-reviewed scientific journal articles. whereas you reply with a company-produced document. I am also a world expert on marine mammals and have produced a university textbook on their biology.

    If Blackfish had been inaccurate why hasn’t SeaWorld sued? They have lost a lot of money as a result of the bad publicity. The reason is that Blackfish was scrupulously fact-checked with leading orca researchers and they had documentation and evidence for everything.

    Expenditure by SeaWorld on conservation is a matter of record. You can look up their expenditure and do the calculations yourself. If is simple math.

    As for your statements about the biology of orcas – that is rubbish. Male orcas, for example stay with their mothers their entire lives in the wild. There is an article about this in the journal science (here’s the popular version http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2012/09/adult-killer-whales-need-their-mamas). Females often stay with there mothers too, and you can have up to five generations of females in a pod. This is all in the scientific literature. The oldest female orca in the wild lived to an estimated 104 years of age. they routinely live to 50 – 90 years of age. they have, in fact, a very similar longevity to humans, if not slightly longer, in the wild. Again, you can find this all in the real scientific literature.

    [Reply]

  12. Jessie on November 15th, 2014 10:55 PM

    I’ll consider your opinions when you present them with correct syntax, grammar and spelling.

    [Reply]

  13. Sarah Ward on January 16th, 2015 9:30 PM
  14. Chris on January 23rd, 2015 5:54 PM

    Great article. I had not seen this earlier and just came across it. You put a lot of work and research into this. You have a bright future ahead. Keep up the great work

    [Reply]

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SeaWorld is getting a bad rap, Blackfish lies