This post has been updated.
When SeaWorld fans defend the park against “Blackfish,” they tend to bring up what they see as a big logical inconsistency: If SeaWorld is bad, then so are all zoos and aquariums.
Indeed, zoos have largely ducked the criticism leveled at SeaWorld in the wake of the critical documentary, though they too house animals away from their natural habitats. Still, SeaWorld opponents mostly place zoos in a different moral category.
So what makes the institutions so different? Here are a few key distinctions.
SeaWorld and zoos both put animals on display – but their approach usually differs.
Go to most zoos today and you’ll likely see animals walking around the park or demonstrations that reveal some of their natural behaviors.
What you’re less likely to see are the elaborate shows that are a hallmark of SeaWorld, where killer whales catapult out of the water, splash visitors and even dance with their trainers.
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The non-profit argument is silly. What is wrong with making a profit? That is what America is all about and if you can get the profit making organizations to do good, as Sea World does with their rescue and conservation programs, then that is a great thing. Pro-bono work by a high-powered law firm is a good thing, would you deprive poor people of it and force them to go to inferior public defenders? Then why deprive the injured animals and endangered species of Sea World's help. A line has to be drawn somewhere and in my mind the PETA radicals go too far. I think animal cruelty should not be tolerated, people or institutions that abuse and hurt animals should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, but no one can convince me that Sea World is abusing or hurting animals.
Also, there are many cases of things we do as human beings in the name of animal preservation that can be considered cruel. Every animal rights organization (except maybe PETA) advocates spaying or neutering pets to control the pet population, but certainly that could be considered mutilation of the animal. I have three cats which I keep indoors because that prevents illnesses, getting eaten by a coyote, or getting run over by a car, but it could be argued that by limiting their freedom I am somehow being cruel to my cats. These types of trade-offs have to be made.
We as a species are doing many things similar to Sea World and the Zoo that seem to go unnoticed.
Trapping and moving wolves. Wolves are trapped and moved not only a new geography, but also to a new ecosystem, then allowed to die or thrive based on their ability to adapt. When they thrive they are subject to trapping or being hunted in the new location.
Fencing and feeding elk in national Parks. Because the elk are the symbol of Yellowstone and Grand Teton Nation parks they are restricted (fenced) from their natural migration to lower elevations and are “kept” near Jackson Hole. They are fed hay through the winter in what amounts to an elk feedlot.
Wild Horse Capture. . . I could go on and on but the point it we as a species have co-evolved with animals that we use for food, work, enjoyment or to just feel better about ourselves. The difference between keeping domesticated dogs & cats or elk & orcas is not that great. Let’s assume that we have an ethical obligation to all living things. When we have them live in close proximity to us we have an obligation to make their lives as pleasant as possible.
Since orcas live longer at SeaWorld then they do in the wild I believe that we have achieved that for them.
Personally, SeaWorld bothers me but I am also uncomfortable with some exhibits in zoos. Primarily I don't like the Ape exhibits, especially the gorilla exhibits. I'm not too keen on the larger animal exhibit such as the elephants, big cats, and bears. I guess in retrospect, there is a lot about zoos I don't like, too. I did go to one zoo that I thought was wonderful. Up in Big Bear, there is a little zoo where all of the animals are rescue animals meaning animals have been injured or have other reasons that they can not live in the wild any longer. The animals did not perform ... except for this one bear that enjoyed slowly walking down to his watering hole, turning around and taking a dump to the sounds of eeeewwwwwws from the zoo's visitors. The animals were old, or injured but they seemed to be well taken cared of. I enjoyed that little zoo.
But the animals were not being exploited. I think they were being helped.
"San Diego’s world-famous zoo and many others like it are nonprofits that ostensibly reinvest any profits into their animals. That simple fact sends a powerful message to many who love zoos but now refuse to go to SeaWorld." This statement is total false, The zoo spends more money investment in their horticulture plant life and trees than animals. They are the largest seller of hamburgers and sodas in the nation, and if you think the Balboa Park Anniversary committee was bad for business, wait until everyone finds out whats really going on at the World famous San Diego Zoo,...
I enjoy reading your Seaworld articles Lisa. I have never understood why people would support other zoos and Disney, but would criticize Seaworld in the blink of an eye. I think those people are just giving excuses.Yes, some zoos do not have animal shows and are non-profit. I have witnessed these for profit zoos close their doors because they did not make enough funds to keep their doors open one year. To the people who support Disney's Animal Kingdom- Disney is all about profit! They do not educate, but rather entertain you( Not all AR activists have defended Disney). Back to the topic. The majority of Seaworld's ticket and merchandise revenue helps their state of the art tanks, and enclosures. It takes money to run the park. if they were non profit, their residents may not have been living in the best of conditions. Some of you may comment and say, They should not be in those nasty conditions! How do you know they are nasty? Have you been there recently? Yes Seaworld fans defend Seaworld regularly and cite its animal conservation efforts. As someone who lives and observes Seaworld in Florida, I can tell you that Seaworld is the first one on call. Ultimately, I think the people defending zoos have a weak argument. If Seaworld were to end their orca shows and captivity, they will not be satisfied. They will ultimately ask for all animals to be released from captivity. If you are anti-captivity and admit both Seaworld and zoos should not have any animals in "cages", good for you! There is no "gray" area. If you are just against Seaworld, please stop saying your "anti-captivity" and instead opt for the term, "Anti-Seaworld". It makes your argument less confusing.
Look at the size of these animals. Now look at the size of the tanks that confine them. Now imagine spending your entire life in a garden shed, occasionally being trotted out to perform a few stupid human tricks in exchange for your daily meals.
One needs to keep in mind that Blackfish was a one-sided advocacy film, not a documentary about orcas. When one notes that there were only negatives shown in the film, then one can recognize the goal is to remove animals from people. As for SeaWorld using animals for entertainment, that is not a crime or a sin, especially since the animals are active and appear to enjoy what they are doing.
I do understand that individuals who have compassion and empathy for animals may be persuaded to believe a lot of negative stuff because these negatives are well prepared propaganda pieces...designed to catch one's emotions and stay on that emotional level. This is one of the most successful tactics of the animal rights radicals...to work on the emotions of the public so that the members of the public BELIEVE them and SUPPORT their agenda of eliminating SeaWorld, or circuses or zoos. and, eventually pets and animal agriculture.
When you read the published statements of the animal rights radicals, you can see that they have a dedication to remove animals from humans. Note these interesting facts about animal rights activities, quote:
Approximately 220 illegal AR extremist incidents were reported in the US from 1990 through 2012. Incidents included protests and demonstrations, break-ins and animal theft and acts of physical violence such as mailing HIV-infected razor blades and planting incendiary devices. From 1990–99, most AR extremist incidents targeted academic research institutions (61 per cent), while the remainder targeted companies (17 per cent), individuals (nine per cent) and others (13 per cent). A shift occurred in 2000–12, when more incidents targeted homes and individuals’ property (46 per cent) and fewer targeted academic research institutions (13 per cent). end quote
The bottom line is that animal rights radicals want to remove animals from humans!
Assemblymember Mark Stone of AD 29, home of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, is Co-Sponsoring AB 2140, the Orca Welfare & Safety Act. In a letter to a constituent, Assy Stone said, "I share your view that the welfare of these magnificent, intelligent and socially complex creatures cannot be adequately protected while confined for a lifetime in small, shallow tanks for the sake of human amusement."
Much ado about very little. "Blackfish" is the documentary equilavent of "An Inconvenient Truth" -- which is to take a subject and interject enough Helium to overplay what may even be a serious subject. Someday.
In the short term it is making a mockery of the subject. Next, the Eco-Freaks will say that we should not have dog and cat pets.
Oops.. They already do!
I have been going to both the Zoo and Sea World for over forty-five years. Here are my reasons why I will continue to support the Zoo versus Sea World.
(1) The Zoo's nonprofit status matters to me in the sense that almost everything I buy at the park will go to benefit the park's animals, plants, and or employees. Who benefits from the $10.00 hamburger I buy at Sea World: the animals or Blackstone's shareholders?
(2) Sea World, to me, is an amusement park that just happens to have animals. (Longtime Sea World goers like know that this was not always the case.) Its conservation message is drowned out by the beer hall, the roller coasters, water park, and constant music pumping throughout the park. The Zoo, on the other hand, reminds the viewer at each animal exhibit of the status of each animal in the wild. It details conservation efforts being made to preserve endangered and threatened species and the importance of those efforts. The two rides it offers helps guests better view the park and animals. The "end game" of both parks is quite evident by the types of displays and rides and ambience they offer. I have always preferred the tranquil, more peaceful, conservationist goals of the Zoo.
(3) While it pains me to see the elephants in their bigger, newer exhibit at the Zoo, they are endangered animals in the wild. I get why the Zoo is trying to breed them and to preserve the species. As for the elephant show at the Wild Animal Park, I could go either way on whether that show goes away or stays. It is not nearly as loud or flashy as the Shamu or Dolphin shows. At Sea World, orcas and dolphins are plentiful in the wild. There is no need to keep those animals in captivity.
That said, I do not want Sea World to go out of business. It does wonderful work in saving the lives of injured wildlife and returning them back to the wild and keeping in-park those animals that, through disease or injury, are no longer able to defend themselves from predators in the wild. Sea World is a great place for kids and adults to learn about animals. I know this from first-hand experience. They ought to be spend more of their budget talking up their nonprofit, conservation efforts and less time advertising their Atlantis or Manta Ray roller coasters.
Sea World does not need shows filled with jumping and spinning orcas, dolphins, and beluga whales to entertain us humans or to educate the public. When those shows go away and Sea World no longer keeps captive these beautiful migratory animals in pools that are much too small for what their needs, then, and only then, I would consider returning to Sea World.
Something tells me, however, not to hold my breath on this ever happening.
I went to the San Diego Zoo when I first moved here. My first thought was how sad it was. These beautiful animals have been taken from their natural environment and encased in this "zoo". All so humans can exploit them for profit.
I'm a native Floridian and if you want to see Orca's and swim with Dolphins for NO CHARGE in their natural environments go to Florida. Swimming with Dolphins happens on a daily basis. Surfers love them because they keep the sharks away. Certain times during the year you can see several Pods of Orca's swimming off the coast of New Symrna Beach or Sabastian Inlet all in their natural habitat. You don't HAVE to go to Sea World or zoos to enjoy nature.
Walking through the SD Zoo I wanted to cry. The poor elephants are in a confined area no room to wonder. The tigers, leopards, lions Panda's have nice enclosures, but they're still enclosures. the whole park is a giant prison.
I've never gone back after that first visit. I dropped my membership with the Zoo. When I have friends or family from back east, its the last place I will EVER take them.
I agree with the person that said a majority of these animals and mammals cannot be set free in their natural habitat. So I vote that they stop trapping new animals. Unfortunately the animals and mammals in captivity now will die in captivity. Don't let this happen to another others who are free now!!
And BTW please leave the poor seals alone in La Jolla. I am so tired of hearing people moan and groan about 100 ft of beach. Geeze you have the entire coast of California to do whatever you want. Leave the childrens pool to the seals and nature.
Regarding the argument related to the profit motive, it is interesting to note how much profit there really can be in a venture like this. The private equity group Blackstone bought Sea World for a reported $2.3 billion in 2009. Over the years, annual profit varied. The New York Times reported that it made a profit of $77.4 million in 2012. In April 2013 Bloomberg news reported that Blackstone raised $702 million when it took the company public by selling shares in its investment It then sold more shares in December for around $540 million.
Blackstone has recently filed to reduce its holdings of the company’s stock to 25% by selling 15 million more shares, valued around $500 million according to Fox Business http://fxn.ws/1iLImZT. Sea World shares remain above the value achieved at their initial public offering in April 2013. Observing how Blackstone is handling all this, it appears to me that they are aiming to exit this investment entirely as soon as reasonably possible without negatively impacting the stock price (i.e. their investment). The Blackfish controversy may have caused them to accelerate this process or maybe it has had the opposite effect, but unless the stock takes a dive, it looks like their 2009 investment will pay off rather handsomely. Time will tell.
It’s valuable to consider the obvious: SeaWorld is not a human being wrestling with moral concerns. It’s been run as an investment by one owner (Blackstone) for the past five years. That owner no doubt intended from the start to sell it by taking it public (selling shares) as soon as it could for maximum profit. That’s what private-equity firms like Blackstone do. They are not in it for reasons related to love of animals or the desire to own amusement parks. Companies like Blackstone are not in it to be long term managers. Of late, they have been trying to manage public perception to maximize their investment. So far they’ve done well in that regard.
There is really very little difference between SD Zoo and SeaWorld and I wholeheartedly support both the educational and entertainment value. I am more concerned with the fair treatment of humans and worry the radical movement that want the whales released will not stop until there are no animals held in captivity at all including zoos, aquariums and pet stores. I am proud that I am higher on the evolutionary chain than a gold fish . . .
I would suggest that the role of zoos in conserving and displaying animals is qualitatively different than what Sea World engages in, at least in the last few decades. Few if any quality zoos any longer utilize the bare cages of the bad old days -- the recent trend is toward showing an animal, where possible, in some facsimile of its actual environment. Tiger River at SD Zoo is an example, plus their gorilla enclosure and many other displays. A lot of thought goes into thinking about animal enrichment and trying to make conditions approach as 'natural' as possible to elicit natural behaviors from the animals to the extent feasible. Yes, it's still a zoo and not the wild, and I'm only talking about the best zoos. Sea World cannot possibly argue that keeping orcas in giant concrete tanks can in any way be similar to their wild habitat. Quite the contrary.
So while I enjoy our zoo, which has been on the progressive edge in animal conservation, biological research (i.e. it's 'frozen zoo' which maintains a DNA library of endangered species) and wildlife habitat preservation around the world as part of its inherent mission, I wouldn't attend Sea World if you sent me free tickets.
The zoo is like a prison, especially for the cats and bears. Ever notice how most pace back and forth and back and forth? It's called caged behavior or abnormal repetitive behavior. I don't think they're having fun.
Reminds me of doin' time at Mule Creek State Prison
Personally, I prefer to see large animals in a large habitat. Since I can't go to Africa, I can go to the Wild Animal Park and see herd animals in large pens with ability to have social contact with each other and other herd animals. Keeping predators such as lions, tigers in small, confined areas is not doing a service to the animal, even if the animal can't go back to the wild due to injury or other reason. Most people will never see such predators or rare animals except in zoos. The hard thing is captivity for killer whales. Sea World can't give them big pens (several acres in size). But, most people are never going to see orcas in the wild. I have heard that some orcas held in captivity can't go back to the wild for various reasons; don't know if that's true. I have gone to Sea World and don't like the commercialization of the setting in which the orcas live, That seems to be what the viewers of the shows want, so maybe we have to hold the viewing public responsible. If they don't like what they see, they won't go and won't spend money at Sea World. I understand the need for Sea World to make money or they would not be in business. The people who go to Sea World seem to enjoy the experience. I noticed when I went that most people skip through the educational exhibits and head for the shows, which may be an observation about the interests of middle-school age kids. It doesn't seem to be cruel or hard on the animals except for the size of the pens they are kept in. It seems to me more dangerous for the humans dealing with these animals than it is for the animals. Humans keep all kinds of animals for their own amusement, companionship, entertainment and some people think that's not what animals are on earth for and would like to stop the use of animals for food, burden (in the case of horses or camels), and would like to see all animals free and doing their own activities. Such views are not realistic. I keep horses for recreation and at our stable there are quite a few geriatric horses, living well into their 20s and even 30s (which is very old for a horse). These horses would not be alive if they were free in the wild. They would be dead by the time they were 15 to 20 years old. So, the horses enjoy the good life, ridden lightly, turned out, groomed, bathed in the summertime and fed, given veterinary care and immunizations. Those who think that's cruel don't understand the life of prey animals in the wild. Animals in zoos and at profit-making shows such as Sea World get that kind of care. Sure, some aspects of their confinement are not natural to them, but I don't think it's cruel. Those who want to force the end of orca confinement through govt action need to ask themselves what will happen to the orcas if it is considered illegal to confine them. Somebody below here mentioned race horses. If there was a ban on horse racing, race horses would go the way of the mares which used to be maintained for urine harvest for Premarin. There are lots of really cruel things done to animals (bull fighting, cock fighting, dog fighting, the Mexican rodeo). Those who are running to the legislature to ban orcas in captivity might be better directing their attention to something that is REALLY cruel. Get some better penalties for animal cruelty. Better yet, go ahead and picket in front of the organization you don't like and publish why you don't like what is done. If you can convince a lot of people not to go to these events, those events will die.
A SeaWorld spokesman just sent me a short email about the notion that the company sinks less of its revenues into animals than a non-profit zoo might.
Spokesman David Koontz emphasized that animal care is SeaWorld's No. 1 priority. "We reinvest quite significantly into our animals and animal programs, their living environments, their medical care, etc."
@Martha Sullivan So that's a good thing!
An aquarium in Mission Bay that handled and cared for stranded marine animals and wildlife was part of the City's deal with the State for the public Tidelands.
Seaworld is required to show up to care for stranded and hurt marine animals along San Diego beaches. They have no choice.
Lisa, have you investigated the background of the author of the Assembly bill?
After all, our Speaker,Yee, is a passionate advocate of gun control ,while privately importing weapons , including grenade launchers into California.
I think the profit vs. non-profit angle is a stretch; no, call it what it is, a red herring!
All I can say about this is to watch what P.E.T.A. does if they are successful. Circus elephants might be next, and if you want a direct Sea World analogy, how about race horses? They are not only employed in the evil “for profit” sector, they are exploited shamelessly. They’re forced to train endlessly to improve their “performance”, which translates to time over an oval shaped track for the benefit of a public that screeches at them throughout the event, totally oblivious to their sensibilities. If they lose they are retired, if they get injured, they’re glue!
@Bill Bradshaw I doubt there's very many people worried about the orcas at SeaWorld who wouldn't also want to eliminate horse racing, circus performances with animals and other things you're thinking of.
@Bill Bradshaw PETA already is against circus elephants, and they have a new campaign against horse racing. I saw a flyer a couple of weeks ago.
It’s also worthwhile to note the public outcry over recent practices by the Copenhagen Zoo, recently killing a healthy giraffe, then, this week, four lions. If enough people think the behavior is objectionable or especially egregious, they speak up. I think zoos are held to a high standard, and when that's violated, it's upsetting:
Somewhat relevant, or at least interesting, is this recent edition of RadioLab on zoos. It’s a good discussion of the evolution of human ethics and treatment of captive animals: