Wageck: Sea World fails to make vital changes since “Blackfish” — and should be shut down

Elissa Wageck

As a child, visiting amusement parks, zoos and aquariums was always such a thrill. Field trips were a great way to get out of classes, even though we learned next-to-nothing when we went because we were so excited to be with our friends on an exhilarating adventure. Sea World, however, is the most disgraceful park to ever have been brought upon our society.

Seeing aquatic animals, particularly Orcas, in a captive environment such as this is horrific. In 2013, the documentary “Blackfish” was filmed to reveal how Orcas, or “killer whales,” spend their lives within the walls of Sea World. The storyline highlights their daily routines, performances and interactions with their human trainers — all of which eventually boils down to the fact that the conditions, care and responses to Orca attacks on trainers that are carried out by Sea World are exponentially harmful and unacceptable.


The famous Tilikum (age 29 at the time) attacked a Sea World trainer, 40-year old Dawn Brancheau, on February 24, 2010. Tilikum took hold of her hair and immediately dragged her down into the water. Her body was severely injured, but the overall cause of death was the trauma she received while being thrashed around in the pool. This is not the first trainer Tilikum has killed, nor is he the first one to have done so.

These animals — who on the surface seem graceful and harmless — are dangerous, and whether they were raised in captivity or not doesn’t make them any less of a threat. They have natural instincts that they act upon, triggered by the unnatural habitat they are forced to live in, and there is nothing the trainers can do to prevent their spontaneous outbursts.

There are many reasons as to why Orcas behave this way, as the life they reluctantly lead toys with their emotions and physical features, prompting them to act out. The overall purpose of “Blackfish” was to reach out to their viewers with a harsh and painful truth about Sea World, and to expose the lies used to cover up how their Orcas truly behave and live in captivity. 

Orcas have a dorsal fin atop their body. A male’s fin typically grows to approximately six feet, and a female’s stops growing at around three to four feet. These dorsal fins are used for balance above and under water. When held in captivity, orcas do not have enough space to live freely, as their tanks are currently 9.5m (L) x 5.7m (W) x 2.1m (H). This leaves little room to swim around in a leisurely, natural manner. Therefore, their fins are no longer needed and begin to collapse.

An article from the National Marine Fisheries Services lists possible explanations for this, including “alterations in water balance caused by the stresses of captivity dietary changes, lowered blood pressure due to reduced activity patterns, or overheating of the collagen brought on by greater exposure of the fin to the ambient air.”

According to Sea World’s website, another reason for the fin to bend may be the greater amount of time that captive whales spend at the surface, where the fin is not supported by water pressure.

The Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) says “dorsal fin collapse is largely explained by captive killer whales swimming in small circles due to the inadequate space in which they have to swim.” The bending of this fin can cause depression in most orcas, which could then lead to any impulsive acts made out of anger. They lash out on their trainers, as they are the only ones there. If you take a second to step back and think about, is it really all worth it? Just for our entertainment and so Sea World can continue making their precious profit?

Sea World is currently working on the Blue World Project, an attempt to recreate the ocean for their Orcas. They plan on building a pool measuring 50 x 35 feet deep in San Diego, opening in 2018. Their expectation is that it will be double the size of the current tanks and relieve the whales of their stress, making them feel more at home. However, The Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) disagrees with the idea, stating:

“All [animals] at Sea World’s facilities possess the same physiological and behavioral requirements that can only be met through the great depths and expanses provided by an ocean realm. We find it telling that Sea World has only chosen to focus its attention to remedy its inadequate tanks for the Orcas it holds … and the movie Blackfish, among other developments, suggests Blue World Project may also serve as a public relations maneuver rather than a true effort to improve the lives of the individuals confined to their parks.”

WDC continues to stress the fact that no matter how comfortable and safe they try to make their Orcas feel, statics will remain the same. 


The amount of attacks made on trainers, even though it is relatively very little, is unimaginable. After all of this time, I had to ask myself the question of “can science explain why whales sing?” And the answer is yes, yes it can, but can it tell us what they are singing about? Orcas are not experiments. They are creatures of the deep that deserve the same treatment as every other animal. Whales do not deserve to be held against their will.

It is time we put a stop to the captivity, and not with just whales, but all sea creatures. It is disappointing to watch so many people who, upon seeing “Blackfish,” showed such an immense amount of compassion for the suffering whales, yet within a few years no longer feel as strongly as if it were a trend that went out of style. 

“Blackfish” was meant to bring people to the understanding that major changes needed to be made in the way that Sea World and its associated parks operate and handle their animals. But as the shock of its initial delivery fades, the public’s concern and desire for change seems to no longer exist within their hearts. Sea World, along with any other amusement parks that use animals as attractions, should be shut down in the name of valuing the animals’ health, well-being and emotional stability over our desire for exploitative entertainment.

The ocean is the Orcas’ home along with all the other sea creatures being held captive, and we have no right tampering with it or displacing them to locations where they cannot exist as they were made to, such as Sea World. 

Collegian Columnist Elissa Wageck can be reached at letters@collegian.com, or on Twitter @elissajane8.