No, SeaWorld, There's Nothing Normal About This Pregnant Whale 'Playing' With Her Gate

As published on Cetacean News Network

Behold SeaWorld's play-gate

SeaWorld desperately wants you to believe so many dangerous things are normal. Now they want you to believe: "Killer whales play with gates and it's harmless."

For years? Well Seaworld, we know another killer whale, Kotar, that played with pneumatic gates too, it resulted in his skull getting crushed. How is that harmless?

In the video below, SeaWorld San Diego's curator of animal training Al Garver goes on the defensive but his attempts to do damage control fail. His assistant curator Robbin Sheets then immediately tries to normalize the behavior. Then supervisor of animal training Kristi Burtis makes sure to emphasize how well the area is monitored.

click to play video

Instead of clearing the air Seaworld raised more troubling questions, again. "Kalia is making a decision on her own that she wanted to go play with the gate, it does happen from time to time, see, pushing the gate open," begins Garver.

"We have seen it time several times with her, others too but ..see...she will push it open...rubbing her side," adds Sheets.

If this is common there should be lots of footage of this "play behavior" from other captive killer whales, but SeawWorld only showed the previously reported video.

Maybe SeaWorld could also explain why they had pregnant Kalia do a slide out on her stomach? But I digress.

So, is it true that this is common? Jeffrey Ventre, one of the cornerstones of the Blackfish movement and a veteran SeaWorld trainer, saw Kalia's video that captured the world's attention. Knowing SeaWorld would try to pitch that angle, I asked Ventre if this was a common occurrence. "I would say that it's an uncommon occurrence. But as you know, with Kotar, a potentially deadly one."

Kalia had her head between the metal edge and the metal gate. If this is intentional as Seaworld claims, is the intention to hurt herself? Seems like a risky way to play around in the last term of pregnancy. If Kalia does have the tendency to play in the gates, shouldn't she be monitored even closer so it doesn't hurt her or her unborn calf, especially given the history with Kotar playing with gates?

After seeing SeaWorld's follow up video Ventre adds that, "It's in their best interest to publicly downplay any health threat that gates present. Not only did Kotar get his head crushed in a pneumatic gate that he was playing with. The horizontal steel bars on the gate are the primary objects that the orcas break their teeth on, via 'jaw popping.'"

I asked about her biting down on the metal edge that she was pinned against, and regarding that Ventre says "biting the concrete is called a stereotypy. It's a repetitive behavior in a captive animal given inadequate mental stimulation. It's neurotic for sure."

Why doesn't SeaWorld mention Kalia's late-term pregnancy? Why are they downplaying this so fervently? In their video the camera pulls away from the monitor when Kalia starts to struggle and focuses on the defensive rhetoric instead.

It's a better angle for SeaWorld but it's not the truth.

Doth protest too much, SeaWorld.