SeaWorld where is the “Science”?

On SeaWorld's own website they claim that their “… published studies on killer whales showcase SeaWorld’s larger commitment to animal welfare and conservation … (and) complement and strengthen research efforts in the field”.

So a challenge was set and we wanted to find out the extent of this "larger commitment".

First stop was the SeaWorld website itself where the number of scientific papers published since they opened their doors in 1964 came to a grand total of 49, so just over one paper a year. In our searches we also found several papers listed on both the SeaWorld and the Hubbs Research Institute pages, so it's worth remembering (as we'll come back to Hubbs and their publications in the next blog) that the numbers published by both are actually less than presented.

Looking at these scientific publications in a bit more depth we find that 36 of the 49 (74%) focus on whales and dolphins in their care. Importantly, only 14 (39%) of these have been written since 2000 whilst most of them (61%) were written back in the 1980's and 90's with some dating as far back as 1976 - and that paper was on live capture techniques of killer whales, as was the next published paper in 1978.

Other scientific publications (if you can call instructions on how to capture killer whales science) by SeaWorld included papers on the development of artificial insemination, the killer whale placenta and food consumption of a captive killer whale. The majority of the remaining papers focus on a variety of diseases and physiological problems encountered by captive whales and dolphins.

The publications therefore mostly focus on information relating to reproduction, development, immunology, metabolism, pathology, behaviour and communication, however SeaWorld continues to claim that the work helps to shed light on problems facing wild animals, including pollution, strandings and food supply. A 1998 review of SeaWorld's publications by the American Cetacean Society concluded that the scientific findings could be misleading for management of wild killer whales as their blood chemistry, physiology and disease profiles differ from their captive counterparts.

Only 13 of the 49 publications (26%) are based on information gleaned from wild whales and dolphins and almost all of these focus on killer whales in Iceland and Norway - coincidentally, this is also where the papers on wild killer whales capture techniques are written about. To add to this, 12 of the 13 papers were written BEFORE 1988 – coincidentally around the time that the last wild killer whale was captured in Iceland.

Contrary to SeaWorld’s claim that that their captive studies "complement and strengthen research efforts in the field", we have struggled to find ANY recent “research efforts in the field” and NONE of the publications that we came across speak directly to the “conservation” of killer whales in the wild. With an organisation that makes as much money as it does off the backs of their captive killer whales and one that is under an increasing amount of scrutiny and public pressure, you would think that they would be only too keen to flaunt their science for all to see, however, as others have noted, perhaps these publications are just not easy to find?

Going straight to the source, a Zoology student linked to BDMLR/OrcaAware (who themselves have recently undertaken a similar dissection of SeaWorld science) recently got in touch with SeaWorld explaining that she would like to learn more about killer whales and asking which journals she would be able to find their publications in. SeaWorld's response raises some eyebrows - "Our research, in general, is not available for people outside the zoological society to read and review. Although we do an extensive amount of research there is little we can directly point you to."  

We can only ask you to come to your own conclusions about this statement! 

As a result of these findings, we openly and publicly question SeaWorld’s claims that they have a "larger commitment to animal welfare and conservation" and that their captive studies “complement and strengthen research efforts in the field”.



I hear Green Goblin owns Sea World

Thanks Katrin and apologies for linking you to either organisation - although both are great. I was referring to a post made on the ORCA Aware/BDMLR where it noted the e-mail and assumed (wrongly - apologies again) that there was a link between you and them. Thanks though for your efforts as it all helps us to unravel the mystery of the "science" that they claim they are undertaking. I'm more than happy to credit you directly if you would like to provide me with further details?

No problem, far from being offended, just didn't want anyone to think I'm claiming to be associated when I'm not! I'm happy leaving it as is apart from that. I'm just glad my email could be helpful, I never thought it would actually serve a bigger purpose when I wrote it!

I have such mixed feelings about this because,personslly, i have the love for marine life that I have because of visits to the park as a child. Also, am I correct in that they no longer, and have not for many many years, take orcas from the wild? It is a for profit company and they do a great deal for rehabilitation of wild animals and the money from their parks goes into that service, but I do not believe it is acceptable,especially in this day, to ever remove a marine mammal out of the wild unless for rehabilitation

This is true. They are not allowed to catch wild orcas and haven't been for 30 years. So instead the have a breeding program that has a 50% still born rate, the average captive born whale has a median age of 6.5 years and they inbreed their whales. Just recently they impregnated a orca with the sperm of her son.

Russia is capturing orca for the captive industry.

Great article - thanks for the reference!
And great to see you are still following this cause Katrin - stay in touch.

Nothing in that article surprises me at all. I would like to respond to the comment from Jamie, SeaWorld have in fact taken Orca's and Dolphins from the wild quite recently. They have used the term "rescue". They claim any "rescued Orca will be returned to the wild once fit to do so. However, there is currently a female Orca called Morgan who they have sent to a awful facility in Tenerife where she is likely to spend the rest of what will be her short life I have no doubt. Although SeaWorld do not own the facility, they do however "own" Morgan and are refusing to return her to her family. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but I personally do not see how anyone can learn anything by watching imprisoned Cetaceans performing stunts for food. I am pleased you do not agree with taking Orcas and Dolphins from the wild, but it is also wrong to breed them in captivity.

free for orcas