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SeaWorld Desperate To Bring Water Work Back With Orcas, the risks of getting in the water with the killer whales

February 24, 2011

These “safety upgrades” include “water desensitization training”, fast-rising pool floors in the main show pool, to underwater vehicles that could be used to distract an out-of-control killer whale with pulsing lights and whale vocalizations. Rising pool floors that can lift killer whales out of the water in perhaps less than a minute’s time would not have saved Dawn Brancheu. One of the issues SeaWorld is avoiding to the public is the fact that even once Tilly was raised out of the water, he refused to give Dawn back. SeaWorld staff originally reported that Dawn’s arm was severed from her body due to SeaWorld staff desperately pulling on Dawn and Tilly holding her in his mouth while the rescue attempt was occurring, lifted out of the water.

Another issue is how are they going to get the orca which has a trainer in its mouth and acting unresponsive to trainer’s commands, placed directly over one of these fast rising lifting pools so they can actually use it?

This public announcement shows the desperation SeaWorld is feeling to respond to the public pressure to place their trainer’s back in the water with the Orcas, despite safety. SeaWorld goers are claiming orca show is boring now and individuals along with families are opting out of going to SeaWorld and instead are visiting other parks such as Disneyland.

The real issue is not being addressed- Why after 40 years of working with orca’s in captivity are orcas becoming more aggressive towards their trainers?

Implementing all the safety devices in the world will not adequately ensure safety to trainers if the orcas themselves are not feeling as if their needs are being meet in captivity.

Environmental Enrichment is the Key

A study was conducted titled “Keeping Environmental Enrichment Enriching“, Stan Kuczaj University of Southern Mississippi, U.S.A,  Thad Lacinak, otto Fad, SeaWorld Orlando, Marie Trone University if Southern Mississippi, Moby Salangi Instituts for Marine Mammal Studies and Joana Ramos University of Southern Mississippi

Here is an example of an environmental enrichment tool, an orange large ball.

During the study the discussion regarding the use of objects for environmental enrichment was a key aspect. Based on findings regarding comparitive psychology, it was shown that an object that is always in an animal’s environment will become less stimulating than objects that are introduced only occasionally. Through environmental enrichment programs, ones goal is to enhance the quality of an animal’s life through the use of environmental factors, which will improve the animal’s psychological and physiological well-being while being in captivity.  Through research, it has been proving that not all enrichment is equally enriching, especially regarding long-term enrichment.

Reasoning behind this finding is that

the object loses its appeal and becomes just another aspect of an unstimulating environment.” (Thad Lacinak 1997)

The loss of interest due to repeated and prolonged exposure to the object reflects a habituation, a phenomenon that has been well documented in both animal and human learning. (Domjan, 2000; Gallistel, 1990; Oakes, Madol, & Cohen, 1991 )

Habituation is the psychological process in humans and animals in which there is a decrease in psychological response and behavioral response to a stimulus after repeated exposure to that stimulus over a duration of time.

This is a similar ball used for enrichment of dolphins

The paper goes on to describe activities regarding a captive Orca, among other animals. The captive orca was a 15-year-old male, who was wild born (He was captured sometime around 1987 or later ).  This orca was given a large ball with holes in it, within just a short time the orca lost interest in the toy.

The use of toys for wild animals to enrich the captive environment is not sufficient enrichment for these orcas. SeaWorld tries to claim to the public the need for the trainer’s and Orcas to interact in the water together is a form of enrichment for the orcas. Yet, it seemed SeaWorld was failing to consider that habituation could not just be regarding toys, but also trainer’s.

Tillikum Floating In An Unnatural Position Due to Lack of Enrichment. Photo courtesy of Colleen Gorman

SeaWorld seems to be hoping that because the orcas and trainers have not been in the water for only one year, the orca’s will find the new entering of the trainer’s in the water with them……..enriching and successful. It’s all an experiment. The truth is SeaWorld has no idea how these orcas are going to respond to the new conditioning.

The issue with orca aggression regarding Dawn’s death was not an isolated incident. Numerous reports of Orca aggression towards their trainers have been reported and we will never know just how many orca aggression incidents towards trainers have not been reported by SeaWorld.

Another thing the public needs to understand is these orcas have experienced the killing a human, rather directly or indirectly. The orcas intelligence proves to be of greatness, they now know they are not powerless over their trainers…….they can just kill them. How will this impact the future interactions between the orcas and the trainer’s? From past experiences is seems it will not be a good outcome for the trainer when one of these orcas becomes frustrated, bored or even down right angry.

There has been no research showing these new methods will be effective, yet SeaWorld once again is ready to place their trainer’s at risk, despite millions of dollars spent towards safety equipment, all in the name of entertainment and public popularity.

Orca Search Trust

Wild orcas prove to get the environmental enrichment they require in the wild, no toys, no human in water contact. Wild orcas are not showing aggression nor killing humans in the wild.

SeaWorld and their collection of orcas could benefit greatly by taking what the wild orcas teach and thus creating an environment in captivity that is comparable to the wild. Instead SeaWorld chooses to ignore these benefits by the use of toys and humans for enrichment for the orcas. Which are failing miserably.

What we do not understand is why SeaWorld chooses to create such an artificial environmental setting for their captive orca collection.  By offering a show displaying the orcas natural behavior ie. hunting and socializing could be really exciting for the public who do not get the opportunity to view this behavior in the wild.

We do not support orcas being held in captivity for entertainment purposes. Though could you imagine a show where huge living salmons were released into the main show pool and then the orcas come flying out from the back and work together in capturing, sharing and enjoying these natural behavior’s together. Instead SeaWorld has created a public show that has been compared to circus performing tricks of wild animals, totally unnatural behaviors. If SeaWorld had to teach them the behavior, the behavior is unnatural.

The more we learn about the lives of captive orcas versus their wild counterparts, we are learning they are just not doing well in captivity and are suffering and this places no safety security for trainer’s who plan to work in the water with SeaWorld’s orca collection.

The CBS Early Morning show did an interview with two former trainer’s (Dr. Jeff Ventry and John Jett ) two days (02-24-2011) after Seaworld’s announcement of re-entering the water with their captive orca collection. Both of these former trainer’s agree environmental enrichment is of value to safety and it is not being address by SeaWorld

Is SeaWorld safe for killer whale trainers?

7 Comments leave one →
  1. CarolineValentine permalink
    February 27, 2011 6:13 am

    that scientific study made me cry. I read every single world… even the scientific-babble. My poor Toki. I am dedicated to her release now.

    • CarolineValentine permalink
      February 27, 2011 6:13 am

      even more so than before…

  2. Carly permalink
    August 8, 2013 9:01 pm

    Even though these whales may not live in the best environment they are fed and taken care of. These orcas are going to live way longer than if they were in there natural environment

    • Captain Raptor permalink
      February 16, 2014 4:16 am

      Unlike most animals, orcas actually have SHORTER lifespans in captivity. In the wild, the females live to about 50 years, sometimes even longer. In captivity, only a handful have lived past 20. This suggests that either the current captive conditions are not suitable for orcas, or orcas simply aren’t good candidates for captivity.

      Of course, we can’t just throw all of the captive orcas in the ocean and expect them to survive at this point. Even with rehabilitation, most likely wouldn’t be able to get by and would have to be dependent on humans forever. But would it kill to offer better enrichment? They’re smart, emotional animals; of COURSE they’re going to go crazy when they’re kept in sterile environments all day with little to do.

    • Earl permalink
      July 21, 2014 11:19 pm

      These are false statements based on sea world propaganda in the wild the life spans are linger


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