In 2012, Orca Aware conducted a literature search for SeaWorld killer whale publications and found from the results that SeaWorld have only produced a maximum of 30 orca-related papers in the last 50 years, with only about five further articles having any affiliation with SeaWorld at all. Many of these papers were published pre-1990.
Orcas barely feature in SeaWorld's Research">Conservation & Research (unless pretty pictures of orcas count?). Much of the information available centres around artificial insemination (AI). It is a struggle to see how any AI or captive breeding "tools developed through ex situ [in captivity] research" can be "integrated into in situ [in the wild] population management and conservation strategies," as the SeaWorld mission statement declares. Can you imagine using this orca semen collecting research tool on a wild 22-foot long, 12,000 pound male killer whale out in the open ocean? Or this endoscopy tool being used on SeaWorld orca Keto at Loro Parque? (Keto killed his trainer Alexis Martinez in December 2009, two months before SeaWorld orca Tilikum killed his trainer Dawn Brancheau in February 2010).
So what have researchers at SeaWorld been doing for the last 50 years that they have been holding orcas captive? Perhaps SeaWorld science just isn't easy to find. A zoology student (who had open access to numerous journals through her university institute) wrote to the Ask Shamu Team explaining that she would like to learn more about orcas and asking which journals she would be able to find their publications in.
They responded: "Our research, in general, is not available for people outside the zoological society to read and review. Although we do an extensive amount of research there is little we can directly point you to." It looks like they don't seem to know where SeaWorld keeps their science either!
To put this into some kind of perspective - since 1998 the Orca Research Trust has published at least 22 peer-reviewed papers on orcas. Over the last 10 years, the Far East Russia Orca Project has published 10 papers. Of course, there are some projects or individuals who won't have published so many articles on orcas, but if we were to amalgamate all peer-reviewed studies published by all wild orca researchers over the past four or five decades they have been researching the more than 40 wild orca populations spread throughout the World's oceans, (a slightly larger and less controlled environment than that of the artificial captive environment), studying individuals and groups who spend more than 70 percent of their time underwater, (as opposed to captive orcas who spend more than 70 percent of their time at the water's surface where they find human hands and buckets full of fish), I am sure the worldwide team effort would amount to much more than SeaWorld's average of less than one scientific article per year.
Perhaps the high-flying, fast-moving orca shows that SeaWorld are renowned for have distracted from SeaWorld's science. Performances seem to have taken a precedence over research, but what education do they deliver? With cuddly toys advertised above the heads of apex ocean predators, the credibility of any such education must be called into question. The behaviors orcas are trained to perform are often unnatural and unrepresentative of the species: orcas shaking their heads from side to side while sticking their tongues out, waggling them in the opposite direction; spinning on their sides while half-beached on shallow slide-outs; swimming through the water with humans riding on their backs and hanging off their pectoral fins.