Opinion: Visting SeaWorld in a post ‘Blackfish’ society

Carley Hull is a senior news major. Contact her at [email protected].

Carley Hull

On New Year’s Eve, I didn’t go to a fancy party or drink bottles of champagne. I went to SeaWorld Orlando.

I had completely forgotten SeaWorld until I saw the documentary “Blackfish” that outlined SeaWorld’s inhumane treatment of killer whales and the violent nature of the killer whale Tilikum, who killed three people.

I decided to not let the documentary Blackfish define my opinion of SeaWorld. Blackfish’s message of an evil SeaWorld was over-editorialized and often unethical in its misrepresentation of b-roll and voiceovers, but beyond all that, it outlined that killer whales performing in captivity is a harm not only to the whales, but also the people who work with them.

I tried to go with an open mind. What I found was an eerie and changed SeaWorld. Blackfish has had an effect not only on SeaWorld financially, but emotionally.

This wasn’t my first visit to SeaWorld. I went to Ohio’s SeaWorld that closed in 2001 multiple times as a small child. Trainers swam with the killer whales, balanced on their noses and somehow got these huge creatures to do flips.

Now, the trainers don’t go in the tanks with the whales and do a lot of dancing, from a distance. From the history of attacks on trainers, this seems completely sane, but Blackfish caused my worry to set in. If killer whales are too dangerous to swim with, why should they have to swim for our entertainment? I braced myself for something horrible as the killer whales performed three extra shows for SeaWorld’s 50th anniversary celebration.

What I saw was trainers who either appeared cautious or passionate and killer whales that were beautiful and often disinterested. As I got to show number three, I started to feel horrible. A sinking lowness set in because I paid to watch these creatures perform what they did every day without any benefits, but rather a smaller living space. By the last show, a young killer whale was either crying or yelling out to its trainer and refused to do tricks. It instead opted to try and swim over a barrier into the back pool before joining the performance. To some this may have been cute, I thought it was sad.

I still cannot hate SeaWorld despite how sad that young killer whale made me feel. SeaWorld still does good and no one can ignore that. They rescue animals and offer the injured a safe haven. In response to Blackfish, SeaWorld made a $10 million pledge to match funds to support research focused on threats to wild killer whales, or orcas, as well as a multimillion-dollar partnership focused on ocean health. According to the Associated Press, a new 10-million gallon tank called the Blue World Project is set to be completed at the San Diego location by 2018 and will include a fast water current for the whales to swim across. SeaWorld locations in Orlando and San Antonio are not scheduled to have similar tanks until after 2018.

While these tanks can’t come soon enough, and I hope they will improve the orcas’ quality of life, it is apparent the performing killer whales are not injured and don’t need to be in captivity like many of the other animals. This makes me confused, not hateful. Because SeaWorld is truly a confusing place for a person with a conscience. I don’t feel that anyone can hate SeaWorld until they experience it firsthand. It is a beautiful and sad place, a haven and a prison.