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It’s SeaWorld’s 50th anniversary this year – but before you put on your party hats and pour out the champagne, make sure you read up on these 50 not-so-celebratory facts about the entertainment giant.

Shady Beginnings

50 Reasons Why We Won't Be Celebrating SeaWorld's 50th AnniversaryBritt Reints/Flickr

1. A female orca named Shamu was the first “star” to perform at SeaWorld San Diego, back in 1965. During her capture, her mother had been shot at and killed by self-professed “marine cowboy” Ted Griffin.

2. Tilikum, the long-suffering “prize bull” of SeaWorld, was captured in similar circumstances.

3. Griffin’s partner, Don Goldsberry, was later assigned the task of bringing orcas into the new theme park. He continued to use indescribably cruel capture methods.

4. Amongst other gruesome methods, Goldsberry is known to have once hired divers to slit open the stomachs of four orcas, fill them with rocks, put anchors around their tails, and sink them to the bottom of the ocean so that their deaths would remain undiscovered.

5. Of course, this brutal reality was not the picture SeaWorld chose to present to its earliest visitors.

6. Their first advertisement in “The San Diego Union” in the spring of 1961 took on a beguiling tone, with early investors promising San Diegans that the new development would be “A Playground for Citizens of Land and Sea.”

7. Back in 1961, nobody knew if killer whales were capable of surviving in captivity – let alone be trained to perform tricks – but Milton Shedd, founder of SeaWorld, along with partners George Millay, Ken Norris, and Dave DuMotte, were determined to press on with their plans regardless.

8. SeaWorld’s shows were always targeted at pleasing human audiences, rather than catering for the well-being of the animals.

9. Early plans included eight trained penguins performing “a series of underwater frills” that “display their grace in an underwater element, and with comic dignity delight their audience.”

10. These dignified and comical penguins would then be followed by trained porpoises, who would “tow their trainer through an obstacle course and chase mechanical fish like greyhounds.”

11. The grand finale? Blindfolded dolphins, who would cause visitors to “wonder at their ability to locate targets and run mazes.”

12. In this way, SeaWorld began to teach kids to regard cetacean captivity as normal – or even desirable.

SeaWorld’s Treatment of Their Captive Animals

50 Reasons Why We Won't Be Celebrating SeaWorld's 50th AnniversaryTammy Lo/Flickr

13. A scientific study undertaken by Newcastle University found that dolphins in close proximity to humans experience high levels of stress, which prevents them from “resting, feeding, or nurturing their young.”

14. In spite of this, SeaWorld continues to permit visitors to touch and swim with dolphins at its Discovery Cove in Orlando, Fla.

15. On Jan. 11, 2012, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued an official warning to SeaWorld San Diego because of its “repeated failure to provide drain covers that are securely fastened in order to minimise the potential risk of animal entrapment.”

16. Sadly, this lapse in care by SeaWorld staff led to the death of a sea lion.

17. In March 2013, following PETA’s complaint about a child who had been bitten by a dolphin at SeaWorld Orlando, the USDA cited the park for multiple infringements of the Animal Welfare Act, including their use of expired surgical materials –some of which were almost a decade old.

18. The USDA also noted that a dolphin tank and the areas surrounding the main orca performance tank were in a state of dangerous disrepair, with crumbling concrete and rusty beams that “could pose a threat to the health and safety of both animals and workers.”

19. The Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 put an end to SeaWorld’s practice of live whale capture. From then on, they had to devise a new way of supplying themselves with new star performers…

20. … especially since orcas who are held in captivity tend to die at a significantly earlier age than they would in the wild.

21. (Disclaimer: if you are in any way squeamish, look away now!) SeaWorld trains its male orcas to present their penises, so they can then masturbate the animals and collect their sperm.

22. Female orcas are artificially inseminated with this sperm, often being forced to breed at a much younger age than they would in the wild.

23. Needless to say, the orcas don’t get to choose their own mates, as they would if they were out in the open ocean. No romance here!

24. In spite of loud protestations to the contrary, SeaWorld has separated mother and baby orcas on numerous occasions.

25. The organization has a long history of housing incompatible orcas together in the same tank – resulting in needless deaths, injuries, and incidents of aggression.

26. SeaWorld claims that their orcas benefit from taking part in their inane performances. Well, we guess they would probably be grateful for any kind of activity that doesn’t revolve around staring at the walls of their enclosures all day).

27. And if an animal isn’t performing to SeaWorld’s satisfaction, the solution seems to be: pump them with drugs.

28. They have administered these drugs without veterinary approval – contrary to vice-president of communications, Fred Jacobs’ statement.

29. Animal protection groups suspect that Morgan’s continued imprisonment at Loro Parque is motivated by SeaWorld’s desire to use her as a brand-new breeding machine.

30. SeaWorld believes that their continual purchases of expensive gadgets prove how much they care for their captive orcas.

Lack of Respect for Human Lives

50 Reasons Why We Won't Be Celebrating SeaWorld's 50th AnniversaryAndy Blackledge/Flickr

31. SeaWorld’s corporate log contains over 100 incidents of orca aggression at its parks.

32. The list of humans who have been killed or seriously injured by frustrated captive orcas continues to grow – but SeaWorld insists that there are no safety risks attached to working with these animals.

33. After a trainer was attacked by an orca at SeaWorld San Diego, in 2006, the California Division of Occupational Health stated that it was “only a matter of time” before someone was killed while interacting with the orcas.

34. Anti-captivity advocacy site SeaWorld of Hurt believes that “a further investigation into these attacks could have prevented further injuries and deaths.”

35. SeaWorld has consistently shirked responsibility for the death of trainer Dawn Brancheau, with president Dan Brown stating, “we have never never, in the history of our parks, had an incident like this.”

36. Hmm … Mr Brown, did you forget that SeaWorld orca Keto, who was on loan to Loro Parque, had killed trainer Alexis Martinez just eight weeks earlier?

37. The fact that they continue to exploit Tilikum as a source of sperm has made it abundantly clear that they have learned nothing from the tragedy.

38. An investigation by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) ultimately concluded that SeaWorld’s policies had been at fault in Brancheau’s death.

40. OSHA investigator Cindy Coe stated, “SeaWorld recognized the inherent risk of allowing trainers to interact with potentially dangerous animals. Nonetheless, it required its employees to work within the pool walls, on ledges, and on shelves where they were subject to dangerous behaviour by the animals.”

41. Contrary to popular belief, SeaWorld’s trainers frequently have no actual education in marine biology. Their job is to entertain visitors and put on a “good show”, not educate people about the intelligence, foraging behaviour, habitats, and natural family groupings of the animals held in the parks.

42. SeaWorld’s solution to all this has consisted of getting employees to wear safety vests. Right … because that’s going to solve all of their problems.

Ridiculous PR Tactics

50 Reasons Why We Won't Be Celebrating SeaWorld's 50th AnniversaryTammy Lo/Flickr

43. Who can forget one of their latest (and funniest) PR initiatives: the Truth Team?

44. They have twisted scientific papers to suit their own purposes.

45. In response to the “Blackfish Effect,” which has considerably eaten into their profits, SeaWorld released an open letter to the public, hilariously claiming to be “true animal advocates.”

46. SeaWorld continues to deny the “Blackfish Effect” and insists that everything is fine, even as customers abandon their parks in droves.

47. SeaWorld has consistently wimped out of taking part in public debate with anyone who happens not to share their views.

48. They have, however, been very quick to attack those dissenters, typically writing concerned marine scientists and activists as “dangerous extremists.”

49. Our hopes were briefly raised earlier this month, when it seemed as though the corporation had agreed to engage in a public debate at long last…

50. … until we realized that the focal point of the discussion will be SeaWorld’s economic contribution to the city of San Diego, with just a small mention of “animal welfare issues.”

Still feel like throwing a party now, SeaWorld?

Image source: Josh Hallett/Flickr

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18 comments on “50 Reasons Why We Won’t Be Celebrating SeaWorld’s 50th Anniversary”

Click to add comment
please watch BLACKFISH documentary
4 Years Ago

Please watch the documentary BLACKFISH. It comprehensively explains all the facts inside and out.
available on netflix.
orcas live upto 100 years in nature. They live about 25 years in captivity.
dorsal fin in captivity is almost always crooked but that is extremely rare in nature.
the orcas in captivity show extreme frustration, depression and anxiety.
they are meant to swim for miles in nature.
they have absolute need for social, family bond.
Each orca herd in nature has unique culture, dialect and strong sense of family.

It is one of the most cruel acts of animal cruelty to keep these intelligent creatures in captivity, separate them from their families and deny the necessary social, mental physical needs until they die of depression.

Jan Niles
4 Years Ago

For those of you who think it\'s fine what Sea World is doing, lock yourself and stay in a cement container until someone comes to feed you and force you to perform. You do not understand marine biology and it is obvious that you lack education and make flippant remarks. Orcas and dolphins are social animals, so are penguins and seals and it is the utmost cruelty to keep them away from their families. I write to every state that has a Sea World and protest their licenses. Blackfish went a long way to educate people and if we all boycott every Sea World, they will not be financially rewarded for abusing their hostages.

4 Years Ago

Just got 12 tickets for my family to go next week. We got a good deal for their 50th anniversary lol

15 May 2014

Well you are a complete jerk.wonder how you treat people around you............

15 May 2014

I treat them with love and respect if they can use correct punctuation.

Clay Andrews
4 Years Ago

As a SeaWorld supporter, I know whatever I say here will be completely disregarding with some type of angry answer with misleading response. What I will say is to let go of the past. Holding SeaWorld accountable for actions in the 60\'s and 70\'s is silly. All of the founders are dead. Times have changed and so has the treatment of animals in their care. I\'d suggest celebrating the next 50 years with SeaWorld: celebrating the education of millions of children, the appreciation of animals and marine life, and celebrating the wonder of the sea.

14 May 2014

Haha. I thought you worked for Seaworld\'s PR team but judging from your grammar you never went to school, which is why I will spare you my long winded speech on the matter. You seem uneducated and the value of your existence is questionable. Next time you are on a busy street or bridge I want you to reflect on your life, the one life you were given, decide whether you are contributing to the world or harming it. If you lean towards the latter just shut your eyes and do the right thing.

14 May 2014

Sea World has only changed it\'s policies regarding the parks in the US. They still forcibly capture orcas, dolphins, and other marine life for their parks in other parts of the world, Most recently for parks in Spain and Japan.
They need to be stopped.

Craig Lauchlan Fraser
4 Years Ago


Cindy M. McCoy
4 Years Ago


Phil Smith
4 Years Ago

Fuck seaworld

Claudie Frid
4 Years Ago

Enough is enough ::((((

Barbara Wilson
4 Years Ago

No more death

4 Years Ago

I don\'t see any citations for where this information comes from. Where did this information come from? If four whales were indeed slaughtered, filled with rock never to be seen again how do you know that in fact this happened? Tilikum was not originally a Sea World Whale so is it not possible that because of the abuse the animal suffered at this other "park" is what caused him to behave the way that he did? This is a very poorly source article using information from sources that have an agenda a little journalistic integrity would be nice.

Monica Gilbert
13 May 2014

Kristi: Watch Blackfish and all your questions will be answered.

14 May 2014


There is a lot of research and early documentation of the capture and killings of orcas off the coast of WA State (Penn Cove). They used bombs to round up the orcas and force them into the cove. Once there and no way to get out nets were cast on them. Some died of drowning and to hide the killings, Goldsberry and his crew slit the orcas stomachs and filled them with rocks so they would sink. This is a fact and not made up. People who were there that day have confirmed it and even condemned what they themselves did. Any research will lead you to these facts. Instead of calling the author of the article a liar and saying he lacks journalistic integrity, why don’t you spend 10 minutes researching it? That’s all it will take to see the hundreds of articles, books, and research papers on what happened in Puget Sound. After you do you can apologize to the author of this article for not bothering to research what you think is false only to learn that this article is stating facts!

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