Whether or not you have an interest in animal welfare and the current debate that is raging about keeping killer whales in captivity, the likelihood is that you have heard of SeaWorld's new publicity campaign, #AskSeaWorld, as it has attracted not only the attention of people interested in animal rights but has been widely criticised from the point of view of a business decision. The campaign is meant to offer fans and critics alike the opportunity to have their questions about SeaWorld and killer whale welfare and biology answered by a team of experts. The campaign has had mixed success, the hashtag being more often than not utilised by people opposing SeaWorld to ask critical questions, again with varying success. There seems to be a preference from the SeaWorld team to answer questions that are either very vague and open to misinterpretation, misguided or overly simple. I have been wanting to ask SeaWorld some questions for some time now but unfortunately have been unsuccessful at getting through to them. Whether or not SeaWorld choose to answer them, I think these are questions that should be asked not only by those of us SeaWorld denounces as 'radical extremists' but also by their fans.
1. I would like to know how Sea World can claim any scientific credibility when they are openly misquoting scientific data and refusing to correct it, despite the author of the paper repeatedly expressing concern and asking them to correct it- as well as the Sea World representative admitting on live TV that this was a misleading claim.I am, of course, referring to Sea World quoting Dr. Ingrid Visser's paper on dorsal fin collapse (Visser, Ingrid N. "Proliﬁc body scars and collapsing dorsal ﬁns on killer whales (Orcinus orca) in New Zealand waters." Aquatic 'Mammals 24 (1998): 7l-8l.)that discusses the collapsed fins in a New Zealand orca population. The study states that 23% of animals have partially collapsed fins (notably only 2 animals have suffered full collapse), however Sea World has repeatedly quoted this study in it's "69 reasons Blackfish is false" as stating that a quarter (25%) of Southern Residents have (fully) collapsed fins, when in fact the actual number is closer to 5% for Southern residents and 0.5% for Icelandic killer whales. To add insult to injury, not only do SeaWorld misquote Dr. Visser's data, but they actually replied to one of her critical tweets with a link to the very document they misquote her data in. If not insulting, this is at the very least grossly incompetent. When do SeaWorld plan on correcting this misleading and inaccurate statement on their website and when will they apologise to Dr. Visser for the rude and incompetent treatment she has received at the hand of SeaWorld staff?
2. I would also like to ask how Sea World can claim scientific credibility when the social media team claims that 'peer reviewed science' shows that captive killer whales have a lifespan equivalent to that of their wild counterparts when the site they direct their fans to in order to prove this, does not, in fact, quote a single scientific paper that shows this. The first page SeaWorld used relies on comparing figures based on a calculations performed by Sea World that are not actually presented to the public, let alone publicised in a peer reviewed journal, to figures that are published in scientific articles. The newer page quotes a scientist, which is an improvement, however it only points to a quote in the Wall Street Journal, not a scientific paper, and a calculation by the Associated Press, again, not peer-reviewed. It also neglects to mention several details of the AP review, including the title (Sea lions do best, killer whales do worst in captivity) and the part of the assessment that showed that wild caught killer whales do in fact live shorter lives. It also fails to quantify the Wall Street Journal quote and as a result have been called out on it missing important details.
SeaWorld have also completely ignored the recently published paper in Marine Mammal Science (Jett, J. and Ventre, J. (2015), Captive killer whale (Orcinus orca) survival. Marine Mammal Science. doi: 10.1111/mms.12225) which concludes that survival to age milestones are poor in captivity when compared to wild killer whales.
Is this not a case of misleading the public and should an organisation such as Sea World that claims to be a leading authority in scientific publications on killer whales not know better than to engage in such behaviour?
3. I would also like to know how SeaWorld feel about the validity of a recent study on killer whale metabolism carried out on Tilikum that Sea World claims has a significant impact on our understanding of wild killer whale biology. I was under the impression that a sample size of one is not considered sufficient to draw valid scientific conclusions, especially as comparisons are being drawn between one comparatively sedentary individual in a captive setting, to highly mobile individuals in the wild when it is demonstrable that individuals of different fitness levels have different resting metabolic rates. Is it not dangerous to use the resting metabolic rate of a sedentary animal to estimate the energetic requirements of wide ranging wild counterparts, seeing how this might lead to an underestimation of the actual requirements?
4. Sea World have been known (and caught on film) quoting genetics as a reason for dorsal fin collapse. How adequate do you feel this explanation is, given that the only population with a high number of dorsal fin collapses (the NZ population) has had no genetic input into the Sea World gene pool and the rate of dorsal fin collapse in Southern Residents and the Icelandic populations is about 5% and 0.5% respectively whereas nearly 100% of Sea World's adult male killer whales suffer from this condition?
5. Sea World has often claimed captive cetaceans benefit conservation. Would the Sea World say that their killer whale breeding program benefits conservation? If so, how does he explain Sea World's adamant opposition to returning captive cetaceans in the wild? If captive cetaceans are being bred to one day replenish depleted stocks, this is surely something that needs to be considered. If Sea World are breeding for conservation, why are they not mindful of inbreeding and the cross breeding of different eco-types, when scientists are currently discussing whether or not different eco-types actually represent different sub species of killer whales? Would it not be advisable to create a 'genetic bank' of animals with genetic material that mimic the different eco-types that occur in the wild?
6. Sea World repeatedly speak about their commitment to conservation and animal welfare, yet they insist that wild collections are a necessary part of captive management and have applied to import wild caught belugas from Russia together with Georgia Aquarium. Belugas are highly susceptible to transport stress (St. Aubin, D. J., and J. R. Geraci. "Capture and handling stress suppresses circulating levels of thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3) in beluga whales Delphinapterus leucas." Physiological Zoology (1988): 170-175., Castellote, Manuel, and Fulvio Fossa. "Measuring acoustic activity as a method to evaluate welfare in captive beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas)." Aquatic Mammals 32.3 (2006): 325-333.) and capture by all accounts are traumatic experiences, increasing the mortality rate of some cetacean species sixfold (Small, R. and D.P. DeMaster. 1995a. Acclimation to captivity: a quantitative estimate based on survival of bottlenose dolphins and California sea lions. Marine Mammal Science 11:510-519.), how is this consistent with Sea World's message about it's concern for cetacean welfare?
In addition to this, peer reviewed articles have found that along with killer whales, belugas live shortened lives in captivity(Woodley, Thomas Hayes, Janice Hannah, and David Martin Lavigne. A comparison of survival rates for captive and free-ranging bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus), killer whales (Orcinus orca) and beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas). Vol. 97. No. 2. IMMA, 1997.)Furthermore, how does the Sea World feel about NOAAs assessment that the import of these belugas would create a market for wild caught belugas which in turn could stimulate unsustainable exploitation of wild populations? How is this consistent with Sea World's message of conservation? NOAAs assessment also, worryingly indicated that some of the animals that were to be imported were nursing, dependent calves. SeaWorld have consistently denied separating killer whale calves from their mothers (evidence to the contrary), acknowledging the public concern about calf welfare but how is this any different, if not worse?
7. On contacting Sea World to enquire about recent publications, a university student was told these were not generally available to the public but were restricted to scientific journals. When she clarified that she was a student and had access to the aforementioned journals, she received no reply. How is this consistent with the spirit of education and research that Sea World claim is central to their values?
8. Sea World's chief zoological officer Brad Andrews was caught on film in the documentary 'A Fall from Freedom' saying that killer whales were no more intelligent than his dog. How accurate an assessment do you feel this is, considering current scientific evidence that puts killer whales en par with great apes in their cognitive skills (Marino, Lori. "Convergence of complex cognitive abilities in cetaceans and primates." Brain Behavior and Evolution 59.1-2 (2002): 21-32., Marino L, Connor RC, Fordyce RE, Herman LM, Hof PR, Lefebvre L, et al. (2007) Cetaceans Have Complex Brains for Complex Cognition. PLoS Biol 5(5): e139. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0050139, Van Horik, J., N. Clayton, and N. Emery. "Convergent evolution of cognition in corvids, apes and other animals." The Oxford handbook of comparative evolutionary psychology (2012): 80-101., Whiten, Andrew. "Imitation and cultural transmission in apes and cetaceans."Behavioral and Brain Sciences 24.02 (2001): 359-360.Rendell, Luke, and Hal Whitehead. "Culture in whales and dolphins." Behavioral and Brain Sciences 24.02 (2001): 309-324.)? Should the Chief Zoological Officer of "the world's most foremost zoological organisation" not expected to be more informed about one of the key animals in his organisation's collection?
9. The UK, a country which has not held captive cetaceans since the 80s, has one of the strictest sets of laws pertaining to cetacean conservation and protection. How do you reconcile this with Sea World's claim that captive cetaceans are necessary ambassadors to educate and enthuse people about marine mammals? And how doe you explain most childrens' enthusiasm for dinosaurs, given that they have never seen a living specimen in a zoo?
10. Sea World have repeatedly claimed that their main aim is education and conservation. If this is the case, and conservation is their main priority, why are a mere 0.06% of annual profits used for conservation purposes?
11. If trainer safety is a priority for Sea World, how do you explain the court documents that show trainer Ken Peters was severely reprimanded (by Sea World's vice president of animal training) for cancelling a show after a killer whale showed aggression, with the words: "the show did not need to be cut short, we have reiterated our existing policy to utilise any and all resources before cancelling a show." Taking into account that the animal that repeatedly grabbed his foot in this instance was the animal that nearly killed him in front of a live audience in 2006.
12. Sea World has been quoted as saying they are celebrating 50 years of education and rescue. How does the Sea World representative console this with the quote from 'the father of Sea World', George Millay, that Sea World was created strictly for entertainment and never pretended to 'wear that false facade of educational significance.' Would it be correct to assume education was very much an after thought, mandated by law 25 years ago through the Marine Mammal Protection Act, rather than something that Sea World innately set out to do?
13. Current scientific evidence suggests that environmental enrichment in zoo animals is most effective if it targets the animal's primary sense (Wells, Deborah L. "Sensory stimulation as environmental enrichment for captive animals: a review." Applied Animal Behaviour Science 118.1 (2009)). In the case of cetaceans, this would be hearing. What efforts are being made by Sea World to provide a stimulating and enriched environment in this respect? How does SeaWorld respond to the claim in another paper (Clark, Fay E. "Marine mammal cognition and captive care: A proposal for cognitive enrichment in zoos and aquariums." Journal of Zoo and Aquarium Research 1.1 (2013): 1-6.) that floating objects are a barely adequate from of enrichment when this seems to be the primary form of enrichment provided at SeaWorld?
14. Research published by Dr. Georgia Mason and Dr. Ros Clubb (Clubb, R., Mason, G., 2003. Captivity
effects on wide-ranging carnivores. Nature 425, 473–474.)in the leading scientific journal Nature has shown that wide ranging carnivores are more likely to be negatively affected by the restrictions of captivity, resulting in poor welfare and stereotypic behaviour. Cetaceans are undoubtedly wide ranging predatory animals, wild killer whales travelling hundreds of miles a day, how you reconcile this with Sea World's claims that captive killer whales enjoy excellent welfare and thrive in captivity?
15. Why does Sea World think 'shows' are an effective way to present animals when animal performances in circuses are being banned and most zoos strive to present animals in their natural environment and encourage natural behaviours? How does the Sea World representative feel about the publication by EP Kelsey on Vancouver Aquarium that suggests that presenting animals in a 'show' environment is not an effective conservation tool? (Kelsey, Elin P. An alternative paradigm for conservation education: innovations in the public presentation of killer whales at the Vancouver Aquarium. Diss. University of British Columbia, 1994)
How does SeaWorld feel about the statement by the National Aquariums Chief Executive officer that 'shows are antiquated'?
Given the importance that is placed on trainer interactions by SeaWorld in all debates, is SeaWorld not essentially arguing, zoos that do not offer animal shows are not as successful at inspiring the public as they are?
16. Some basic biology questions for clarification: What according to Sea World is the average age of death of wild killer whales and captive killer whales? What, according to SeaWorld, is the maximum longevity of killer whales in the wild and in captivity? What, according to SeaWorld, is the average age of sexual maturity in males and females? What, according to Sea World, is the average age when females first give birth to a calf? What according to SeaWorld is the age when calves become 'socially independent'.
17. At what age does a calf cease being a calf by Sea World's definition? Sea World have repeatedly stated that they do not separate mums & calves, however, at least 12 different animals have been separated under the age of 5. Wild killer whales have been known to still be learning behaviours from their mothers at this age suggesting that they are not fully independent yet (Guinet, Christophe, and Jérome Bouvier. "Development of intentional stranding hunting techniques in killer whale (Orcinus orca) calves at Crozet Archipelago."Canadian Journal of Zoology 73.1 (1995): 27-33.). How would you respond to that?
How would you justify the transfer of Kohana and Skyla to Loro Parque, both under the age of 4, Skyla being about 2 years old.
18. SeaWorld state in their "69 reasons Blackfish is false" that they are unaware of 'any scientific basis' for the fact that resident killer whale calves never leave their mother and that 'this statement defies logic'. This is at odds with established scientific facts (eg. http://cascadiaresearch.org/robin/Baird2000CetaceanSocieties.pdf) How would you respond to this and how do you think it affects SeaWorld's scientific credibility, given this suggest either ignorance or deliberate misinformation?
19. A Sea World training manual published by the Orlando Sentinel states: "Certain words and phrases have negative connotations. At Sea World, we call these "buzzwords." Avoid buzzwords and use more positive words--you'll give guests a better overall impression."
Apart from listing words such as sick and dead, it also lists:
'evolve - Because evolution is a controversial theory, use the word "adapt."' It seems bizarre that a SeaWorld, which claims to be a leading zoological organisation with a dedication to education, research and conservation, would describe evolution as 'controversial' in any way shape or form. While some guests may feel uncomfortable with the concept, if it is SeaWorld's goal to genuinely educate the public, they should surely stick to scientifically accurate information. How do you explain this if SeaWorld's main goal is education and not pandering to paying customers?
20. SeaWorld claim they promote and inspire conservation. Yet they have been quoted on several occasions for polluting Mission Bay (http://www.sandiegoreader.com/documents/2012/mar/20/seaworld-settlement/) and engage in frequent firework displays that many argue contributes to air pollution. Would you agree this is a contradiction?
21. SeaWorld often claim that Blackfish is the premise of 'radical extremists' that engage in lying and misleading behaviour, frequently directing it's criticisms at PETA in specific. The focus on PETA and constant repetition of criticisms aimed at PETA in conjunction with Blackfish would suggest that PETA are involved in Blackfish in some way and it seems as if SeaWorld are happy for their followers to believe this when they must be aware this is not the case. While PETA have enthusiastically jumped on the bandwagon, they are not responsible for Blackfish, nor is every Blackfish supporter a PETA supporter, yet SeaWorld seems keen to push this misconception. Is it not hypocritical to criticise Blackfish for 'misleading' the public and engage in the same behaviour repeatedly and knowingly?
22. Why did SeaWorld threaten to withdraw from the American Cetacean Society's captivity panel if it was recorded and made available to the wider public? SeaWorld claims it is an important part of the scientific community and can base it's claims about killer whale welfare firmly in the realm of scientific evidence, would it not be in SeaWorld's interest to have the opportunity to publicly, and in the presence of leading cetacean scientists, make their case? A scientific conference is hardly the place for 'radical extremists' to be present. Unless SeaWorld assert that some of the scientists at this conference, publishing regularly in peer reviewed journals, are in fact 'trolls' and 'radical extremists'. Would it be fair to say seeing eminent cetacean scientists discuss this issue at a scientific conference would cast doubt on SeaWorld's assertion that Blackfish is only supported by radical extremists and is this why SeaWorld threatened to drop out if it was recorded?
23. SeaWorld has condemned former SeaWorld trainer John Hargrove for an incriminating video showing him use an offensive and racially loaded term. This is of course to be condemned and SeaWorld are right to be concerned about their employees using such terms. However, in Hargrove's own book, that SeaWorld is undoubtedly aware of, he highlights an incident where a senior SeaWorld staff member tells him he nearly did not hire him as he thought he was gay. Furthermore, SeaWorld have been cited for discrimination against Afro-American and Hispanic applicants and the book, Death at SeaWorld, furthermore gives worrying examples of company policy, highlighting incidents of intimidation. If SeaWorld think it is 'important' for the world to know about Hargrove's indiscretion, shouldn't they also be concerned with these allegations and investigate company culture? Given these circumstances, would it be reasonable to assume that rather than being 'concerned' about something a former employee said, this is a ad hominen attack, an attempt to discredit him due to the release of his new book which has already received a lot of attention from the media and mentioned on several highly credible websites (such as the New Scientist recommended reads page).
24. SeaWorld claim that the expansion of the killer whale tanks is not a response to drop in attendance and bad publicity but pre-dates Blackfish. Yet John Hargrove, who left SeaWorld in 2012 claimed that tank expansions were repeatedly refused at San Antonio. Furthermore, no planning permission has yet been given. If this was planned in advance, would you not expect to have been given planning permission before the project was announced?
25. SeaWorld claim that food plays a minor role in controlling killer whales and that food deprivation is no longer part of the training regime. Yet in his book, John Hargrove talks about incidents when animals usually receiving 180-250 pounds of food were limited to as little as 59 pounds of food as a means of control. In recent posts SeaWorld states that their killer whales are never deprived of 'the food they need', would SeaWorld not agree this phrasing is deliberately vague as it does not completely exclude the possibility that food that the animals don't 'need' for immediate survival may be cut?
26. SeaWorld have publically attacked Blackfish supporters as being trolls and bots due to the strong reaction to their #AskSeaWorld campaign. It shows a screenshot of a 'tweet sheet', a page that allows you to tweet/re-tweet at the click of a button. This is a technique often used during tweet storms, social media phenomena with the aim to get a certain hashtag trending and raise awareness for a cause. They are set up by Twitter users and used by Twitter users, there is no bot involved. SeaWorld engage in quite a similar technique by repeatedly copy & pasting premade answers with no variation. How do SeaWorld draw the line between a bot/troll and a genuine question? Would it be reasonable to assume that denigrating all critical questions as coming from trolls is simply side stepping the issue of answering the more critical questions and if so, is it not counterproductive as SeaWorld will only be engaging with people already on their side?
Do you think the #AskSeaworld campaign has been successful?
27. Former trainer Mark Simmons has been very outspoken against Blackfish and SeaWorld have produced several videos featuring him and his wife (his wife being introduced as a 'conservationist', him as a former trainer). Both work for Ocean Embassy which also employs a number of other former SeaWorld employees and which proposed (in 2007) to capture no less than 80 wild dolphins from Panama waters (http://articles.latimes.com/2007/jun/24/world/fg-flipper24), a proposal that was widely condemned by local communities as well as the scientific community, Randy Wells from Mote Marine Laboratory saying of it: "I am strongly opposed to the removal of dolphins from the wild, especially in the absence of adequate assessments of wild populations. We (SDRP) have found indications that disruption of the community through losses/removals can adversely impact animals remaining in the wild through decreased reproductive success and disruption of social structure."
How do Sea World feel about Ocean Embassy's proposal? Is this a project proposal, that has been condemned by world renowned cetacean scientists, SeaWorld would be supportive of? And if not why have they allowed Simmons to be a spokesperson for them? How do they think it reflects on them to have an outspoken advocate of (unsustainable and poorly researched) wild dolphin captures be their representative in the public eye?
28. On the #AskSeaWorld site, there is a section where SeaWorld has asked if they have ever saved a killer whale. I have some questions about most of the examples quoted.
First of all, the first example SeaWorld give is not of a killer whale at all, but of JJ, a grey whale calf. The rescue of JJ was touted as a great SeaWorld success. My questions about this are, first of all, is it not correct that SeaWorld refused to get involved with JJ's rescue until the press picked up the story, initially 'coldly refusing' requests for help? (http://whalerescueteam.org/rescue-stories/j-j-rescue/)
Once JJ was released, SeaWorld deemed the story a great success but is it not correct that the transmitter fitted to JJ fell off 3 days later and she was not sighted since then?
How can SeaWorld in good faith call this a success while at the same time condemning Keiko's release, who independently fed and crossed the ocean, as a tragic failure?
A further example quoted in this question refers to the rescue of a pod of orcas that wandered into Barnes lake, Alaska, saying people can read about their role in this rescue in the link provided. The link SeaWorld provides, however, only gives two explicit mentions of SeaWorld, one stating that 2 people from SeaWorld arrived (on the third day of the operation) and one that thanked SeaWorld for financial support. It did not give any indication of what SeaWorld's advice, if any, was. I would like to know what their opinion and advice in this situation actually was.
The next example talks about Morgan, a juvenile killer whale, that was captured by a Dutch aquarium to rehabilitate her. SeaWorld say they assisted the aquarium in her care. Interestingly they make no mention or reference to a different questioned they answered about Morgan, where they state they helped find her a suitable long term home (Loro Parque, which already housed a number of other SeaWorld orcas) or the fact that Morgan is now listed as one of their animals on their inventory list. Why is this part of the 'rescue' not addressed?
Another notable omission in this answer is SeaWorld's role in the rescue of Springer, a young female killer whale that got separated from her pod and subsequently sought human contact which was endangering her well-being. Experts were called in to assess her health and the feasibility of re-uniting her with her family.
SeaWorld vet Dr. Jim McBain was one of the first to make an assessment, opposing the attempt to release her, and were quoted as saying: "Her condition is a concern. This is not a robust killer whale." and "To me this is the big question right now- is she going to know she is a killer whale and go with those animals."
The following week and independent vet completely contradicted this assessment, Springer was released, successfully reunited with her family and now has a calf of her own.
How does SeaWorld explain this discrepancy between McBain's assessment, by their own accounts a world expert in killer whale care, and the events that followed? Would it be reasonable to assume that SeaWorld were hoping to acquire Springer for their own collection? And if not, and if they stand proudly with their initial diagnosis, why is there no mention of her, incredibly successful, rescue in this answer?
29. What, according to SeaWorld, is their relationship with Loro Parque? Loro Parque is a Spanish theme park and their entire killer whale collection belongs to SeaWorld. Furthermore, SeaWorld say themselves they worked with Loro Parque to find a suitable home for Morgan, the orphaned Dutch killer whale, and continue to work with them to care for Morgan (who is now listed as one of SeaWorld's killer whales). Furthermore, Keto, one of SeaWorld's killer whales killed Loro Parque trainer Alexis Martinez while under direct supervision from a senior SeaWorld trainer, Brian Rockeach. Yet, when questioned in court, SeaWorld curator Kelly F. Clark, when asked (under oath) if SeaWorld was affiliated with Loro Parque, answered 'no'. Kelly Clark was good friends with Dawn Brancheau, who has been pictured with Alexis Martinez wearing a Loro Parque wetsuit. It is therefore highly unlikely Ms. Clark did not know about this connection. Could you explain SeaWorld's exact relationship with Loro Parque giving this conflicting information?
30. When asked by a visitor about killer whale welfare, a SeaWorld trainer was filmed saying:" Let's not differentiate based on their size and intelligence" (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a0sRqvTvzAs), makingthe argument that all animals should be seen as the same. This is in clear contradiction to scientific knowledge. Cognitive abilities have been on numerous occasions quoted as one of the main factors that affect captive welfare (Held S, Mendl M, Devereux C and Byrne RW 2001 Studies in social cognition: from primates to pigs. Animal Welfare 10, Suppl: S209-S217, Clarke, A. Susan, Charles J. Juno, and Terry L. Maple. "Behavioral effects of a change in the physical environment: a pilot study of captive chimpanzees." Zoo Biology 1.4 (1982): 371-380., Veasey, J. "Concepts in the care and welfare of captive elephants."International Zoo Yearbook 40.1 (2006): 63-79., ). while body size in itself may not be a good indicator, how far animals range in the wild has been shown to have a significant effect on wellbeing in captivity (Nature 425, 473-474 (2 October 2003) | doi:10.1038/425473a). It is worrying that SeaWorld's trainers seem to be unaware of these basic and well published principles of animal welfare. Are SeaWorld trainers unaware of current scientific research or do they choose to ignore it in order to deliberately mislead the public and what does that say about SeaWorld's scientific and educational credibility?
31. In SeaWorld's answer on tooth wear in captive and in wild orcas respectively, why does SeaWorld deliberately ignore the effects of eco-type and diet on tooth wear in wild killer whales despite it being clearly laid out as having a major effect in the source they quote? Would it be reasonable to assume this is again, a deliberate attempt to normalise captive conditions by omitting important facts ?
I will eagerly be awaiting answers!
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