As kids, many of us watched or heard of the movie "Free Willy." What many people don't realize, however, is that Willy was based off of a real Orca Whale named Keiko, who was taken from his family in Iceland when he was very young. He was then held and kept in a small, chlorinated and unshaded pool at an amusement park in Mexico City. Fortunately for Keiko, he was released back into the wild of six years of captivity, but many whales did not have this same fate.
Imagine having to live in the average suburban swimming pool for the rest of your life - that is what the Orcas at SeaWorld face. In order for the Orcas at SeaWorld to swim their wild counterparts' daily distance each day, they would have to swim laps in the main show pool more than 1,400 times, which most Orcas are not awarded as they're kept in smaller pools behind the scenes. Even the Orcas that are lucky enough to be in the show pool often spend their time lying on the bottom of the pool due to chronic stress, or floating listlessly near the surface - a behavior called logging.
This cramped environment can also lead to a condition called dorsal fin collapse, which is when the dorsal fin of an Orca collapses or flops over. This is caused by the Orcas spending too much time by the surface where gravity pushes down on their fins. While less than one percent of wild Orcas have dorsal fin collapse, 100% of captive Orcas have dorsal fin collapse.
Cramped conditions are not even the worst of what these captive cetaceans face. In the wild, Orcas, particularly males, spend their entire lives with their mothers and the rest in their family pod. SeaWorld destroyed these natural relationships by tearing more than 25 calves away from their mothers and shipping them off to other parks.
Separating mothers and calves has great repercussions as many of the calves that have been taken never learned how to be mothers. On top of the Orcas not learning to be mothers, female Orcas are bred at an incredibly young age, around age eight, while wild Orcas start breeding around 14. Furthermore, this combination leads to the disastrous result of many mothers rejecting their calves. This rarely happens in the wild, but many times at SeaWorld female Orcas have given birth only to swim away from their calves or even to show aggression towards them.
Additionally, Orcas in the wild eat a wide range of food, from sharks and seals to fish and seabirds. Captive Orcas however, eat dead fish, up to 83 pounds of gelatin, and a valium-like drug. In addition, the water the Orcas live in is too pristine for them to drink due to all the chemicals, causing them to need water supplements in the form of gelatin to prevent dehydration.
Orcas are the ocean's top predator; in areas where they meet Great Whites, they kill Great Whites, so it's no surprise that these captive animals can become aggressive. To combat this sense of aggression, SeaWorld gives their Orcas a valium-like drug to help curb their aggressive tendencies and cure their depression, as some captive cetaceans have tried to commit suicide by throwing themselves over the sides of their tanks. I think it's easy to say that any animal that needs drugs for comfort in captivity should not be in captivity.
Conservation is a large part of the SeaWorld argument. Seaworld claims to have rescued and released over 22,000 injured or ill animals. Many of these animals were species that no other facilities had the ability to care for, such as pilot whales. Some SeaWorld claim that because SeaWorld is one of the largest rescue facilities in the U.S., nothing they do can be negligent. These same people believe that SeaWorld could not rescue animals without captive Orcas' shows, but SeaWorld mainly gets its rescue money from government grants; only about six cents from every 80 dollar ticket goes to conservation efforts.
Deceitfulness seems to be Seaworld's strong suit as they have being lying to the public since 1959. In the end, nothing that SeaWorld does will ever make up for the fact that they abuse their animals, whether this abuse be intentional or not.