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An experience at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom

September 12, 2010

Growing up in rural Pennsylvania in the early 70s, a yearly summer outing was to visit SeaWorld in Ohio.  I didn’t know where “Shamu” came from nor was I aware there are legal requirements marine parks had to abide by to keep marine mammals.  About a year ago, I came across a story about the orca at the Miami Seaquarium, Lolita and how her tank was illegally sized according to the AWA.  I then began to research the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) to see what laws marine parks are to comply with in order to publicly display marine mammals.  The agency who is to enforce the AWA is the USDA’s Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).  APHIS is required to conduct yearly inspections at parks that are housing marine mammals to ensure they are complying with the law. Anything found non-compliant is to be reported and corrected within a certain time frame. I found on APHIS’s website that one can do a search to view a particular facility’s inspection report. Since I live fairly close to Six Flags Discovery Kingdom where Shouka, the orca live, I decided to check out their inspection reports.

I found on May 18, 2008, APHIS found Six Flags indirectly non-compliant of Section 3.103 of the AWA for having no shade structure over Shouka’s back pool area. Section 3.103 requires natural or artificial shelter shall be provided for all marine mammals kept outdoors to afford them protection from the weather or from direct sunlight. The inspection report reads:

Shouka stadium: Back area: there are no shade structures in the three pools in the back of the facility. Shade structures need to be added over or around the pools. This is necessary for the protection from the sunlight for the health and well-being of the animals.

To be corrected: January 1, 2009

On March 4, 2009, APHIS’s inspection report on Six Flags found “no non-compliant items identified”. With this statement, one would come to the conclusion that Six Flags built a shade structure around Shouka’s back pools. Something inside told me this was not true.

So I asked a friend at work who has season passes to Six Flags if Shouka’s back pool area had any shade structure and she told me she didn’t remember seeing one.  I thought she must be wrong because APHIS noted there was nothing non-compliant found with the marine mammal area last year.  Now, I haven’t been to Six Flags for about five years and really didn’t want to go back after learning so much about cetaceans in captivity over the last year.  Yet, I felt inclined to see for myself and document the absence of a shade structure to submit to APHIS if my friend was correct. 

My next day off work, reluctantly I went to Six Flags and my friend was correct, no shade structure.

 Nothing had changed at Shouka’s stadium since the last time I went there in 2005. So how can it be that every year APHIS is to ensure this area has shade, yet never noted this on any inspection report until 2009? And still today, there is no shade structure and Six Flags is found by APHIS compliant with the AWA! How is that?

As you can see Shouka’s whole stadium is open to the sunlight. The only shade was right in front the trainer’s platform. A bottlenose dolphin, Cupid, was gated inside the middle back pool all day with no protection from direct sunlight. Shouka and the other bottlenose dolphin, Merlin, were taking refuge in the only shade offered directly next to the trainer’s platform.

After documenting the absence of the shade structure, we decided to watch Shouka’s show. Before the show started, a trainer came out to have the kids in the audience answer questions about killer whales and each kid was to get a stuffed orca if they answered correctly. What I found particularly disturbing was after the trainer asked a kid a question, he whispered in each kid’s ear the answer as the kids stood there dumbfounded not knowing the answer.  Some “educational” experience!

Watching the show was difficult. Shouka and Merlin did a few jumps, spins and tail slaps. It was quite a pathetic display of such beautiful animals. In the middle of the show, one of the trainers brought Shouka over to the slide out in front of the audience to paint a picture. Yes, paint a picture with this triangle plastic mouthpiece that has a paintbrush attached to it. The trainer dips the paintbrush in some paint and puts it in the mouthpiece for Shouka to hold in her mouth while the trainer holds a piece of canvass in front of Shouka. As Shouka painted the picture for an entire 8 seconds, the trainer was saying “This is stimulating for Shouka. It keeps her thinking and helps her to be nice and creative and it’s also an opportunity for you to take home a beautiful piece of art“.  The 8 second masterpiece sold for $50 after the show.

After the show, a trainer displayed a bunch of paintings, not only from Shouka & Merlin, but a whole variety of animals in their park. People lined up to buy the paintings ranging from $20 to $50. The trainer said that 100% of the profits went to continuing education for the training staff. What?? Using captive animals to pay for the trainer’s education. Is Six Flags so desperate they have to use their animals in yet another form of exploitation after being on the verge of bankruptcy last year?

At this point, I wanted to leave but decided to walk over to where people were gathered watching Shouka and Merlin hanging out near the edge of the pool.  I stood there while a trainer fed Shouka and Merlin chunks of ice for about 20 minutes, no fish, only ice. The trainer was prompt to give Shouka piece after piece, yet poor Merlin continually had his mouth open only to be thrown a little piece every now and then. And half the time the trainer just threw the ice towards Merlin, not even getting close to his mouth.

As Shouka was eating her ice, she happened to turn around and open her mouth. As I looked at her bottom teeth, I noticed they were basically gone, nothing but flat, grounded down teeth. I could not believe that a 17 year old killer whale had NO teeth! I also noticed some of the flattened teeth had holes in them as if Shouka had just been to the dentist.  The lady next to me asked the trainer “Where are Shouka’s teeth?” His response was “She grinds them down herself”.  I stood there thinking “did she put the holes in them too?”  I had to leave after this, saddened by what I just witnessed.  After coming home, I came to find out that it’s routine in the captive industry that trainer’s drill holes in the orca’s teeth with a Dremel drill. The whales are conditioned to accept the noise, vibration and pain associated with drilling through a tooth with no local anesthetic.  A “Fun fact” about Shouka on Six Flag’s website is “Shouka likes to have her teeth cleaned twice a day“.  Is it really “fun” for Shouka that the reason she has to get her teeth cleaned twice a day is because if the fish pieces are not flushed out of the holes that are drilled in her teeth, she will develop an infection? Why isn’t this posted on their website?

We then went to see Shouka and Merlin at the underwater viewing windows. Shouka’s underwater viewing area was so disgustingly dirty that you could barely even see her inside.

The windows were covered in this nasty long term algae growth. Now I understand that algae growth is normal, but this was gross. The bottom of the pool was covered with some type of thick dirt build up that you could barely see the blue tank bottom. There was an abundance of fish pieces and animal waste floating all around in the tank that it surely had not been cleaned on a regular basis. It was heartbreaking to see, or should I say barely see, a highly intelligent species living in such filth! The other tanks in the park also had very murky water clarity, but Shouka’s tank was the only one that had algae ridden windows and nasty growth on the bottom.

The day did not turn out the way I expected. Numerous times throughout the day, I wanted to leave but continued just taking pictures and video of the animals as I was appauled by the conditions these animals were living in. After reviewing everything when I came home, not only was the absence of a shade structure the only thing I found non-compliant with the AWA, there were numerous violations my pictures and videos revealed. APHIS needs to step up to the plate and take some responsibility for ensuring these animals are being protected in the manner the law was written. It is already bad enough that all the animals at Six Flags are housed amongst a bunch of screaming kids and rollar coasters, they could at least be provided with clean tanks and adequate space.

Please take a moment to watch the video I made documenting the various violations of the AWA I found on one 7 hour visit to Six Flags. Write or call APHIS and ask them to do their job.


After this visit to Six Flags, I sent a 17 page letter to the USDA/APHIS regarding the violations of the AWA found in the above video.  I received a letter from APHIS stating they would look into my concerns. On November 10, 2010, APHIS conducted an inspection at Six Flags which they were found in violation of the AWA for

1. NO perimeter fence around Shouka’s back pool area where there is only a handrail separating the public from the tanks.  To be corrected by Feb. 1, 2011

2. NO shade structure for Shouka’s back pool area. To be corrected by May 30, 2011

3. Only 3:1 human/dolphin ratio for Swim with the Dolphin program. No 4:1 ratio any longer

You can view the inspection report by clicking here

77 Comments leave one →
  1. NotIgnorant permalink
    December 30, 2010 9:25 pm

    The wild has no shade.
    What makes you think these animals in these artificial habitats need protection from the natural sun?
    Do you have any proof of the affects to Shouka and Cupid from the sun? Where are the photos of their skin burning off?

    • December 31, 2010 12:59 am

      The wild DOES offer shade. In the wild, killer whales and dolphins can dive to deep depths of the ocean which is shaded from the suns rays. In the wild, they do not spend the majority of their time on the surface as they do in captivity.

      Secondly, Section 3.103 of the Animal Wefare Act requires natural or artificial shelter shall be provided for all marine mammals kept outdoors to afford them protection from the weather or from direct sunlight. IT IS THE LAW!! Our government stated in their inspection report that Six Flags was not complying with the law.

      What makes you think they don’t need protection from the sun? It is also a known fact that trainers do put sunscreen on killer whales & dolphins to protect their skin from the sun.

      • NotIgnorant permalink
        December 31, 2010 4:35 pm

        The wild does not offer shade. Are you saying in water that is 55 degrees diving 2 feet down, you are still going to feel the sunlight enough to get burnt? lmao, Shouka, and cetaceans all over the world in captivity, can escape the sun by sitting 1 foot, to however deep their pool is below the water.

        Natural or artificial shelter huh?
        Mundo Marino fails.
        SeaWorld San Diego fails.
        Marineland Antibes fails.
        SeaWorld Orlando, San Antonio, and LP fail because the whales don’t choose what pool they want to be in since only one or 2 pools has partial or full shade.
        MarineLand Canada fails.
        Miami Seaquarium fails. (even though for the majority of the day the stadium cover prevents sun from shining throughout the day)
        Kamogawa SeaWorld fails.

        Hm, seems like every park fails.
        You got your work cut out for yah.

        And no, trainers do not put sunscreen on the animals. I’ve been to marine parks with cetaceans countless times and I’ve never seen it happen. Show me at least 5 photos from every park of a cetacean with a sunburn alrighty?
        And now …drum role please..
        killer whales spend 90% of their life at the surface. They spend most of their time at taking breaths. Ever seen videos of them in the wild, they surface after surface . omg! Tell AWA to order shade to be giving to wild orcas. NOW!

        Oh, and I’ll be expecting a few photos of sunburnt captive killer whales, at least one photo at every park, and of the sunburnt skin, AND trainers applying lotion. That comes out to at least 22 photos. Thank you!! You will do a great job proving your point I hope!!

      • serena permalink
        March 9, 2012 2:38 pm

        To notignorant. YOu are completely ignorant. You have no idea what it is like for whales and dolphins in the wild. Apparently you have not spent any time whatsoever in the ocean. I think you are a little kid writing that response as it seems that you write like a 5th grader. Grow up. Research before you speak so in the future you don’t seem so ignorant. HAHA

    • Jordan permalink
      January 18, 2011 12:27 am

      Please tell me you’re under 18 and have yet to take any physical science classes. Anyone with a bit of knowledge about the physics of water KNOWS that the farther you swim in the ocean (or a pretty damn big lake, say Lake Eerie), the temperature drops and the pressure rises (temperature drops due to the reduced dispersal of sunlight).

      This even occurs even in the orca tanks. However, due to the fact that the tanks are painted a bright blue (to make it easier for the public to see the animals), the sunlight is reflected off the bright surfaces and heats the water. I’m pretty sure the bright, reflective tank walls don’t help the orcas’ skin, or their eyesight.

      And no, for the record, wild fish-eating orcas spend 30% OF THEIR TIME AT THE SURFACE – the rest of the time they’re well underneath the surface, foraging and traveling. I think you’re referring to CAPTIVE ORCAS, which spend 75% of their time at the surface, for feeding, getting commands and attention from trainers, getting their teeth drilled out, or sitting idle at the water surface.

      TL;DR – please PLEASE learn some physical science before you argue.

      • Sarah permalink
        January 26, 2011 8:08 pm

        Um, Jordan, you’re awesome! Keep educating people and maybe someday these archaic practices will stop.

      • serena permalink
        March 9, 2012 2:39 pm

        well said;)

      • August 10, 2013 9:50 pm

        Well Said!!!! I would like to say what happened to common sense, but I know how much of a reaction I could get for saying that, don’t I.

    • January 21, 2011 7:56 pm

      Have you actually ever been to sea? of course there’s shade for a start if you dive any depth in the ocean it is completely dark!!!!

    • Natasha permalink
      February 3, 2011 3:48 am

      The wild doesnt have shade? Stupidest thing ive heard. do you know how deep the ocean is? do you really think the sun shines all the way to the bottom? NO. So that allows animals in the wild to dive deeper to get away from the sun if needed. SMART!

      • serena permalink
        March 9, 2012 2:39 pm

        Well said natasha..

    • February 28, 2011 4:40 pm

      I can’t believe YOU are that naive. These animals are usually deep in the ocean far from continual sun. You know nothing!

    • dynasty1 permalink
      April 21, 2011 3:45 am

      you need to change your name wild orcas swim in darker water and not in one tiny pen if its to hot they go further under water or under shade provided by nature please do some type of research before making coments.

    • Catherine Leadbetter permalink
      October 22, 2011 4:36 pm

      Dear NotIgnorant – you are not fooling anyone with your silly name. Lots of pigeons in NYC, right? Have you ever seen a baby pigeon?? Probably not. Just because you have not seen something for yourself does not prove it does or did not happen. Pretty sure that these parks do not want the masses to know how ugly their jobs are. Also, you have incorrectly used the word “role” amongst other punctuational errors. Please do us all a favor and shut the hell up. Thanks.

  2. January 2, 2011 9:50 pm

    @ NotIgnorant
    Again, the article that I have written applies to what is the law. The Animal Welfare Act of the U.S. requires that all marine mammals kept in captivity be provided protection from direct sunlight. Six Flags was found in non-compliance of the Animal Welfare Act for having NO shade structure over the back pool area of Shouka’s stadium. PERIOD!

    A little fact for you: In captivity, water in marine mammal tanks is shallow and CLEAR, offering no natural protection from the sun’s harmful rays. Contrastingly, free-ranging orcas spend most of their time at higher latitudes, in darker water, and at greater depths. They do come up to breathe, yes, but do not spend 90% of their time surface resting as do captive marine mammals.

    Trainers in marine parks DO apply sunscreen and use black zinc oxide to the backs of orcas who show signs of burn, or who otherwise spend inordinate amounts of time surface resting. One former trainer told me how she remembered layers of skin falling off in her hands from one of the orcas she applied sunscreen. Here’s a video for you showing a trainer applying sunscreen to a dolphin.

    The AWA applies to captive marine mammals in the U.S., not Canada, not France, not Brazil, and not Japan. And an FYI, the AWA does not apply to wild marine mammals.

    Next time you wish to comment, please provide some constructive dialogue.

    • NotIgnorant permalink
      January 4, 2011 3:13 am

      What you said makes no sense at all and contradicts everything you stated in your blog and video. At the surface the light level is 100% and slightly decreases until 656ft down. At that point it becomes the dysphotic zone and light is very miniscule to being very dark. The water, along with the natural sunlight that shines through, is clear.

      You just said the ocean is murky, which is apparently a natural sunblocker. Then explain your rant at 3:26 in the opinionated and biased video above.

      And uh, killer whales surface constantly and spend if not half of their life at the surface.

      You also FAIL to prove your opinions that Shouka needs shade. And it doesn’t matter where these captive killer whale lives, the point is, none of them have access to 24 hour shade and you are only singling out SFDK.

      • January 18, 2011 2:48 am

        I do not need to PROVE my opinions that Shouka needs shade. It is stated in the LAW that shade is a requirement. It is our government who wrote an inspection report in 2008 citing failures to comply with the AWA they found at SFDK. Maybe you should take up your debate about whether marine mammals need shade or not with the government.

      • Jordan permalink
        January 18, 2011 3:09 pm

        Why the hell does she need to prove Shouka needs shade? EVERY ANIMAL SHOULD BE GIVEN SHADE.

      • Roxanne permalink
        July 19, 2011 7:24 am

        Lord almighty you don’t need to be a scientist or even have half a brain to figure out that sun and its effects decrease the deeper the water. Honestly, I think you should be required to have an IQ of at least 5 before getting on the net. NI fails completely.

      • Tiina permalink
        September 2, 2011 2:26 pm

        It doesn’t matter where they live?! Haha, are you joking? It matters everything, for example the higher up north you go the less sunshine there is during the day. Depending on the time of the year, sometimes you don’t even see the sun. Also you can’t compare how sun shines on the surface of the ocean to how it heats up a tiny freaking pool of water.

        Orcas spend 80-90% of their time underwater not on the surface, not the other way around. Not to mention in the wild they have a choice, in captivity they don’t. In captivity they spend most of their day (when sunshine is at its strongest) performing tricks on the surface.
        Haven’t you ever seen a nature documentary where whales stay underwater and come on the surface to breathe just to dive back in again?

      • Blue Dolphin permalink
        October 31, 2012 12:29 pm

        NotIgnorant (And some other posters) may work for Six Flags, since Six Flags management is mean spirited, and spends a great deal of time monitoring websites and social media; especially policing and discilpining their employees who post anything deemed negative about Six Flags. Apparently Six Flags IT personel work the search engines to keep only information deemed positive to Six Flags, on the top of the search page. NotIgnorant sounds like a Six Flags lead, suprvisor, or manager. Six Flags is more interested in returning profits to shareholders than good treatment of employees or humane treatment of animals.

  3. Katie J. permalink
    January 21, 2011 4:52 am

    @NotIgnorant –
    Wow… I am appalled at your comments and lack of knowledge about orcas or animals in general… or the natural environment for that matter. You should change your screen name to “VeryIgnorant”. Ok, moving on – I must clear up one statement you have made that is SPECTACULARLY wrong. I am a zoologist and a marine mammal scientist. I spend the majority of seven months of the year in the company of WILD orcas and have done so for the past ten years. Orcas most certainly ARE NOT on the surface constantly. Far from it. They only spend about 10% of their time on the surface, usually for respiration. It is not uncommon for them to perform dives lasting from three to fifteen minutes on a regular basis. I can say this is absolute fact because I have seen it THOUSANDS of times. Where are you getting your information? From something you have seen on T.V.? It’s called editing. You need to be a little bit more productive when it comes to doing your homework and stop trying to discredit people who have done a fabulous job with theirs.

  4. January 25, 2011 7:02 pm

    NotIgnorant is like all the climate change deniers, they use the internet as a platform to blast their agenda, because if a lie is told enough…it stands a good chance to become the truth, and that’s all they care about!
    So the best strategy here is for the moderator to erase the comments from this delusional user and block any future rant…and guess what, he/she will probably get another username and continue to spread his/her useless nonsense, because that’s what “THEY” do… 🙂
    Christopher Beau

  5. WhaleFriend permalink
    January 26, 2011 4:42 am

    Wow! Thanks Katie, Chris, and withoutmethereisnou, Hmm we havent heard from “Not”(Very) “Igorant” lately! It seems the facts (and being outstandingly disproven) must sting a little !! 😉

    • January 27, 2011 5:47 am

      Thank you guys for all the support. I almost deleted NI’s comments a first, then thought, well, let them fend for themselves…..As you see, they split!

  6. Tulan permalink
    January 26, 2011 7:58 pm


    Just be quite and stop being stupid…… and argumentative … when there is something written in law it has to mean something and there is always a reason behind it…….otherwise u would have been the president of WWF

  7. clumsykitten permalink
    January 26, 2011 11:58 pm

    I watched your YouTube video… and to be honest, the thing that gets me the most is the fact that there was a ladder right there that made it look like you could have easily climbed right on in the tank area!!!

    Don’t get me wrong, everything else you pointed out was horrible for the animals. But still… Come on… They must not care about the safety of their customers either!

    • January 27, 2011 5:45 am

      @clumsykitten I could NOT believe there was a ladder just sitting there with NO one around. It’s such an easy area to just jump up and plop right in the tank without anyone seeing you. And I thought the same thing about caring for their customers….what would they have done if a little kid climbed up that ladder and got hurt or even killed.

      Good news though! After being inspection after pointing this out to APHIS, Six Flags was cited and now has to build a perimeter fence around this area by February 1st of this year. We’ll see when they open at the end of March if that perimeter fence is there.

  8. Christine permalink
    January 27, 2011 5:15 am


    I am amazed and thankful that you put so much study and work into this venture. It just enhances the efforts of so many others to educate people about things they are unaware of (minus not ignorant , who is clearly…ignorant). I just wanted to say thank you and tell you that you rock! I, along with many other readers who may never post, will not visit Six Flags because of your actions. So whether or not they decide to comply with the law, they still will suffer the consequences of their actions…eventually.

    • January 27, 2011 5:58 am

      @Christine Thank you! I just updated the bottom of this blog with the violations that were recently found at Six Flags after APHIS did an inspection based on the letter I sent to them. Following the MIMINUM requirements of the AWA is the least these parks can do as they make millions of dollars off all their helpless animals.

      I feel so sorry for all the animals at Six Flags. I am not familiar yet with the laws for keeping “land” animals, yet it is a next venture to learn, as I am sure there are many problems with the way the other animals are kept.

      Here’s a video I made of the “land” animals at Six Flags….feel free to pass along and show others how the rest of the animals live

    • seeit permalink
      January 30, 2011 4:49 pm

      Scinece arguments can be debated and I am sure we will still have doubters. The facts are however that both Shouka and Merlin have been sunburned in the past. They both have had sunscreen applied on multiple occassions. Since Cupid now lives with them I would assume that is true for him also. They do need shade. The color of the pool also affects their eyes like us being in the bright sun without sunglasses. Further more part of the reason the pools look so bad is that Shouka regurgitates multiple times a day. Much of what you see is partially digested fish. She and Merlin are not “compatable companions” They work together. Cupid is physically and mentally handicapped and is obviously left there with lack of shade and appropriate companionship too. Even if APHIS says that all are Cetaceans that is not the sole factor which determines “COMPATABLE”. All humans are not compatable. Imagine having to live 24 hours a day with someone you don’t like. Male dolphins do not hang out with female dolphins in non breeding scenarios. Male dolphins with large differences in age such as Merlin and Cupid do not hang out either. Though there may be exceptions in every rule if you ask any trainer there under oath if Shouka, Merlin, and Cupid are all compatable they would have to say NO. Though I believe that there are important benefits of animal ambassadors it must be done by ALWAYS putting animal welfare first! Six Flags never has and never will do that. Money is there top priority always.

  9. Katie permalink
    February 2, 2011 5:59 am

    I work atSFDK. I cant disagree or agree with the stuff youre saying, I wana be a dolphin trainer myself but I do think your video is very very opinionated and seriously rude. You need to take a chill pill and realize Killer Whales and Dolphins ARE in captivity, what are you gonna do about it? Its just the way the world is, Like I said I dont agree or disagree with captivity, I think Shouka does need more companionship and more room, Ive seen her at work and I feel like if she had more room and a friend her behavior when not in training would be dramatically different. I love cetaceans but the sunlight thing IS a little drastic, lol shes been okay for like 5 years at DK and thats in California, it gets sunnnyy here. I can also assure you, Shouka and the dolphins tank is NOT always murky or dirty in fact theyre usually super clean, and the tank where you flipped out about the dolphins having no other areas to go, well thats the kiddie pool, the dolphins in there are babies (aside from Terry, shes retired) and they need interaction, Ive played fetch with Mavrik and hes the most playful. That tank is about 10-14ft deep at its deepest and it does provide a shade area.

    That pool for Shouka is like 20 years old, there has NEVER been any problem with guests going in the water, there are TWO handrails and a stone wall plus people on 4 parts of the lower half of the stadium whos job is to watch and make sure people dont hop over and the same thing in the back, the little shack on the back right side of the backstage has people in it ALL THE TIME to make sure people dont get back there and the wall with the ladder next to it has a drop of about 7 feet down to the filter grates in the pooll. you cant just hop in the pool from there. Like I said, Shouka seems to be doing just fine, shes never sick and she gets attention each and every day, shes a small killer whale (5000 lbs), from what ive heard she has a great sense of humor (according to trainer, Becky). All I can say to the fact you even went to SFDK is thanks for the contribution to my paycheck and to the “terrible captivity of animals” if you dont like it and you already know you dont like it, Stay away! K thanks bye.

    • Dabble Babble permalink
      February 3, 2011 5:56 am

      Dearest Katie,
      While reading the comments here I found yours to be very sanctimonious. Your first start out with “I cant disagree or agree with the stuff youre saying” then by the end your post becomes very opinionated.
      Law is law- if there was no need for them to have shade the law would not state they require shade. It is individuals like yourself, who have such god like complexes that they feel there is no need to abide by laws… which leaves animals in captivity suffering.
      “Shouka seems to be doing just fine”
      Shouka is very well known for her negative behavior which I see you do not mention. Shouka has such a “great sense of humor”….. is this why she will not allow her trainers to do water works with her?
      I also noticed you commented on the dolphins having no shade which Six Flags was cited for- EXCEPT you failed to see that the dolphins in discussion were the 2 dolphins (Cupid & Merlin) living with SHOUKA!!! DUH.
      “the wall with the ladder next to it has a drop of about 7 feet down to the filter grates in the pooll” This makes no sense, in the pool? The ladder is OUTSIDE of the pool and per the report the wall is only 4-6 feet, not 7 ft. If it was not a violation of the AWA there would be no citation.
      These types of remarks from you leave me to wonder if you can actually comprehend what you read. You can not assure people of anything when you make no sense, while speaking out against regulations and protection laws being violated.
      You act as if you know the individual writing the blog- how do you know they paid to get in and contributed to your paycheck?? Six Flags gives out guest passes all the time. Someone who knew enough locals or employees could get season passes to go once a week and never pay one time to get in to Six Flags.

      What I would love to hear from you Katie is ::drum roll please::
      What makes YOU so qualified to say their is no need for the laws in place regarding the AWA? What scientific studies have YOU conducted that proves captive orca & dolphins do not need shade?

      It is individuals like you- that frighten think you may someday be training & working with some of the most worlds most intelligent beings…I look forward to the day I get to see you training out in the blazing sun wearing nothing but a swim suit for 12 hours, every day of the summer. I will carry the same uncaring attitude you carry for the animals who are provided no shade, day after day, year after year.
      Get back to me when you make it big becoming that trainer. K thanks bye!

    • dynasty1 permalink
      April 21, 2011 3:59 am

      ihave to ask do believe it is ok to take a child and raise it in a jail ? its not ok to have any wild animal in captivity you wouldnt want some one to take your loved ones not tell them anything they can understand and put them in a cell ,you are the type of person who only cares about a pay check and carma always come back get some compassion

  10. just jess permalink
    February 3, 2011 4:25 am

    Well done. I’m so impressed that you did this and also inspired. I recently watched the cove and I’m also taking a marine mammals biology course at my community college. FREE THE CETACEANS!!! :]
    Kelp patties can provide natural shade in the wild (and food because fish are typically found around them) if they do not want to dive deep to escape the light spectrum. Blue light penetrates the ocean about 80 meters and the others less. Orcas can easily dive to 200 It is illogical to assume that an orca can escape sunlight on its own in captivity without manmade shade, hence the law.

    The irony of “notignorant”‘s username is just…….well let’s just say I’m ROFLing pretty hard.

  11. just jess permalink
    February 3, 2011 4:26 am

    **easily dive to 200 meters

  12. seeit permalink
    February 5, 2011 4:53 am

    Katie, when working dolphins do you wear sunglasses and sunscreen? DDo you go in and out of airconditioned offices? The animals are in their pools 24/7. Trainers choose which pools. Animals have no choice and if you really worked there you would know they have been sunburned before. If Shouka is doing so good how come she has chewed on the concrete and destroyed all of her teeth?Sounds like you don’t care what happens to the animals it’s all about you and what you want to be.

  13. jtinmiami permalink
    February 9, 2011 5:39 am

    why not just provide the shade and stop the bickering?

    • seeit permalink
      February 21, 2011 4:29 am

      That’s a question for Six Flags management, but the answer is money I’m sure.

  14. cay free permalink
    February 16, 2011 7:43 pm


    I can tell from your use of “like” and “super” and your lack of punctuation, that you more than likely work in the snack bar at SFDK.

  15. I am Sam permalink
    February 21, 2011 8:50 pm

    @”Withoutmethereisnou” Thank you SO much for posting this. I have always loved the marine animals and ever since I found out about the dangers of captivity, I’ve slowly and in small doses been trying to inform myself and help promote anti-captivity just by small things like Facebook and to my towns locals/friends. It is so hard to get through to an employee of Sea World or any person who is for captivity. (Example here, as we’ve all seen, would be “NotIgnorant” and “Katie”.) They constantly say there is no proof that the animals are better off in the wild even though I throw fact after fact out. It gets hard and lonely thinking no one sees how worse off these captive animals are like I do. Then I read posts like yours with legit information and facts and it gives me motivation again! I am only 20 years old, but I know once I get older and more able, my passion will be to help these animals, both land and marine, receive the best treatment possible or to be released into the wild.

    • Laurie Potts permalink
      November 6, 2011 8:25 pm

      Thank You — I am Sam — for thinking and acting in responsible way and getting correct education and information out there about these magnificent creatures !

  16. CarolineValentine permalink
    February 24, 2011 7:15 pm

    notignorant = IGNORANT. i feel sorry for you. grow a brain.

  17. CarolineValentine permalink
    February 24, 2011 7:53 pm

    Katie: I can tell that you are young, so am i. By the very fact that you came to this website means that you were researching something for yourself. obviously because you had questions about it. It is easy to be defensive of the place that you work. It is harder to be defensive of the creatures your work place exploits. I hope that you read all this information and change your mind. really think about what it would be like for Shouka and her dolphin mates.
    And katie, please make better choices for your life. You do not want to have bad karma for the rest of your life due to torturing animals everyday. Don’t forget that dolphins and whales always look like they have smiles on their faces, but that isn’t representative of what they are thinking inside.
    Make more ethical choices. and please learn some grammar.
    I will be protesting up there at the gates in a couple weeks and if you are still working there then I invite you to come chat with me. I don’t think you should take anyone’s opinions as true. Do the research yourself and you will see that what you support is cruel and unnecessary.

  18. CarolineValentine permalink
    February 24, 2011 7:54 pm

    my computer won’t let me do capitals on some letters. NOT my fault.

  19. seeit permalink
    February 28, 2011 3:48 pm

    Marine mammals in captivity is a complicated issue. There are facilities that do an excellent job caring for their animals and educating the public. The animal ambassadors help people connect with all animals and promote caring for animals in the wild. Before Flipper there was no Marine Mammal Protection Act (which passed in 1972). We have laws to protect the animals in the wild and captivity. Unfortunately some of our agencies don’t seem to be enforcing the laws, and some laws could be more specific. For instance all animals should have compatable companionship and adequate social groups. Shouka, Merlin, and Cupid all suffer because they meet the current regulations by being in the same facility together though they are not socially compatable. Companies like Six Flags put money ahead of animal welfare. Unfortunately they don’t understand how to put the animals welfare first and make money. If you want an example of a great marine mammal facility go to Dolphin Research Center in Florida. Amazing people and animals!
    One important aspect of captive animals is the research done in captivity which can not be done in the wild. There are many research projects which have not been harmful to the animals and were the catalyst for passing laws that have saved many lives of wild marine mammals. Learning the gestation period for Orcas, and hearing thresholds are two examples.
    withoutmethereisnou, I applaud your efforts to help the animals and the fact that you are well educated.

  20. Lizzy permalink
    March 1, 2011 10:23 am

    Well folks …at the end of the day, how the hell do we know how these captives feel.?
    Who are we to decide whats right and wrong for them.?
    Do we have no more grace or honor left in our pea brains to comprehend right from wrong. ? Why do we think it is alright to have another species held in captivity for our sick entertainment.??? What right do we have.????? NOTHING….

  21. The Orca Liberator permalink
    March 4, 2011 6:00 am

    @Katie & @NotIgnorant……
    Does anyone else feel like they could be the same person like @Christopher C Beau stated above?…….Just a thought.

    What are you trying to say? In the beginning it sounds as if you could care less about Orcas being captive. But, then turn around and say that we have no right? I’m confused. Help me out.

    Anyways, great article and points that should be observed at any marine park. In the end it’s sad to think that we use these animals for pure entertainment. Whether the marine parks do abide by the law or not, it is up to the government in the end to not just talk to talk but to walk it as well.

  22. Laura Truax permalink
    April 7, 2011 4:31 am

    Ive got a great idea. Shade or no shade? I say we just leave them in the wild where they belong, and then there wont be an issue with dirty tanks and shade. I cant believe anyone who has love or respect for these mammals could even think about becoming a trainer. I am not a marine biologist, I am just a person who has loved these mammals ever since I can remember. I have turned into an activist after seeing the horrors that they have been through to be in those concrete bathtubs to entertain us humans. It makes me sick. Many of these mammals have seen their families (pods) tortured and slaughtered right in front of them. They get torn away from their families and thrown into a life of jumping through hoops for dead fish. How can anyone agree with that?

    Thanks go to these people who take the time to make sure that these beautiful mammals get any kind of basic comfort that they can get while they serve out their jail sentence. I honestly look up to you, because I have a hard time seeing them where they are at and I know you do too. I am involved with protests with Lolita, and Tilikum..and in Las Vegas. This whole business makes me sick and my heart breaks for what these mammals have to go through for the sake of greed.

    I am praying for the day when this will all be part of our past and we will stop using mammals and animals for our own selfish gain, and start respecting them as they so desperately deserve.

    • JayCkat permalink
      March 10, 2012 5:06 pm

      Sadly, the wild is a very dangerous place even to an apex predator thanks to ship propellers, proactive fisherman, pollution and eventually starvation as fish stocks around the world continue to crash..

      Some of the orca pods under study have a fatality rate of nearly 80% to the point that the pod itself fell apart. The entire social system of senior cows have been killed off quite rapidly in a span of just a decade.

      All I am saying is that that “the wild” isn’t all that safe or quite the solution that it appears to do. Our reach is very very long. A dead pod of orca in the wild is out of sight, out of mind and out of the press.

  23. dynasty1 permalink
    April 21, 2011 4:06 am

    just watched video .i am deeply saddened by how wild animals are treated especially orcas and dolphins ,i apceciate what you do to help these beatuful creatures in captivity along with trying to get them freed i am amazed at how ignorant some people are and wonder how they get jobs w/these animals it scary, they need to see them in the wild (just go to puget sound you can see them from the shore and from the ferries ) any way thank you

  24. seeit permalink
    May 5, 2011 2:58 pm

    Is there shade now? The park has opened for the season. I am not sure if I missed a post or nobody has rechecked.

  25. annon permalink
    May 9, 2011 5:03 am

    As for you people who are cetacean obsessed to the point that you don’t see issues with having them in captivity know this. Yes it is true in the wild cetaceans have no “Shade structures” but then again in the WILD dolphins are NEVER at the surface for extended periods of time and sorry guys but 15-20 ft is STILL at the surface relitively speeking. They are protected from the sun by the depth and the natural merkyness of the water. I was at a facility over the summer where yes the dolphins had no shade but they were in netted off lagoons, if the dolphin was more than a few feet underwater they compleatly disapeared from view becouse of the natural green opaque water! That is how it SHOULD be. But at a place like Six Flags the water is almost entirely CLEAR meaning that the animals can go all the way down to the bottom of the pool and still have bad effects from the sun becouse there is no protection. The dolphins NEED shade, artifical or otherwise, to be protected from the sun while in captivity.
    Also I think they probably changed the regs on the swim with dolphin programs 6-7 is the norm (usualy 6 only 7 is rare). Just to let you know. Shouka isn’t the only animal in poor conditions at that park, it has had TONS of issues with violations on its other animals at the zoo portion of the park. I wouldn’t expect Six Flags to change anything any time soon.

    • May 26, 2011 3:36 am

      @ annon the swim with dolphin programs still is only a ratio of 3 to 1…they were cited for this matter, it is in the report.

  26. Alex permalink
    May 9, 2011 6:16 pm

    Is it still like that now?

  27. Dyz permalink
    May 26, 2011 2:44 am

    Here is a follow up blog showing some of the changes made to date so far

  28. Judy permalink
    March 23, 2012 8:19 pm

    The shade issue aside, who’s to say that these animals, who were bred in captivity would be better off in the wild? I believe you’re right to say that they shouldn’t be in captivity, or in a captive environment that does not allow them to act as their wild counterparts, as in they should have a “natural” habitat, as an animal in a zoo might have. Animals I’ve seen in a zoo have something of a natural habitat, if it’s a monkey there are trees and climbing equipment. I think the biggest problem with Marine Animal parks is that they do not give the animal a natural environment that would allow them the same resources as their wild counterparts. I can’t say whether it would be smart or not to retrain the animals bred in captivity to survive in the wild. The killer whale, Keiko, passed away a few years after his release, his caretakers stating that in the end he couldn’t care for himself and wasn’t able to bond with the other orcas.

    • Matt permalink
      May 25, 2012 2:21 am


      That information is incorrect. Keiko swam nearly 1000 miles from Iceland to Norway. “The first observations of Keiko in Norway document that he is in excellent physical condition. Keiko has been on his own for close to 60 days without food from humans” –

    • Ari permalink
      August 3, 2013 11:49 am

      Keiko died from pneumonia not from no interaction with other whales. He actually found a pod and traveled with them for quite awhile. He also made a lot of human interaction as well in Norway and Iceland. He was able to catch fish on his own during his travelings to Norway from Iceland without the help of humans that he interacted with. If he hadn’t gotten pneumonia, his trainers and the people that kept watch on him believed it was possible for him to live a lot longer out on his in the wild. It is possible for these to be freed, it’ll just take a lot work like it did with Keiko.

  29. Matt permalink
    May 25, 2012 2:22 am

    * @Judy


    • RaLD permalink
      July 27, 2012 1:05 am

      Keiko passed away in 2003, but that sad event is not evidence to support the captivity of wild animals.

  30. TeachMeMore!! permalink
    July 30, 2012 12:14 pm

    I am not a marine biologist nor an activist! I am a father who has been taking his twin girls to see as many captive animals/mammals as possible to give them an opportunity to see them close-up. This in addition to library books, internet searches and any other way we can get our hands on age appropriate learning material.
    I was not aware of all the issues, with Shouka till recent news press. However even my very untrained eye could see a dramatic difference in her performance from July 2011 to July 2012. She began refusing to do certain tricks at the end of the season in 2011, the show was much less spectacular (for audience), fewer tricks and less interaction with the training staff during show. When my family attended just last week (Friday July 2012) the show was very short, they showed their typical film about Shouka and some of the parks other animal attractions, however they did add film of trainers putting sunscreen on dolphins and whales. Shouka did 2-3 jumps and a few splashes, they have tried to replace the dramatics of the Orca with staff running back and forth in front of the “splash zone” like cheerleaders. What side can be loudest, Whoot, Whoot!! More like What The Heck!!! It was all pathetic. Shouka seems depressed (again MY opinion and that of my family) in comparison to former years. Is she tired, frustrated, lonely, I have no idea but something is not right! No other toys shown, no direct interaction with trainers other than whistle, hand gestures, and handfuls of dead fish (never even occurred to me that Shouka might like a fresh live fish, Hmmmm)! After the show everyone was ushered AKA rushed out of the stadium so they could close it off. Shouka went to one of the 3 tanks behind. We and a few other families went down to view through the windows. I did notice her tank was clearer and cleaner (still murky with fish and other stuff) but much more visible. What was exciting for the small group gathering was her reaction to a small boy around 6-8 dressed in dark blue with white shark teeth jaw on front of shirt, blue hat with white and red accents. Shouka was going up to surface, resting closing her eyes, then all of a sudden she would submerge slowly swim to the window and quickly open mouth, lunge forward, shut mouth and swim away. At first I was thrilled and my girls got in the window with the boy. Nothing happened, boy moves to another window with his little sister and Shouka does it again, two more times. Then the boy moves to another window, this time right where I am standing. I’m telling my girls to come see as you can see Shouka’s bellybutton, coloring, eyes closing, her resting (sometimes it looked like she was receiving fish from above). Then she did it again! WOW I jumped back, was very exhilerating and amazing! The boys family leaves and Shouka stops. However a while later another little boy this time all in black with white and blue on shirt for contrast about the same age and size of first is in window and guess what? Yup Shouka does it again. As my girls are ready to leave and my wife and I discuss I cant help but wonder was Shouka playing with us like we all thought or was she trying to attach the boys? Of course she is smart and knows the windows are there but she looked agressive like a biting movement. Sending us a message?? I have no idea!!
    I am glad for blogs like these that give me an opportunity to learn and to go do further education on my own! I do not base my opinions on just one or two articles, videos, or protestors (for either side). I have a lot of work to do and to introduce the unkind world of captive animals to my daughters. We have talked about the changes in Zoo habitats. Started when our local zoo lost their Elephants due to age but no replacements as they could not provide a reasonable habitat. Dramatic improvements to the San Francisco Zoo over last 18 years to their habitats. Larger, more live foliage, trees, items for play and relaxation.
    So what am I trying to say? There will always be captive animals, hopefully due to need of safety to animal (injured or unable to sustain self) other than entertainment but current reality dictates otherwise. I never would have started donating to wildlife preserves, rescues or endangered species organizations without having first visited animals in captivity. I wish I could see them in nature and do enjoy Nature shows that film all kinds of animals, wildlife, climates, etc. I will continue to educate myself and my family it is all I can do and should as it is the start of something bigger. If we all educated ourselves, I’m sure we could eradicated more than just animal curelty but child, adult, etc.
    I just hope that we can progress the needed change with LOVE, UNDERSTANDING, KINDNESS and not so much hate and hurt! I was appalled by many of the posts here and on other sites. Lots of name calling, anger and resentment of eachother. How will you ever be able to truely love the animals and encourage change if you cannot be civil to your enemy, many do not listen to screaming – Do you? I know as a parent, worker, friend, child, sibling, human, …… that most of the time the louder one gets the more the others involve tune them out.
    To the people like “NotIgnorant” please please please open your mind!! Do more research, stop and listen to both sides, don’t demand proof get your own.
    For us all remember and learn from history, Truth and Facts have changed as technology and knowledge has grown. Once what was the hard known truth, a proven fact is now just a theory of a time prior to today’s truths!
    Thanks for the time and allowing me to add my voice to yours!
    Help me keep myself and my family educated by donating your time, talents or funds to help animals in need, whether human, non-human, wild, captive, include them all, just try to do your part.

  31. January 11, 2013 11:31 pm

    I really blog too and I am writing a little something related to this post, “An experience at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom
    Without Me There Is No You”. Would you mind in cases where I reallymake use of a lot of of your ideas?

    Thanks ,Janessa

  32. Pat Cunningham permalink
    March 6, 2013 8:54 pm

    I commend you for documenting the conditions for these cetaceans. Please ignore the ignorance posted here regarding shading for the whales/dolphins. Anyone who knows anything about these animals in captivity knows that the pools or tanks they are often kept in are too shallow and that in the wild these whales dive to deep depths and do not have the sun exposure they get when in captivity. Anyone who wants to learn the truth behind the scenes about these animals in captivity should read “Death at SeaWorld” and do a little online research. It doesn’t take long to come to the conclusion that there are many practices that contribute to their shortened life in captivity. Although I have often seen them in captivity… I am now struggling with that. I have been fortunate enough to see them in the wild and it is a much more rewarding experience. I used to think that Sea World did a lot of good and that it made up for some of the cruelty it has inflicted. But after learning more about how these animals have been taken out of the wild by SeaWorld in the past and how they are taken out of the wild currently, I am having a difficult time feeling as positive about them.

  33. March 12, 2013 9:19 pm

    Hi there I am writing a blog about when I travel through British Columbia and Vancouver island. One of the main reasons I want to goto there is to see the orcas. I would appreciate it if you could share some blogs. I am new tooth island would be more than happy to share yours. BMA

  34. Ari permalink
    August 3, 2013 12:28 pm

    I wish I had found this while I was in school. In the 9th grade, I did a project on Sea World and other parks to prove that these parks were infact good after the trainer at Sea World in Florida was killed. At the time, I was still in the whole phase of loving to get to see one of my favorite animals face to face. I mean, I was a kid. From December to May of my freshman year I spent hours and hours watching the Shamu camera livestream on Sea World’s website. That livestream not only had about 5 orcas but also had 7 dolphins all in one tank. I did some research and these tanks that these beautiful animals live in would be like us living in bathtub. Could imagine having to live in a bathtub your entire life and do flips all day? And then add no shade and being sunburnt while doing so? That’d be considered abuse for us humans if our parents or anyone forced us to do that. We just don’t think about that because we are free to do what we want. I noticed that they all just swam in circles and barely had enough room to do so from how small and crowded the tank was. And when an orca’s dorsal fin bends over (like Keiko’s) it’s from stress and depression. The orcas have been known to hit the glass or walls of their tank in attempt to commit sucide and if the temperature of the water is too warm they can get a bad skin condition which is why they need shade. Most of my information came old trainers and marine biologist that have study orcas for years. Let’s just say after doing this project 4 years ago, I’ve never stepped foot in another marine park again. These places aren’t educational in any way, shape, or form. It just shows it’s okay to put an animal in jail for life. I actually learned more about humpback and blue whales last summer on a whale watch trip in Santa Cruz then I ever did at the marine parks. And the best part of that whale watching trip was seeing them roam free and being whales not performers. Heck, one whale even came 2 feet away from the boat. Not only did I see the whales but I saw dolphins, seals, and many other sea creatures. The cost for that trip was the same cost SFDK is and less depressing. My heart aches whenever I hear about animals in marine parks. Since my project in 9th grade, I’ve continued my research in hope that I can help end these problems. I remember I got so disappointed when my opinion of Sea World being good was proven wrong but it has for sure changed now to ALL marine parks are BAD. Thank you for sharing this with everyone and taking the time to make the park somewhat better for these beautiful animals.

  35. August 6, 2013 10:28 am

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  36. Lois Arata permalink
    October 25, 2013 3:16 am

    Humans are so f&ck$d up. What hope is there for us? Who would argue for a wild creature to live as a prisoner except for a greedy, money-hungry asshole?

  37. February 28, 2014 6:06 am

    I have recently learned about the orca at Six Flags. Do you know of any efforts to get Shouka to a seapen or other sanctuary?

  38. Bri permalink
    April 14, 2015 6:54 am

    Thank you for your pictures and videos. I am against keeping these poor orcas captive and getting more people aware is great! Hope we all can do our part to get these whales to sea pens!

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