SeaWorld confines animals in tiny, concrete tanks at marine abusement parks across the country. Often housed with incompatible tankmates, dolphins, whales, and other animals at the parks are regularly drugged in order to manage stress-induced aggressive behavior and relieve the endless monotony of swimming in circles. They break their teeth chewing on the metal bars and concrete sides of their tanks, and they’re forced to perform tricks for tourists in exchange for food—all in the name of “entertainment.” It’s a business built on the suffering of intelligent, social animals who are denied everything that’s natural and important to them.
SeaWorld—which owns all but one of the orcas held captive in the U.S.—has a long history of mistreating animals. In the wild, orcas are intelligent predators who work cooperatively in search of food. They share complex relationships in a matrilineal society. In some populations, they rarely leave their mother’s pod, but at SeaWorld, they have often been separated from their family. They have group-specific food preferences and behavior. These attributes, along with wild orca pods’ unique dialects, are considered a form of culture that is unrivaled by any species other than humans. Free orcas are among the fastest animals in the sea—they can swim as far as 140 miles in a day and dive deeply. But at SeaWorld, they swim in endless circles in small barren concrete tanks.
Orcas at SeaWorld are dying far short of their natural lifespans. Forty-one have died on the park’s watch, at an average age of only 14. Not one has reached the maximum lifespan of an orca in nature. Hundreds of dolphins, whales, pinnipeds, and other animals have also died.
In 2013, the documentary Blackfish was released to critical acclaim and became an instant phenomenon, causing stars such as Willie Nelson and Martina McBride to cancel concerts at SeaWorld, schools to cancel field trips there, and attendance to drop. The film exposes the park’s horrific capture of young orcas from their families in the ocean, the misery of their lifetime confinement to tiny tanks, and how this cruelty led the frustrated orca Tilikum—who died after 33 years in a concrete prison—to kill three human beings, even though orcas in the wild have never hurt a human.
In 2017, Tilikum died after decades in a tank, but the suffering of other animals continues. Other dolphins and whales are still being impregnated, sometimes forcibly after being drugged. A polar bear died after her companion of 20 years was torn away from her. Three infant marine mammals, including 3-month-old baby orca Kyara, died at the company’s parks within just three months. Kyara’s grandmother Kasatka followed suit only weeks later.