It's no secret that, in the last few years, a huge controversy has formed around SeaWorld and the orcas they keep in captivity. Thanks to Gabriela Cowperthwaite's 2013 documentary, "Blackfish," the general public has become exposed to the dark truth of what goes on behind the glass tanks and wild performances for the poor orcas. Since the release of the "Blackfish" documentary, the CEO of SeaWorld, Joel Manby, has promised to make many positive changes to benefit these animals. These changes include the discontinuation of orca shows by 2017. However, it has been released by SeaWorld that the orca shows are only being discontinued at the San Diego location, if really at all. In their normal fashion, SeaWorld continues to lie to the public in attempt to hide their mistreatment of the orcas they hold captive.
Over the last 50 years that orcas have been kept in captivity by SeaWorld, a myriad of health issues have been uncovered—most being extremely rare or completely unseen in their wild counterparts. SeaWorld has and will continue to lie about the health of their orcas for profit, with no disregard for the pain they are putting these creatures through on a daily basis. One issue that has been observed in orcas is rake marks, which occur when the teeth of a dominant orca scrape against the skin of a submissive orca. This causes chronic stress and is very painful for these creatures.
Another health issue these orcas face are collapsed dorsal fins—every single captive male orca has one. In the wild, this is seen in less than 1 percent of the population. The driving force behind this deformity is the lack of movement due to tanks that are much too small for these animals. Almost every captive orca also shows signs of severe dental trauma from gnawing on the sides of their glass tanks. In order to prevent pathogens from entering their blood stream and possibly killing them, veterinarians at SeaWorld drill holes (usually without any form of anesthesia) in the orcas' teeth to allow them to be flushed daily.
At SeaWorld, the most common causes of death for orcas are pneumonia, septicemia and other types of infections. A leading cause of the infections is thought to be immunosuppression, also known as pathogens or injuries that the immune systems of wild orcas would fight off easily. These may be fatal to captive orcas due to chronic stress, depression and boredom. Also, the mortality rate in captive orcas is 2.5 times higher than the wild population. The majority of orcas in captivity die before their early 20s, a phenomenon extremely rare in wild orcas. The fact that captive orcas suffer from more serious health issues and die decades earlier than wild populations raises more serious concerns about the compatibility of orcas and captivity.
SeaWorld announced on March 17, 2016 that they are officially putting an end to all captive orca breeding, effective immediately. In a statement, the company explains that “SeaWorld has been listening and we’re changing. Society is changing and we’re changing with it." So long as they follow through with this promise, these changes are just the beginning and SeaWorld must stand down and make a few more substantial changes before the orcas will be truly free of captivity and the undue stress and health problems it has created for them. In order for this to happen though, we must stand up and raise awareness. We need to be the voice that the orcas do not have because they deserve better than a life of floating listlessly in a tiny glass tank purely for the entertainment of the human race.