6 min read

SeaWorld Makes The Fourth Of July Hell For Its Orcas

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Animals often get a little freaked out by fireworks on the Fourth of July. Our dogs and cats run under our beds or jump into our laps for extra petting until the booming is over.

But for wild animals with sensitive ears, like orca whales, who are trapped in a tank when the blasts start, the displays can be very scary - and possibly harmful.

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"I live ten miles from SeaWorld San Diego. They have nightly fireworks shows during the summer, which freaks my dogs out every night, even this far away," one Dodo reader recently wrote in, in response to an article about orcas and noise. "I can't imagine what it's like for the animals in residence at the park. SeaWorld won't even acknowledge what the debris from the fireworks does to our bay and the animals, fish and birds they profess to care so much about."

SeaWorld writes on its website:

We have worked with independent experts in the field of bioacoustics from Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute and the National Marine Mammal Foundation to measure the ambient noise in our environments (including music, etc.). Our underwater noise levels are quieter than the ambient ocean. And those above water sounds don't transfer underwater. So, based on these studies, we are confident the sounds in our environment are not detrimental to the animal's wellbeing.

The Dodo asked scientists independent of the Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute, who said the fact is, SeaWorld's orcas are often forced to surface during shows and for feedings.

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"It is true that in-air noises like fireworks do not penetrate the air-water interface well. While the whales might be able to hear the fireworks underwater, the noise would be very muted and would probably not be very bothersome," Naomi Rose, a marine mammal scientist at the Animal Welfare Institute, told The Dodo. "What SeaWorld fails to address (on purpose, no doubt) is that captive orcas spend an unnatural amount of time at the surface of the water - in fact, with their head (and ears) out of the water. As a matter of standard operating procedure, the whales are taught 'stationing' behavior - to position themselves in front of their trainers, head out of the water - which is how they are fed."

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When the orcas are in shows, their heads are out of the water more than 90 percent of the time, Ingrid Visser, a scientist at the Orca Research Trust, told The Dodo. "SeaWorld's statement about the 'underwater' noise is not the point to dispute. It is the fact that the animals are exposed to the above water noise that is the issue."

If SeaWorld cares, as it professes, it might want to consider the concerns people have for animals.

But because SeaWorld is a for-profit entertainment corporation, the firework shows this weekend (and all summer) at SeaWorld parks across the country are sure to be a literal blast ... orcas be damned.

Update: A Dodo reader wrote in with examples of videos showing orcas being encouraged to be out of the water during firework displays at SeaWorld. Here is just one example of many:

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