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10 Ways An Orca Scientist’s Debate With SeaWorld Proved “Blackfish” Right

On Thursday night, a rare occurrence happened, a debate on orca captivity -- an issue with polarizing view points -- took place on one stage. The panel, hosted by Scott Lewis and Lisa Halverstadt of Voice of San Diego, featured Kristi Burtis, a senior animal trainer at SeaWorld, SeaWorld veterinarian Todd Robeck, Susan Gray Davis, a former UC San Diego professor who wrote a book about the park's business model and Naomi Rose, a noted marine mammal scientist with the Animal Welfare Institute who has vocally opposed captivity.

Here are the most important moments from the evening:

1. The panel began with SeaWorld calling their animals "ambassadors" for animals in the wild. But what makes a more effective ambassador -- an animal thriving in their natural environment or one languishing in a tank?

2. 100 percent of captive male orcas have collapsed dorsal fins, while nearly no wild animals do.

SeaWorld's defense? They called the collapsed dorsal fins "an aesthetic issue."

3. Six of SeaWorld's current killer whales were separated from their mothers, and most of them were between two and four years old.

Todd Robeck, head of breeding at SeaWorld responded by saying, "We don't move dependent calves...[We move them when] they're not nursing."

4. Skyla, an orca who was separated from her mother just after she turned two, was named as an example of SeaWorld breaking the mother-calf bond.

5. SeaWorld's Robeck noted the company's history of orca research:

Dr. Rose called this output "pathetic."

6. Opponents criticized SeaWorld's conservation program:

7. SeaWorld is not ready (or willing) to stop its breeding program.

"Stopping the breeding program is a huge, huge mistake," said Robeck of SeaWorld.

8. SeaWorld has a staggeringly high rate of violent incidents involving trainers.

9. SeaWorld said that there is an "inherent risk" in working with large animals, and that trainers assume that risk when they work there.

10. Sitting down to discuss the issue is an important first step. But it's not nearly enough.

Check out Voice of San Diego for more recaps on the debate.

SeaWorld and marine parks profit off keeping orcas and other marine animals in captivity -- despite evidence that captivity not only induces unnatural behaviors in whales, but also endangers trainers. Join us in pledging never to visit SeaWorld or other marine parks until they empty their orca tanks.