To many who’ve seen it, “Blackfish” is a damning indictment of SeaWorld and its decision to hold killer whales captive.

But SeaWorld and some of its former killer whale trainers say the documentary offers a misleading portrayal of the marine park’s practices.

To help you get up to speed, I dove into some of the movie’s key claims and asked SeaWorld to respond.

Let’s start with the movie’s central contention.

Killer whales can become hyper-aggressive when confined in captivity.

To make this case, the documentary focuses on Tilikum, a 32-year-old male orca.

Tilikum was captured in the northern Atlantic Ocean in 1983 and taken to Sealand of the Pacific, a now-shuttered park near Victoria, British Columbia. Former Sealand trainers interviewed in “Blackfish” say the park’s female killer whales would aggressively gang up on Tilikum, particularly when they were confined in a 20-foot-by- 30-foot pool overnight.  In February 1991, Tilikum and two other orcas attacked part-time trainer Keltie Byrne after she slipped into their pool. She died after being dragged and submerged under the water. Two witnesses interviewed in “Blackfish” claim Tilikum was the instigator of the incident though that wasn’t broadly established immediately after Byrne’s death.

We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?

SeaWorld later acquired Tilikum, and according to an ex-trainer who appears in the documentary, he was repeatedly attacked by female orcas who shared the same living space.

In July 1999, a SeaWorld Orlando employee found 27-year-old Daniel P. Dukes, who was believed to have wandered into the area after hours, dead in Tilikum’s pool. Dukes’ body was draped over Tilikum‘s back when the worker found him. An autopsy later determined Dukes drowned but noted dozens of bruises and cuts. “Blackfish” argues Tilikum may have attacked Dukes before and after his death.

The third and most-publicized Tilikum-related death came in February 2010. Tilikum dragged senior SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau into the pool and forced her underwater, eventually killing her.

SeaWorld has since said Tilikum grasped Brancheau’s ponytail. The movie – and the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration – argue Tilikum pulled on Brancheau’s arm. An autopsy later determined she died of drowning and traumatic injuries, and that part of her scalp was “forcibly torn from her head.”

“Blackfish” argues that killer whales are not aggressive in the wild and implies that confinement can lead to dangerous behavior toward both humans and fellow marine mammals.

SeaWorld disputes that.

“These animals adapt very well socially to their lives at SeaWorld and there is no truth at all to the notion that they exhibit ‘hyper aggression,'” the marine park said in a statement.

The park acknowledged orcas at SeaWorld and elsewhere live in a dominance hierarchy but said aggression of any kind is rare.

SeaWorld has also said Tilikum’s behavior toward Brancheau was unexpected because he had interacted with her safely countless times before her death.

More than half of the whales in SeaWorld’s collection share Tilikum’s aggressive genes.

This argument conflicts with the film’s overarching claim about captivity triggering aggression in whales. But “Blackfish” also suggests aggressiveness can be passed on to a whale’s offspring.

The movie claims SeaWorld has made Tilikum its top breeder. That’s a bad thing, the documentary argues. The movie suggests that a reputable breeding program wouldn’t rely on an animal with a history of aggressive behavior but doesn’t offer any scientific backup that aggression can be inherited.

Mark Simmons, a former SeaWorld senior trainer who’s since spoken out against the documentary, told the “Blackfish” crew that Tilikum was an outlier.

Animal trainers often discourage owners from breeding aggressive animals but behavioral scientists who study humans and animals often emphasize the influence of both genetic and environmental factors.

While some studies have focused on a gene linked to aggressive behavior in humans, for example, most research has at least acknowledged the role of outside triggers.

Indeed, University of Notre Dame anthropologist Agustín Fuentes sharply panned the notion that biology is the sole determinant of hostile behavior in humans in a 2012 Salon article. His piece also cited research involving animals but not specifically killer whales.

SeaWorld says Tilikum fathered 10 of the 29 killer whales at its three parks. That means about 34 percent of SeaWorld’s current killer whales share his genes. The park says none of these orcas has aggressive tendencies.

There have been more than 70 killer whale-trainer accidents in the past few decades.

“Blackfish” spends significant time laying out Tilikum’s history but also provides examples of other dangerous – and even deadly – encounters between trainers and killer whales.

One former trainer specifically claimed there have been more than 70 incidents at SeaWorld and elsewhere.

One of the more prominent ones mentioned in “Blackfish” is the December 2009 death of Alexis Martinez, a killer whale trainer at a marine park in Spain. Martinez was killed while training with an orca reportedly on loan from SeaWorld. The movie also mentions two examples from San Diego, including a trainer who was held under water in 2006 and another who was seriously injured after a whale landed on him when it was doing a trick.

A legal brief filed by Occupational Health and Safety Administration attorneys last fall said SeaWorld records “aggressive or other unwanted whale behaviors” and documented at least 100 incidents from 1989 to 2009.

The filing noted that those episodes resulted in at least 11 injuries and some may not have been reported.

SeaWorld argued the documentary zeroed in on the total number of incidents, which it says is misleading because many didn’t result in injuries or even involve direct contact between a trainer and a whale.

The park also says the incidents were recorded precisely because they reflected behavior that was out of the ordinary. SeaWorld said trainers note those scenarios so they can monitor changes and, if necessary, adjust trainers’ approaches to a specific whale.

“It is this careful attention to the behavior of all of our whales that has led to our exemplary safety record,” SeaWorld said in a statement. “Trainers have learned a great deal about killer whale behavior from studying these examples and a result, the number of incidents has greatly reduced over time.”

OSHA disputed the latter point in its September court filing.

“SeaWorld claims the frequency of such incidents has tapered off over time but there have been incidents every year but two since 1988, culminating in trainer deaths in 2009 and 2010,” attorneys wrote.

SeaWorld’s whales die much earlier than wild orcas.

Howard Garrett, co-founder of the nonprofit Orca Network, made this claim in “Blackfish”: Female killer whales in the wild can live up to 100 years and their male counterparts 50 to 60 years but SeaWorld’s orcas only live 25 to 30 years.

Garrett and others in the movie say holding whales captive cuts their lives short – by a lot.

SeaWorld called those conclusions patently false and said data on killer whale life spans is often misrepresented or oversimplified.

The Orlando Sentinel conducted an exhaustive review of related research in January and found a lack of conclusive data on killer whales’ life spans.

The Florida newspaper cited studies by U.S. and Canadian government researchers that found female killer whales in the Pacific Northwest live 30 to 50 years and males live from anywhere from 19 to 31 years, but that individual whales can live far longer. Female orcas can live up to 90 years and males up to 70 years, according to the Sentinel.

But Sentinel reporter Jason Garcia’s biggest takeaway was that biologists aren’t certain how long killer whales live because there hasn’t been enough research:

With the limited data available, scientists say it can be misleading to compare life expectancies between whales in the wild and those in captivity. Instead, they say, the more accurate comparison to use is the “annual survival rate” — essentially, an estimate of the percentage of whales in a population expected to survive each year.

By that measure, Garcia found captive whales died at nearly three times the rate of wild orcas each year though more recent data reveals similar survival rates.

SeaWorld knows killer whales have the potential to be aggressive but doesn’t take adequate steps to protect its trainers.

Throughout the film, former trainers drive home the point that SeaWorld knew human-whale interactions were dangerous long before Brancheau’s death.

“I’d been expecting somebody to be killed by Tilikum,” ex-trainer John Jett, who once worked with the killer whale, told the film crew. “I’m surprised it took as long as it did.”

But SeaWorld maintains that orca aggression isn’t a regular occurrence.

Here’s how the company described whale-related risks in a court document filed late last year:

On rare occasions, killer whales can be dangerous. SeaWorld has taken extraordinary measures to control that risk. But it cannot eliminate it while facilitating the interaction between humans and whales that is integral to its mission.

In that same filing, SeaWorld argues it has taken “extraordinary steps” to ensure safety, including by having trainers document whale behavior.

It also outlined emergency procedures, including an alarm that alerts trainers if one of their colleagues is injured or appears at risk. The park says trainers must have more than 18 months of experience before they have close contact with an orca and at least three years before they can direct whales’ behavior.

SeaWorld says its training protocols are far from static, and that the company applies lessons learned.

“Our practices evolve and improve continually,” SeaWorld said in a statement.

This is part of our Quest: SeaWorld series digging into the park’s impact on our region. Check out the previous story – SeaWorld’s Whale of a Problem: Required Reading – and the next in our series  Takeaways from SeaWorld’s Big Anti-‘Blackfish’ Campaign.

    This article relates to: Community, News, Quest, Quest: SeaWorld, SeaWorld, Share

    Written by Lisa Halverstadt

    Lisa writes about San Diego city and county governments. She welcomes story tips and questions. Contact her directly at or 619.325.0528.

    sagacioius subscriber

    This is just more B.S. propaganda on behalf of sea world. The movie is a devastating indictment against sea world for its blatant negligence, disgusting lies and deception, all in the name of profit, not to mention its inherent maltreatment of these creatures. No amount of attempts at obfuscation can refute what is clearly the truth presented by this documentary. I am absolutely neither a fan of nor a supporter of PETA but they got it right on this issue.

    MadAliceMe subscriber

    In 2013, SeaWorld San Antonio recorded it's 13th beluga whale death since 1995. Five of the 13 were under five years old. If you don't think marine parks shorten the lifespan of marine mammals you are living in serious denial. SeaWorld claims that death is a part of the natural cycle of life, but clearly these animals did NOT have a "natural cycle of life." But it's ok, SeaWorld will just make more in their unnatural breeding programs so you can continue to go see the shows, consume their products, and make the owners richer.

    Mark Giffin
    Mark Giffin subscribermember

    So anti Sea world signs at the airport and now vandalism of freeway signs.

    Not helpful on a lot of levels.

    friendtoorcas subscriber

    @mp3michael @Jason @SeaWorld  Yes but we choose to live in these small dwellings. The orcas did not have a choice, they were captured.


    @Jason Humans used to roam the continent and now reside in 800 sqft homes. Same with dogs and most animals. @SeaWorld

    alisonckf subscriber

    @mp3michael @Jason This is an absolutely absurd and honestly just stupid analogy. Humans are not confined to their 800 sp. ft. homes for their entire lives. We go out into the world every single day to go to work, the grocery store, restaurants, movie theaters, parks, church, the homes of friends and family, etc. We are free to socialize and pursue happiness as we please. If we were forced against our will to remain within our 800 sp.  ft. homes for our entire lives without any recognizable explanation, we would be traumatized as well, to say the least. 

    sarahjane subscriber

    So an article it seems that critiques Blackfish and its many claims. Rather than looking at the bigger picture (it is inhumane that we are keeping these beautiful creatures in captivity for our entertainment and amusement, purely for the profit of a seemingly crooked company) we must pick apart a few of the points raised-wondered why on earth someone would write something like this-then I looked at the top of the page-Voice of San Diego...isnt there a Seaworld in San Diego....?? Hmmm...

    smjhunt subscriber

    While the evidence for inheritance of aggression stated in the documentary is probably stretching it, we know that animals can be bred to be less aggressive.  The mother of all studies on this front is probably the Russian Fox study.  Given this, it would seem you would want to breed from the most docile animals not the least docile ones.  At any rate, a far more compelling argument is made in the documentary for environmental factors being a major contributor, namely the small quarters in which they live and the fact they must share it.  Along with this the film showed a significant number of photos where tilikum had been raked and otherwise injured in a way that could only be from another whale.  

    This article also is somewhat one sided in that it concentrates on the question of whether humans should share a tank with whales whereas a central thrust of the documentary was that it simply is not humane to treat animals like this who are used to roaming vast areas of the sea with their own pods to be kept in these small quarters and subjected to attacks from other whales and especially the idea of taking baby whales away from their mothers.  Not only did this happen to tilikum but it regularly happens to the whales in captivity as well.

    I personally don't buy the argument of danger to trainers in the documentary.  As long as those who train know its hazards and are well trained it doesn't seem any more risky than other hazardous occupations like logging, policework, helicopter piloting etc.  However the argument that this is not fair to the animals seems to require a lot more sole searching.  

    Martha Sullivan
    Martha Sullivan subscribermember

    March 21, 2014, is the 50th Anniversary of SeaWorld and it all started right here in San Diego. Time for SeaWorld to catch the wave and evolve its business model to eliminate the cruelty of captive animal performers, following the lead of Merlin Entertainments, the 2nd largest amusement park corporation in the world after Disney. San Diego could be showcased as the first retirement sanctuary for SeaWorld marine animal performers, as envisioned by Dr. Naomi Rose:

    Mark Giffin
    Mark Giffin subscribermember

    Ultimately the Market will decide. Sea Worlds (San Diego) parking lot always seems to be full.

    That means something.

    The hate Sea World crowd agenda road to success will have to go through the Market to be effective. As Chris pointed out it will be highly unlikely that Sea World will be prevented by federal authorities from keeping captive killer whales.

    If Sea Worlds recent complaint against a federal inspector pans out it could very well hurt their cause.

    Unethical "end justifies the means" behavior on the part Lara Padgett if found true should lead to her being discipline or terminated.

    Phoenixlake subscriber

    @Mark Giffin Sea World uses money to propagandize their continued distortions and falsehoods claimed everywhere. They are not a respected legitimate organization in my opinion. They contribute to political parties to curry favor and essentially bribe and brainwash public officials. To date $$$ 3,920,000 almost four million dollars buys a lot of cooperation from Federal State and LOCAL politicians. Follow the Money here.

    The revenue stream comes from ticket sales from ordinary citizens thinking they are actually helping wildlife and actually helping conservation efforts. It is all a Sea World tactic to distort the truth and to brainwash our YOUTH. If you want to see wildlife take the kids and grandkids out on a whale watching boat. See nature the way is has been for millions of years before Sea World captured them and left them to die in Swimming pools. Empty The Tanks   and please   Do Not Buy A Ticket.

    smjhunt subscriber

    @Mark Giffin The market is often inefficient.  In this case by the average person being unaware of the controversy of keeping killer whales in captivity.  You can't rely on the market to have the right answer unless they are probably educated to make that decision.

    1kellylewis subscriber

    Ha! Just found a "Protest Seaworld - San Diego" Facebook page.

    1kellylewis subscriber

    While I am excited that VOS is exploring this issue further, and I realize it's important to address key points in Blackfish, for me, the bigger issue is the cruelty of keeping/exploiting these orcas. Trainer injuries/death, orca aggression, etc, shorter life span is important, but the key issues for me are:

    1. Emotional well-being-->the film's claim that housing multiple orcas into an artificial pod does not promote the same pod bonds they'd have in a wild (don't speak the same pod language)

    2.Living conditions

    3. Exploitation

    Maybe Seaworld could *engage in a conversation* about this rather than go on the attack (appalling). I would love to see San Diego rally to put pressure on them. I'm not much of a leader in terms of putting together a group, but I can definitely follow and have been known to have a good idea or two on occasion. :)

    Chris Brewster
    Chris Brewster subscribermember

    While I appreciate the sincerity of various posters here, as well as those behind the movie, in my view there are far more troubling things going on in the world related to human suffering and animal suffering. With respect to animals, hog gestation crates, for example, in which these animals are penned in to the extent they cannot even turn around for their entire lives, seem much more troublesome to me. 

    It seems to me highly unlikely that Sea World will be prevented by federal authorities from keeping captive killer whales. Their business model is only truly threatened by the willingness of people to stay away. And will those same people be willing to avoid consumption of any animal food that is not humanely raised? I wonder.

    Martha Sullivan
    Martha Sullivan subscribermember

    Yes, the hog gestation crates are barbaric as well, along with many factory farming practices. I believe we are in the midst of a movement forward in human consciousness. As recently posted by Yahoo Business: "The tides of history may be working against SeaWorld as people become more aware of the complex social structures and mental capacity of mammals. SeaWorld would be better off extending its brand beyond the use of orcas than it is defending keeping them in captivity. Beyond that and as hard as it may be, when it comes to shareholders the best move for SeaWorld is to take a cue from Frozen and simply 'Let it Go.'"

    Janet Shelton
    Janet Shelton subscriber

    @Chris Brewster As I have said in all my posts, it is not just Sea World.  It is about factory farming, which most people are so divorced from.  I grew up on a real farm and our animals suffered little during their life.  Many were slaughtered but until then, they were well-treated.  Looking back, I am sure it wasn't perfect, but hogs had a large area to roam, shelter, a family structure.  Chickens were truly free range, meaning they wandered the farm, but tended to stay reasonably close to the chicken coop and put up at night.  We cared about our animals, partly because we knew them personally and partly because our futures were entwined.  But a lot of forces have favored industrial farming over small/family farming.  There are so many issues with industrial farming, far too numerous to list. Sadly, the treatment of animals that become food isn't of interest to most people.  Yes, it's true.  Sea World is likely to keep on doing what they are doing unless people vote with their feet.  That is more likely to happen in the near future than help for all the nameless animals that suffer so people can eat too much cheap food.  Factory farming will continue as it is until people begin to understand it and its negative effects. Mostly, when they see that it affects their health via resistant infections, food poisoning, etc.  Otherwise, most are unlikely to care. 

    smjhunt subscriber

    @Jim Jones @Martha SullivanSpoken like a true male who would, oh that's right... never actually be put in situation where they would have to make that choice.

    smjhunt subscriber

    @Janet Shelton @Chris BrewsterIf people had a clear choice between buying meat from a place where the animals are treated humanely and ones where they were not I think they would gravitate towards the former but I don't think they are really given that choice.

    devadmin subscriber

    @Jim Jones This is clearly off-topic, but the one thing I will say is that having a child is not a chore that you shirk when it's "inconvenient." It's a responsibility, and one that some women are unable to fulfill.

    Many of the people who are against abortion are also against contraception. This isn't so much about "convenience" as it is about completely limiting the options of women.

    Martha Sullivan
    Martha Sullivan subscribermember

    "Rule #1 of public relations is if you don’t like what people are saying you should change the conversation. In a strange twist on that strategy SeaWorld Entertainment (SEAS) can’t seem to shut up about a film that’s sharply critical of the company and its practices ...

    "On Thursday SeaWorld delivered a complaint to the Labor Department claiming that an investigator examining the death of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau had inappropriate ties to animal rights activists and may have leaked confidential information to the makers of Blackfish. The complaint put SeaWorld and the documentary on the front page of the N.Y. Times business section; exactly where the company doesn’t want it to be...

    "In terms of PR, SeaWorld’s campaign seems designed to maximize the damage Blackfish can do to the company’s reputation. Now that SeaWorld is public it should follow the example set by fellow theme park and entertainment company Disney (DIS). Plagued for decades by an endless series of bizarre accusations and rumors Disney guards its reputation with the dual strategy of legal aggression and public silence. It’s one reason Disney comes in at #13 on Forbes magazine’s ranking of the most valuable corporate brands. Despite raising prices Disney’s parks were part of strong year of attendance across the industry for almost everywhere except SeaWorld.

    "Reputation, along with the hit movie Frozen also helps explain why Disney shares have gained more than 45% over the last year while shares of SeaWorld are just about flat since the end of its first day of trading last April.

    "The tides of history may be working against SeaWorld as people become more aware of the complex social structures and mental capacity of mammals. SeaWorld would be better off extending its brand beyond the use of orcas than it is defending keeping them in captivity. Beyond that and as hard as it may be, when it comes to shareholders the best move for SeaWorld is to take a cue from Frozen and simply 'Let it Go.'"    

    SallyNewell subscriber

    Thanks so much Voice of San Diego for the your series debating the place of SeaWorld and its central meme - making money from captive cetaceans. SeaWorld in this article is responding by saying that our core business of profitable cetacean slavery is ok because we are only a little bit bad, and elsewhere that we do a lot of good…. I would argue that this article and SeaWorld's responses miss the main point - that cetacean slavery is not ok, and that it is immensely cruel.SeaWorld could transition into a highly profitable marine themed, human adventure centred business with no loss of jobs or amenity to the local area, without imprisoning highly intelligent family oriented beings and cutting short their lives.

    Why would anyone decide to go to SeaWorld? From the glossy surface of SeaWorld's PR machine, parents are offered a pinnacle experience with a chance to connect with nature, a guaranteed feel good factor.

    Yet under the glossy facade there lies a horrifying tale of kidnappings murders and unbelievable cruelty. Started in 1970's SeaWorld ripped hundreds of Orcas from their families, many died. After weighted bodies washed up the outcry led to legislation that forbade US Orca captures. Despite the no captured policy many SeaWorld dolphins have Taiji DNA. 17 dolphins die per one kidnapped, the $160,000 or so paid for a "trained" dolphin underwrites this  barbaric genocidal slaughter, with agonising 10-20 minute deaths. The kidnapped dolphins are starved then force-fed with a mixture of drugs and dead fish, an then conditioned to do tricks with food deprivation. Many of these dolphins, or their offspring, find their way back to Western countries.

    SeaWorld demands sexual services from its  highly intelligent cetaceans, infamously inbreeding direct kin; and the sad results include stillbirths and maternal deaths, and SeaWorld pools echo with the long sad cries of mothers when their babies are taken away from them. Merely saying that Tilikum's offspring do not share his aggressive tendencies, or that SeaWorld has taken "extraordinary steps" and is evolving its training protocols ignores the fundamental issue that it is wrong to keep cetaceans in tank only several times bigger than their body lengths when they are used to swimming 40-100km per day in the wild and interacting with their whole families for all of their lives.

    Dolphins and whales are highly intelligent and call each other by name. Captive cetaceans have remembered their family members names even after twenty years. Their language is so complexly structured that we may have difficulty in deciphering it for quite some time, and it appears that they use non-linear maths everyday in acquiring food.

    SeaWorld imprisons cetaceans in tiny tanks, and shortens their lives. Instead of living 50-100 years, they are force-fed and drugged, or ripped from their mothers early and live only 9 years on average. It is so wrong to imprison such powerful magnificent sea beings in reflective tanks that effectively blind them.  

    SeaWorld defends its existence citing "conservation efforts and research" but they spend much less than 1% of their gross on conservation. SeaWorld has never released an Orca back to the wild. SeaWorld pays for severed Beluga male organs thus funding Beluga slaughter, for their inbreeding program. Going to SeaWorld is as educational about cetaceans as a visitor from Mars looking at humans in solitary confinement, or asking the Kings College Choir to sing Three Blind Mice. Where else do animals have to perform mindless tricks to even get fed except at a circus. This is not conservation, but exploitation! SeaWorld paid part owners Blackstone 657 Million dollars from less than one year's take. The directors have been dumping stock and SEAS is on the nose, as the general public wakes up to the awful cruelty at SeaWorld.  Being ripped from your family and being forced to swim in tiny circles rather in the open ocean to do silly tricks for human entertainment, and huge profits for SeaWorld owners, directors and shareholders, could be only be described as modern day slavery. Please respect yourself and never purchase a ticket to SeaWorld.

    Martha Sullivan
    Martha Sullivan subscribermember

    In its own words -- $10 million in 10 years, after $1.4 Billion revenue in 2013! Less than 0.001. What a conservation HERO! "Orlando, Fla. (September 2013) - Wild animals in need from around the world - from Antarctic penguins to sea turtle hatchlings on Florida's beaches - will benefit from more than $1.2 million in grants awarded this year by the non-profit SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund. Ninety-three wildlife research, habitat protection, animal rescue, and conservation education projects will benefit from the awards.

    These grants will support researchers who are studying migration movements of Antarctic penguin species, provide safer passage for turtle hatchlings making their way from the nest to the water, and help monitor the long-term health of dolphins in one of Florida's vital eco-systems.

    Since its inception 10 years ago, the Fund has granted more than $10 million in grants to protect wildlife and wild places."

    Janet Shelton
    Janet Shelton subscriber

    Jim has a good point about the cute or awesome animals.  People tend to like them better. It is easy to find footage of killer whales munching seals.  But then they have to eat, don't they?  And who are we to judge?  We eat about any animal.  The reason not to keep them is not because we like them but because there is no reason to imprison animals for our amusement. 

    bryanpease subscriber

    This article doesn't address the most important point made by the movie, which is that orcas are highly intelligent, social animals who we have no right to force to live in a bathtub their entire lives. The article touches on this with the point about orcas becoming aggressive due to captivity, but this is just a symptom of the larger problem, and the symptom may or may not present itself in specific cases. In ALL cases, the orcas held captive by SeaWorld are living tortured lives of depression and despair. The movie points out that they are actually more emotionally intelligent and sensitive than humans, having an entire part of the brain for this that we do not have. And the movie goes into detail about SeaWorld's disregard of the mother-baby bond, ripping babies from their screaming mothers. These are the most damning points made by the movie and why people should refuse to patronize SeaWorld, and why a great and humane city like San Diego should not tolerate their presence.

    Martha Sullivan
    Martha Sullivan subscribermember

    This statement by one of slain SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau's fellow trainers and a close friend is telling -- why would she say this if this had not happened before? "'With killer whales, when there are so many people around, it will just excite them even more,' she states in another powerful testament to the dangers of the job. 'They’ll latch onto the victim even greater.'"

    Janet Shelton
    Janet Shelton subscriber

    The real question is whether we believe it is okay to enslave any species other than our own.  Where is the line?  Looking backwards, blacks in our country and others now and over a long period of time, were judged to be sub-human or not "us" and therefore property. Today, all animals other than humans can be enslaved, regardless of their intelligence.  The list of questions in this article really imply that it is okay to enslave them as long as certain rules are followed.  They can be used to entertain, for experimentation, or many other uses.  The question really is what is okay.  Where is the line?  We have humans who are less intelligent than whales and dolphins.  Why the bright line that they must be protected but others can't be?  

    We are better understanding the capabilities of other species and the pain we cause them when we separate them from their families and their home and put them in what is essentially a prison cell.  Here I will say that it is particularly frustrating that so many people call it an emotional argument when we talk about their suffering.  I have a little rescue dog who was imprisoned in a small crate for 10 to 12 hours a day.  She is damaged by this.  I have had other dogs and it is clear that she will never fully recover.  I am sure that whales and dolphins are more damaged by their treatment.  

    The fact that we eat animals,mistreat them doesn't take away from the argument that higher intelligent animals ought not to be enslaved or eaten.  Personally, I don't eat any of them, but I do recognize that it is different to eat a snail than to eat a whale.  In some ways, it is better to eat them than to torture them, which I believe is what is happening here.

    The real question is not their treatment while enslaved but for what purposes it is okay to enslave a person or animal.  Just for fun?  To make money?  What does it say about us as a species that we do this?  

    Pedro Tavares
    Pedro Tavares

    I'm enjoying this series. I think it's perfectly summed up right here: "On rare occasions, killer whales can be dangerous. SeaWorld has taken extraordinary measures to control that risk. But it cannot eliminate it while facilitating the interaction between humans and whales that is integral to its mission." That mission: Making bucket loads of money.