Solution Proposal LM

How Can the Environment of Captive Animals Be Improved?

How do we suppose a human being would react if they were kept in a space the size of a bathtub, with all of the lights shut off, for the majority of their lives? At SeaWorld, the orcas are kept over night in holding tanks, known as modules, which are twenty feet across and thirty feet deep (Blackfish). That means that these animals spend 2/3 of their lives in a holding tank that prevent them from moving freely. As of 2014, there are 56 orcas being held in captivity, 22 wild captured and 35 captive born. For these 56 orcas in captivity, their life expectancy is lowered by 32 years to an astonishing eight years (“The Fate of Captive Orcas”). In this day and age, animals are being used as pawns in our game of personal enjoyment and greed. Zoos have argued that their confinements save endangered species from the threat of extinction and give the general public an education on exotic animals. The emotional and physical costs on the animals and those interacting with the animals outweigh the benefits of keeping animals imprisoned. Ideally, there would no longer be any captive orcas, but there is no way they can be released into the wild and guarantee that they would survive the shrill reality of living independently. Instead, there needs to be a form of containment for the already captive orcas where there would be large open spaces and little to no human contact. This type of containment would intend to lower the physiological risks that the orcas endure on a day-to-day basis. Animals, specifically orcas, are being treated poorly day in and out. Zoos and marinas are looking to bring in a large profit on the animal’s entertainment ability, rather than focusing on the health and happiness of the animal and making a better living environment for them. Because there is more focus on the financial side of the animal entertainment industry, the animals are suffering from serious mental issues and are extremely depressed.

Tilikum, an orca who currently resides at SeaWorld Orlando, was first brought into captivity at two years old. After being snatched off the coast of Iceland, he was kept in a small concrete holding tank in Reykjavik, before being transported to “SeaLand of the Pacific” located in British Colombia where his poor, sadistic treatment would begin ("30 Years and Three Deaths: Tilikum's Tragic Story - SeaWorld of Hurt"). Before Tilikum could be transported to British Columbia, he was covered in lanolin which is an oil extracted from sheep’s wool. Lanolin is used on the orcas when they are about to endure long trips without water, as the lanolin will hold moisture in the orca’s skin ("30 Years and Three Deaths: Tilikum's Tragic Story - SeaWorld of Hurt."). When Tilikum arrived in British Columbia, he was put through intense training almost immediately. Tilikum, along with two other orcas, were expected to practice and perform their tricks every hour on the hour, eight times a day, seven days a week in return for food ("30 Years and Three Deaths: Tilikum's Tragic Story - SeaWorld of Hurt"). Since the whales were training together, when one of the orcas did not perform the trick properly, all three of the orcas were denied food. When Tilikum did not perform a trick properly not only did he have to deal with the pains of starvation, but he also had to deal with the wrath that came in the form of raking from the other two orcas. Raking was a way for the two orcas to show their dominance over Tilikum and they did this by dragging their sharp teeth down the sides of Tilikum’s body, leaving deep wounds (Blackfish). It is reported that Tilikum suffered from serious stomach ulcers due to the stress of performing the tricks correctly ("30 Years and Three Deaths: Tilikum's Tragic Story - SeaWorld of Hurt"). At the end of the day, Tilikum and the two orcas would be sent back to the modules where they would spend the rest of the evening until the park re-opened the next day at ten in the morning.

On February 20, 1991, these three killer whales held at SeaLand in British Columbia, attacked female trainer, Keltie Byrne, after she had fallen into the pool ("Inside SeaWorld"). One of the orcas took the trainer in it’s mouth and pulled her around the tank repeatedly, while the other two orcas refused to let her leave the pool and held her underwater until she drowned ("Inside SeaWorld"). Roughly eight months after the attack at the Canadian based SeaLand, the three orcas were put up for sale. Shortly after, SeaWorld applied for a permit to have the animals imported into the United States and have them put on display at SeaWorld ("Inside SeaWorld"). It took a great deal of time for the permits to pass and during that time, the two female orcas had become pregnant. Tilikum was forced to live in a separate small medical holding tank for safety reasons because the two pregnant orcas were showing a great deal of aggression towards him ("Inside SeaWorld"). Because Tilikum was residing in a tremendously small enclosure, SeaWorld stepped in and applied for a temporary emergency permit, which was granted with special restrictions. Firstly, Tilikum could not be used for display or performance until the display permit was granted ("Inside SeaWorld"). Secondly, if the original display permit was later denied, Tilikum would have to be transported back to an appropriate Canadian facility and if no suitable facility could be found, SeaWorld would return Tilikum to the waters of Iceland where he was originally captured ("Inside SeaWorld”). SeaWorld went on to argue that releasing Tilikum into the waters of Iceland would not be an ideal plan because Tilikum would not be able to survive in the wild and there is a possibility that Tilikum would bring in diseases that are not native to the waters of Iceland ("Inside SeaWorld"). Not only did this stop the return of Tilikum to Icelandic waters, but prevented the return of any killer whales that had been held in captivity. Tilikum stayed at SeaWorld of Orlando, where his sperm was used to build a collection of killer whales.

The treatment Tilikum received at SeaWorld was not much better than what he was receiving at SeaLand of the Pacific. The holding tanks were tiny, and the pools were not much better. In the wild, an orca swims up to one hundred miles per day and dives up to two hundred feet, spending less than 20% of their time near the surface ("Orcas in Captivity: Animal Cruelty for Profit"). In captivity, the orcas do not have the opportunity to swim for hundreds of miles and they are kept in holding tanks where their nose and tail can touch both sides of its tank. When an animal does not have the ability to freely move about its confinement, it should be expected that the animal would suffer from a serious mental psychosis and depression. One way an orca shows its depression is the collapsing of the dorsal fin. In captivity, 100% of all orcas have collapsed dorsal fins (Blackfish). In the wild there are no reports of an orca having a collapsed dorsal fin (Blackfish). Tilikum’s built up anger lead him to take the lives of two SeaWorld trainers, Daniel P. Dukes and Dawn Brancheau ("30 Years and Three Deaths: Tilikum's Tragic Story - SeaWorld of Hurt"). The death of Dawn Brancheau was a tragedy to the SeaWorld community. Dawn was the star performer and a senior trainer at SeaWorld. She was always cautious and one who consistently abided by the park’s safety guidelines (Blackfish). In February of 2010, Dawn’s session was going according to plan when Tilikum became less responsive to Dawn’s orders. Dawn asked Tilikum to perform a simple fin wave to the crowd, and missing her bridge call, he performed the trick wrong. A bridge call, done by whistle, signals to the orca that they have performed the trick properly and they are to come back to the trainer for food. Tilikum, missing the bridge call, did a full lap of the pool. When Tilikum had returned to Dawn for a reward of fish, he did not receive it. Instead, Tilikum got a three second neutral response, which lets the animal know that they did not perform the trick properly. At that point in the show Dawn was running out of food for Tilikum, which he knows because he could hear the ice rattling against the sides of the metal container and the handfuls of fish were getting smaller and smaller. Tilikum was frustrated and continued to perform the tricks incorrectly. At the end of the show, Dawn headed over to a rocky ledge area where she laid down with him to do a relationship session. Tilikum, floating beside her, grabbed a hold of her left forearm, did a barrel roll and dragged her under. Dawn had suffered from fractures, abrasions, lacerations, hemorrhages, blood forced trauma, contusions and dislocations of the left elbow and left knee. She was pronounced dead at the seen (Blackfish). After this incident, Tilikum was seen floating in a back pool, barely moving, and no longer performing shows.

This is a picture of killer whale, Tilikum, performing at SeaWorld with a collapsed dorsal fin.
Photo © Milan Boers

It is not only orcas that are struggling with the reality of no longer being a wild animal. It is seen in the emotional states off a wide variety of different species. Michelle Carr, a writer for PETA (People for Ethical Treatment of Animals) states in “The Reality of Zoos,” that as a child she used to enjoy going to the local zoo or marina with her family and seeing animals that were not native to her specific culture. Michelle’s favorite animal was the Giant Panda; an animal that is native to the mountain ranges of China. It was not until she saw the animals up close and personal that she realized how melancholy they were. The animals were never happy residents of their confinements; they were seen as prisoners in them. The captive animals did not appreciate their artificial environments and felt deprived of everything that is natural and important to them. It is often recorded that animals suffer from zoochosis, which is a condition seen only in animals that are in captivity, and not in those same species in the wild. The symptoms seen in animals that are suffering from zoochosis are repeated pacing, rocking, vomiting, self-mutilation, bar biting, coprophagia, head bobbing or weaving, and over grooming. This type of behavior leads the zoos to drug the animals with Prozac. Prozac is known amongst the pharmaceutical world as a drug to treat humans that suffer from depression or serious obsessive-compulsive disorder. Just like humans, animals are highly dependent on companionship. In the wild, an orca is very dependent on the social dynamics that are presented in their pods. A killer whale mother has been known to stay with her kin throughout her lifetime, sometimes even herding as many as four generations of descendants (“Free the Elephants and Orcas in Captivity [Editorial]). This is one of the reasons that orcas are extremely depressed in captivity; they do not have any sort of social aspect in their lives.

Following the release of the controversial film, Blackfish, SeaWorld was forced to take a step back and evaluate how they could change their persona to please animal rights activists. Frank Gormlie states in his article, “SeaWorld San Diego to Build ‘Bigger Bathtubs’ for Its Killer Whales,” the corporation has made plans to increase the size of the pools to about double the size of the current pools to better suit the twenty thousand pound animals. SeaWorld also plans on tackling the concern over how little the animals are able swim in captivity versus the one hundred daily miles they rack up in the wild. San Diego SeaWorld will be the first of the facilities to upgrade to a water treadmill. The new technology allows the whales to swim against a steady stream of water, enabling the animals to have more exercise, and opening doors for our understanding on how animals burn energy. As great as this step is for the corporations moving forward, the animals are still living in a concrete prison. The orcas still do not have the ability to have their required social interaction with other orcas that they are so dependent on. The orcas are still suffering in the chlorinated water. As easy as it is to say that making the pools for the orcas bigger and implementing a way for them to get more exercise will make everything better and decrease the number of depressed whales, it is more complex than that.

A solution that has the potential to be successful is whale watching. People pay an ideal amount of money to be able to go out on a boat and see orcas in their natural habitats. Stubbs Whale Watching, a family oriented business located on Vancouver Island in British Colombia has made an example of how the public can view these animals without being emotionally detrimental. For 99 dollars, adults are able to go out on a three and a half hour excursion, while the price for children two to twelve years old is 84 dollars ("Experience Stubbs Island Whale Watching Adventure!"). Unfortunately, this type of company has no use for the greedy businessmen of the world. Not many people in the finance industry want to invest their money into a company that might not bring in high revenue. They want to invest their money where they know they are going to see their bank accounts skyrocket. At a corporation such as SeaWorld the main attractions for the park are the exotic animals. People are willing to pay extra just to see these animals put on a show. The ability to see an exotic animal intrigues the general public and warrants them to take a trip to the local zoo or marina. At SeaWorld, there is a reported attendance of about eleven million people. The average price to enter the park without purchasing any souvenirs or food can range from 35 dollars to 95 dollars depending on your age, location and extra admissions that can be included with your entrance ticket ("SeaWorld Orlando Tickets"). The total revenue that SeaWorld could acquire in one year is 825 million dollars, which shows how much of a profit the corporation has the potential to bring in on a yearly basis. This situation increases when the corporation uses minimal money towards upkeep, and houses as many animals as possible on sight. The larger array of animals, the bigger the attraction is for the general public. With more attractions, comes more money for the corporation and money that could be spent on the animals. Instead this money is only going to the owners and shareholders. They are making a lavish lifestyle for themselves at the expense of the animals. For every one million dollars that SeaWorld receives in profits, only six hundred dollars goes toward animal conservation. That is roughly five cents per ticket ("The Fate of Captive Orcas"). The businessmen of SeaWorld see exotic animals as a moneymaking opportunity, and even have the audacity to state that captive-wild animals are a learning experience to the general public. The general public cannot cave into the greedy ways of a power-hungry businessman. If the general public accepts the new business proposal from a SeaWorld type of corporation, it signifies that it is acceptable to treat an animal as a form of profitable business, instead of the beautiful creation that they are.

When housing an exotic animal, a zoo or marina should make the most out of the visitor’s time and money by teaching them something about the animal that is being caged up for their entertainment. For most of the general public, it is not possible to go out into the wild and see a Siberian tiger or an elephant in their natural habitats. Zoos give the opportunity to see exotic animals that most of the general population would never get to see. Unfortunately, most zoos fail to provide an educational visit for zoo goers. Following the study done by Captive Animals’ Protection Survey of United Kingdom aquariums, it was found that 41% of the exhibits had failed to display signs identifying the animal that were in the enclosures giving no educational tie to the animals whatsoever ("10 Facts about Zoos"). Zoos have argued that they give endangered species the opportunity to rejuvenate their populations and create a bigger emotional tie between the general public and the animals. Unfortunately, the unnatural state that the animals are living in causes the animals to be unsuccessful when and if they are released back into the wild. Even though the zoos promote these breeding programs for endangered species, animals are tremendously emotional just as humans are, and have no emotional tie with their mates because the animals are often artificially inseminated (“The Reality of Zoos”). The young are separated from their mothers at an early age, which can lead to high levels of stress in the animal causing an immune deficiency that later leads to diseases ("The Fate of Captive Orcas"). Because the orcas are an animal that is extremely dependent on its social dynamics, it would not be possible to release them back into the wild. Another factor that would affect the orcas survival ability would be whether the animal would be able to adapt to new hunting techniques. In captivity, the orcas are hand fed; they are not going to find that type of feeding in the wild. Orcas will never be able to be released back into the wild due to the threat of the spread of diseases and parasites that are native to the warm chlorine pools ("Inside SeaWorld”).

The best chance for orcas to survive in a captive environment is to create an enclosure that closely resembles their natural habitat and one that has minimal to no human contact whatsoever. Businessmen should invest in creating a large confinement, where the orcas are still apart of the ocean environment. Blocking off a section of a cove would be the best solution for captive orcas at this time. Concrete walls with glass, sound proof, and bullet proof, viewing areas will be used on the sides of the confinement. The glass will go from the bottom of the sea floor to the top of the water where the concrete will begin. The part of the cove that is directly attached to land will have a viewing area for the general public. By creating two separate sheets of glass between the orcas and the general that are bullet proof and sound proof, the orcas will not be distracted or stressed by the disruptive banging done by young children. The bullet-proof glass would prevent any glass from breaking due to harsh waves or any animal aggression. On the ocean side of the glass, there will be tiny holes in the glass so that water has the ability to flow evenly in and out of the confinement. The concrete that can be found at the top of the glass will serve as a pathway for the general public so that they can get a bird’s eye view of the orcas. The concrete barriers will also be high enough so that the public viewers will not be washed out by tall waves. It would also be a smart option to make the concrete viewing indoors, with glass walls and a concrete ceiling. This would truly prevent the public from the harsh realities that can come from Mother Nature such as rain and strong winds, which are common coming in from ocean currents. By creating a blocked off section of a cove, the orcas no longer have to endure the chlorinated water, small confinements, and they would no longer have to perform in front of a large audience. In order for the orcas to be put back in the water without the spread of diseases the orcas will have to be screened and tested to make sure they are not infecting the water for the current residing wild animals. The general public will still be able to view these animals and will have to pay money to see them, but it will still allow them to see exotic animals in a more animal oriented way. This option is one that would be the most successful as people are guaranteed to see the animals, where as with whale watching the general public may or may not actually see a killer whale. The orcas are tormented when forced to live in small confinements, and with this type of containment the animals will have more freedom and will no longer feel the stress from performing tricks properly to please the entertainment needs of the general public.

It is often forgotten how closely related animals and humans are. Animals, just as people, have strong emotional ties to their loved ones. Obviously, there is no possible way to go back forty years and undo the damage that has been done by taking wild animals and forcing them into captivity. The one thing that can be done is to make a better living environment for those that still live in captivity. The orcas will have the opportunity to live a captive-wild life till the end of their days without being forced to perform tricks for the general public and feel the stress that comes with that. Animals deserve much better treatment than what is being given to them. On a daily basis, animals are treated as profitable objects for personal enjoyment. The only way that this situation will change is if the businessmen of the world can see how much harm they are doing to these animals. Even though SeaWorld provides an experience for people to see exotic animals, no animal should be forced to live in an enclosure that does not resemble their natural habitat. If SeaWorld created the proper enclosures, such as an ocean based cove with little to no human contact, there would be a decrease in the amount of animal on animal attacks and animal on human attacks. Animals deserve to live their lives free just as people do.

Works Cited

Blackfish. Dir. Gabriela Cowperthwaite. Perf. Tilikum, Dave Duffus, and Samantha Berg. Magnolia Pictures, 2013. DVD.

Carr, Michelle. "The Reality of Zoos." PETA The Reality of Zoos Comments. PETA, n.d. Web. 21 Apr. 2015.

The Editors. "Free the Elephants and Orcas in Captivity [Editorial]." Scientific American Global RSS. Scientific American, 1 Mar. 2014. Web. 21 Apr. 2015.

"Experience Stubbs Island Whale Watching Adventure!" Experience Stubbs Island Whale Watching Adventure! N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Apr. 2015.

"The Fate of Captive Orcas." WDC, Whale and Dolphin Conservation. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Apr. 2015.

Gormlie, Frank. "SeaWorld San Diego to Build ‘Bigger Bathtubs’ for Its Killer Whales." (2014): n. pag. Web. 20 Apr. 2015. <>.

"Inside SeaWorld." PBS. PBS, n.d. Web. 20 Apr. 2015.

"Orcas in Captivity: Animal Cruelty for Profit." Blog RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Apr. 2015.

"SeaWorld Orlando Tickets." Browse All Ticket Options | SeaWorld Orlando Tickets. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Apr. 2015.

"10 Facts about Zoos." Captive Animals Protection Society. N.p., 03 Mar. 2010. Web. 21 Apr. 2015.

"30 Years and Three Deaths: Tilikum's Tragic Story - SeaWorld of Hurt." SeaWorld of Hurt. PETA, n.d. Web. 20 Apr. 2015.

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