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Legendary marine explorer Jacques Cousteau once said, “There’s about as much educational benefit studying dolphins in captivity as there would be studying mankind by only observing prisoners held in solitary.”

Yet, marine parks continue to propagate the belief that the animals in their care are in good health and help in educating the public of their plight in the wild. How true is all this information really? The truth is, not much of it. SeaWorld in response to the documentary Blackfish even created a “Truth About Blackfish” page and tried to defend its position. But defend as it might, SeaWorld and other marine mammal parks such as Marineland, and others all have spread a number of myths relating to the animals in their care.

Here are five myths that marine parks have told the public and expected them to believe:

1. The Animals are Drugged Solely for Their Care and Treatment

According to a leaked affidavit obtained by BuzzFeed that was filed in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in a dispute between SeaWorld and Marineland, the former park treats some of its orcas to benzodiazepines.

These drugs are found in Valium and Xanax and are given to the whales as a direct result of them living in captivity. The veterinary records of the park show that these drugs are given to the orcas to “stop them from acting aggressively towards each other in the stressful, frustrating conditions in which they’re confined instead of funding the development of coastal sanctuaries.”

2. They do not Capture or Support the Capture of Wild Marine Mammals

This is perhaps the most blatant lie SeaWorld has been telling the public. SeaWorld on their “Truth About Blackfish” page explicitly says the following words: “It leaves viewers with three false impressions:  (1) that SeaWorld continues to collect whales from the wild to this day.”

If this was a false impression perpetuated by Blackfish, then SeaWorld San Diego has a lot of explaining to do about its 2012 application, along with the Georgia Aquarium, in their import of 18 Russian Beluga Whales which were caught between 2006 and 2011 according to UT San Diego. NOAA News a few months later reported that NOAA Fisheries denied the permit application.

3. Babies are Only Taken Away From Their Mothers When Necessary.

In a report titled “Captive Orcas ‘Dying to Entertain You,'” SeaWorld is said to have separated at least six juvenile calves from their mothers at young ages – Kalina at four years, Keto at three years, Nyar at less than two years,  Keet at one year, and Sumar at only six months. Marineland in an email to Brian McHattie of Zoocheck, Canada, stated that five orcas under the age of five years were kept in an indoor pool.

Listed in this pdf file by Orcanetwork is a list of orcas from various marine parks that have been separated from their mothers.

4. Captive Dolphins and Orcas Enjoy Equal Life Expectancy With Those in the Wild

Contrary to marine park-disseminated belief, dolphins and orcas do not enjoy longer lives or even equal to life spans as their wild counterparts. The Oceanic Preservation Society says that dolphins can live for longer than 50 years in the wild, but in captivity live a fraction of that time.

At SeaWorld Antonio in specific “the average lifespan of a captive-bred dolphin is four years and at SeaWorld San Diego, 24 dolphins perished from pneumonia in 25 years,” reports the Society and less than 20 orcas have survived longer than twenty years in captivity when their expected lifespan is 60 to 90 years.

5. The Animals are Well Cared For

Marine parks say that their animals enjoy healthy lives, but deformities are all too common with orcas. Scientists from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) in the report “Proposed Conservation Plan for Southern Resident Killer Whales (Orcinus orca)” said that “the collapsed dorsal fins commonly seen in captive killer whales do not result from a pathogenic condition, but are instead thought to most likely originate from an irreversible structural change in the fin’s collagen over time. Possible explanations for this include: (1) alterations in water balance caused by the stresses of captivity dietary changes, (2) lowered blood pressure due to reduced activity patterns, or (3) overheating of the collagen brought on by greater exposure of the fin to the ambient air.”

Last Chance for Animals says that dolphins and orcas suffer from skin peeling off as a result of over-chlorinated water, eye irritation caused by chlorine, copper sulfate, and other tank chemicals, and stress related injuries and deaths.

But whales and dolphins are not the only animals suffering in captivity. Seals, sea lions, and walruses are the forgotten species also facing health scares in marine parks. According to Take Part, the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals ordered Marineland to “improve its water quality and immediately address serious animal health problems, including ophthalmology issues among seals, walruses and sea lions, and to provide ‘increased veterinary care for a particular pinniped.'”

What is the Alternative?

The best and most natural alternative to marine parks is whale watching. You won’t be exploiting the animals to learn more about them, and the best part is that you will get to watch the animals free in their element. Dolphins, seals, sea lions, orcas, you name it – if you’re lucky you’ll get to see quite a few of them!

Image source: Steven Snodgrass/Wikimedia Commons

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15 comments on “5 Ridiculous Myths Marine Parks Tell Us”

Click to add comment
Sarah Ward
1 Years Ago

Hilarious! Thanks for the comic relief.

Let\'s take them one at a time.

1 - The animals are not "drugged" at all. They may be given prescription medication, prescribed by licensed veterinary staff, as required for their health and well being. Anyone who has ever seen a killer whale show at Seaworld can see that the animals clearly are not "drugged". They obviously have their wits about them and are full of energy and enthusiasm.

2 - The Georgia Aquarium applied for an IMPORT permit, not a CAPTURE permit, for a group of beluga whales that are living in a Russian water park at this time. This is a perfectly legal process and the GA had every right to apply for the permit. The intention was to house some of the belugas at other domestic water parks (including Seaworld) for breeding purposes. The permit was eventually not granted and in fact Seaworld had changed their mind about taking any of the belugas prior to that notification.

3 - Seaworld does not separate DEPENDENT calves from their mothers unless necessary. They don\'t stay calves forever and they don\'t stay dependent forever. Furthermore none of Seaworld\'s killer whales come from the Pacific Northwest which is where the groups are that notably stay with the family pod for life. ( a life that is getting shorter and shorter but that is another issue)

You mention a few killer whales that were relocated (or their mothers were) at a young age. Why don;t you mention all the ones that did not? Why don\'t you tell us how many generations of killer whales are living in SWSD right now?

4 - The "expected lifespan" of wild killer whales is nothing like "60 to90 years". I challenge you to name one wild killer whale living in the ocean right now that has reached 90 years of age. You won\'t be able to so save yourself the bother.

I have tabulated the Southern Residents going back to 1998 and their average age at death was 28 years.

Furthermore you compare apples to oranges. You mention "life expectancy" and then compare it to "life span". Life expectancy is an estimate. Life span is a fact. Peer reviewed science has revealed that the killer whales living at Seaworld have the same life expectancy as killer whales in the ocean. The dolphins at Seaworld have significantly greater life expectancy.

5 - Bent dorsal fins occur in wild killer whales as well as zoological killer whales. They are not a sign of ill health.

Dolphin skin constantly sloughs. It is a natural process. And chlorine has nothing to do with it. Seaworld\'s water has significantly less chlorine than municipal drinking water. And I find it exceedingly amusing to compare the pristine, filter watered at Seaworld with the polluted sludge found in the ocean. There is chlorine present in ocean water as well as sewage, mercury, radioactive byproducts of nuclear power plants, crude oil, and God knows what else. Every boat and ship in the water that is powered by fossil fuel directs its exhaust into the water. Swimming in that is analogous to sitting in a running automobile in a closed space with no ventilation. The water quality at Seaworld is infinitely superior to ocean water.

I hope this clears up some of your confusion. Why not turn your attention to cleaning up the polluted oceans that hundreds of thousands of killer whales and millions of dolphins must survive in and stop wasting your time with the privileged few that live in a comparative paradise at Seaworld.

Nalyne Lunati
4 Years Ago

Heartbreaking and I hope to help end it soon!

Kale Bleu
4 Years Ago

They have to lie to make money.

Judy Mitz
4 Years Ago


Carine Jobert
4 Years Ago

All we have to do and to tell is: NEVER go to an animal Park... neither to a zoo etc.

Suchaboon Purnaveja
4 Years Ago

So cute

Carol Jenny
4 Years Ago

I saw at least 10 animals in a petting pool , Settings opens and private well. They have to keep moving because there was no room for them also they basically had to turn off the sonar so small that they were swimming deaf.

Sherrill Jenson
4 Years Ago

"So God created the great creatures of the sea..." Please be concerned.

Kelly O'Connor
4 Years Ago

Amanda J. Downs

Michael Courtney Towne
4 Years Ago

William Jeffrey Lybarger


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