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“Splish! Splash!” The sound of bottlenose dolphins jumping and swimming around their tank excites a family at SeaWorld as they wait to experience their first encounter with the dolphins. Every year, bottlenose dolphins bring joy to hundreds of people in both captivity and the wild, but what do people truly know about them? Bottlenose dolphins are actually unique and interesting creatures.
Bottlenose dolphins are one of thirty-two species of marine dolphins (World Book 297). Their scientific name is Tursiops Truncatus. Males are usually longer and heavier than females. Bottlenose dolphins can grow to be thirteen feet long and weigh up to 600 pounds (Bottlenose Dolphins). This makes bottlenose dolphins the largest of the beaked…show more content…
If a dolphin catches a large fish, it will smack the fish on the ocean floor or the water’s surface to break it into smaller portions (McClintock). After a dolphin catches its prey, it uses its tongue to swallow the fish and push the water out of its mouth (Dolphin Research Center). Dolphins can eat up to thirty pounds of fish in one day, so it is helpful that they have three stomach compartments, similar to that of a cow (McClintock) (Lockley 69). Bottlenose dolphins find fish by using echolocation. This is when a dolphin sends out a beam of short sonar pulses from its melon, or forehead. The beam reflects off of fish or other objects and echoes back to the lower jaw. The echoes are then sent to the ear bones where they are characterized. Using echolocation, dolphins are able to locate prey that is buried up to one and a half feet under the sand (Cahill 140-141). Bottlenose dolphins are excellent swimmers. They can jump up to sixteen feet in the air. Three to seven miles per hour is their normal swimming speed, but they can reach speeds of eighteen to twenty-two miles per hour. Dolphins also porpoise, which is when a dolphin swims fast enough to repetitively come out of the water and back under the water in one swift movement. This uses less effort than swimming fast at the ocean’s surface. When dolphins swim in deep open water, they often dive. They dive
SeaWorld enslaves animals in tiny, concrete tanks at marine abusement parks around the country. Often housed in lonely isolation or with incompatible tankmates, dolphins, whales, and other animals at SeaWorld are regularly drugged 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 is natural and important to them. As a result, animals imprisoned by SeaWorld often die prematurely from stress and other captivity-related causes.
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 intricate relationships in a matrilineal society. In some populations, orcas rarely leave their mother’s pod, but at SeaWorld, they have often been separated. 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, and they swim as far as 140 miles every day. But at SeaWorld, they swim in endless circles in small barren concrete tanks.
It’s not surprising that these captive animals do not live as long as their wild cousins. While wild male orcas live an average of 30 years and up to 60 years and females an average of 50 years and up to more than 100, 41 orcas have died on SeaWorld’s watch at an average age of only 14. Not one has reached the maximum lifespan of an orca in nature. Hundreds of other dolphins, whales, and pinnipeds have also died, alongside countless other animals.
Although SeaWorld touts its conservation efforts in advertisements, it spends only about 3% of its profits on conservation. It’s a business first and foremost, and it chooses profit over the best interests of marine mammals. Animals who are members of endangered species are no happier in cages and tanks than are animals who aren’t endangered. The ultimate hope for those animals lies in protecting their habitats, not in life sentences in a tank.
PETA is employing a variety of tactics to help the animals held captive and forced to perform at SeaWorld’s parks, including public education and demonstrations, complaints to law-enforcement officials, corporate negotiations, shareholder activism, litigation, celebrity engagement, and more. PETA and many others are urging SeaWorld to modernize its business by ending the use of all animals and retiring the orcas, dolphins, and other animals to seaside sanctuaries, where they can thrive in the enrichment and diversity of the sea while still receiving care, feeding, and veterinary support.
In 2011, PETA, three marine-mammal experts, and two former SeaWorld trainers filed a suit that maintained that the five wild-caught orcas forced to perform at SeaWorld parks are being held as slaves in violation of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The filing—the first ever seeking to extend constitutional rights to nonhuman animals—named the five orcas as plaintiffs and sought their release into their natural habitats or to seaside sanctuaries. The suit was based on the plain text of the 13th Amendment, which prohibits the condition of slavery without reference to “person” or any particular class of victim. Although the court ruled against the orcas in this historic case, there is no question that these orcas are enslaved.
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 SeaWorld’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 cement prison—to kill three human beings, although orcas in the wild have never hurt a human.
Since Blackfish, SeaWorld’s attendance has tanked. Nine of its highest-ranking executives—including its CEO—have stepped down amid hundreds of layoffs, numerous acts—including Willie Nelson, Cheap Trick, REO Speedwagon, Barenaked Ladies, and 38 Special—have canceled performances at SeaWorld’s concert series, and celebrities such as Harry Styles, Tommy Lee, and Joan Jett are speaking out against the company. Dozens of corporate partners—including Alaska Airlines, JetBlue, Mattel, Southwest Airlines, STA Travel, and Taco Bell—have severed their ties with SeaWorld. And it has faced more than half a dozen lawsuits from shareholders, including a securities class-action lawsuit alleging that it misled investors about the impact of Blackfish and the unethical treatment of the orcas at its parks.
In 2016, faced with plunging stock and impending state and federal legislation to ban orca breeding, SeaWorld was forced to end its sordid orca-breeding program—which has since been made illegal in California—because according to its CEO “the data and trends showed it was either a SeaWorld without whales or a world without SeaWorld.” Still, SeaWorld finished the year with its lowest attendance since Blackfish was released in 2013.
In 2017, Tilikum is dead, following decades of exploitation in the marine-mammal abusement industry, but the suffering of other animals continues. Other dolphins and whales are still being impregnated, sometimes forcibly after being drugged; a polar bear recently 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; and Kyara’s grandmother Kasatka followed suit only weeks later.
SeaWorld acknowledges that public opinion has turned against using animals for entertainment, but unless it wants to end up shutting down, like Ringling Bros. circus, it must release the long-suffering animals to seaside sanctuaries. Captivity is killing these animals, and they deserve to be safely returned to their ocean home while still benefiting from humans’ care for as long as they might need.
To help all animals held captive by SeaWorld, please never buy a ticket, visit the parks, or support SeaWorld in any other way. Urge SeaWorld to move the orcas and other animals to seaside sanctuaries where they can live safely with the benefit of human care, dignity, and peace.