SeaWorld Caves to Emotions Not Science: A Note from the Sr. Science Editor

It has been just over  two weeks since SeaWorld announced that they would end the breeding programs at its parks and partnered with the Humane Society of the United States. The latter was the biggest shock that we have ever experienced. While some of the smoke has settled, it is clear that emotions are still high as countless people have canceled their annual passes and become highly vocal on social media.

One thing is clear; this business decision was an emotional appeal to activists in order to attempt to bridge the gap so that SeaWorld’s profits can recover. There are many problems with this decision. This could set a precedent for other zoos and aquariums as well as influence legislation. In fact, the Bloom orca bill has been adapted after this decision so that it still bans orca breeding programs, however there are not longer any mention of sea pens in the bill.

Unfortunately, SeaWorld likely opened a pandorica of future concessions. PETA has made it clear that they will not stop at just ending orca breeding. They want to see the elimination of orcas in human care all together. Even Naomi Rose has stated that while this was a good first step, she will not rest until these animals are in sea cages. Whatever SeaWorld hoped to achieve will be undermined by the exacerbated activist presence that this will cause.

The fact of the matter is scientists were not consulted in this decision. If they were, their voice was certainly silenced. Studies have shown that breeding programs increase animal welfare under human care. Animals have a natural urge to breed and to deprive them of that innate behavior is to be inhumane (ironically this is very close to a statement that SeaWorld release a few months ago). SeaWorld contradicted their previous statements. Additionally, separating males and females would actually make SeaWorld guilty of an activist claim.

We invite you to read (Marine Mammal Breeding Prevention – Not A Good Idea) which discusses the efficacy of contraceptive options. Research shows that very few contraception studies have been conducted with cetaceans leaving a number of factors to determine before they can truly be recommended for use.

This is one of the first times we have ever seen SeaWorld make a decision that was not in the best interest of the animals in their care and not backed by scientific research. This decision is both unwise and irresponsible. While we cannot condone this decision, we do support the men and women on the front lines of animal care including the trainers, vet staff, the animal care team, and the educators. We support the rescue and rehabilitation efforts of SeaWorld and believe that they have become world-renowned experts in sea turtles and marine mammal care, however they have turned their backs on their own research to appease activist who have no intention of ever being satisfied. We encourage all of you to research your facts and make sure they are well vetted by peer-reviewed scientific literature. We can only support a science-based management of animals in human care. That is what animal welfare is really about.

4 thoughts on “SeaWorld Caves to Emotions Not Science: A Note from the Sr. Science Editor

  1. KD

    It’s a shame breeding was outlawed altogether, I don’t think activists intended that animals not be allowed to act out natural urges, but rather that artificial insemination programs stop.

    I read the linked article about “Marine Mammal Breeding Prevention – Not A Good Idea”.

    But it didn’t seem to mention natural non-assisted/non-human induced reproduction. Which made me wonder about a few things.

    Do orcas not normally reproduce on their own in captivity? As this article says, animals have a natural urge to breed and care for young, if so and if the orca’s needs are being met to facilitate the proper environment to “get them in the mood”, wouldn’t they breed on their own if they wanted to?

    The linked article talks about the need for genetic diversity in captivity in the event captive animals are needed to repopulate wild depleted populations. But isn’t it also considered nearly impossible to return orcas to the wild due to how their social groups work?

    1. Danny StantonDanny Stanton Post author

      When writing this article I focused on breeding prevention. Orcas will reproduce naturally in captivity, but with the breeding ban in place it suggests that males and reales would physically be separated when a trainer is not present or some form of birth control would need to be used. Many of the orcas in SeaWorlds care were conceived naturally. As far as genetic diversity goes, that is much more complicated. The statement is more of a hypothesis and then logistics would have to be worked out. The main point was the limitation on the orca gene pool as wild populations decline. a great example of this is the cheetah population. The genetic diversity of cheetahs are declining because due to the reduced population, inbreeding occurs. When this happens the genetic diversity takes a nose dive and makes the population at higher risk for disease. Returning an orca or finding a way to artificially inseminate a wild orca are both ideas that have really not been well researched. We know a lot about the social dynamics of these animals, so you are right in that often times the social interactions can prevent assimilation into a group. Like I said this is a very complicated question and my main point was that maintaing genetic diversity in a zoological facility would be a good thing if we need to find a way or a develop a method to re-populate our oceans.

      1. KD

        Thanks for the response. I had no idea the majority of their orcas were naturally conceived. Given all the talk about artificial insemination I had assumed it played more of a role. Though I wonder if that’s because they don’t use the technique as often as implied, or because it has a lower success rate than natural conception for whatever reason.


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