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SeaWorld: The Captivity Debate

On March 17, 2016, SeaWorld made the shocking announcement that it will end its controversial practice of breeding killer whales. The 29 orcas in SeaWorld’s care will be the last generation of killer whales enclosed at the company’s theme parks. The killer whales will not be released into the wild. They will live in SeaWorld’s parks for the remainder of their lives, but they won’t be replaced. SeaWorld’s theatrical killer whale shows are also being phased out nationwide. The shows will be replaced by exhibits that highlight the natural behaviors of killer whales. The company’s plan to end its killer whale shows was announced in November 2015 and initially only applied to SeaWorld San Diego, but now applies to all three locations, including SeaWorld San Antonio and SeaWorld Orlando. The shows will end in San Diego in 2017 and in San Antonio and Orlando in 2019.

Shamu Show with Orcas at SeaWorld San Diego

Shamu Show with Orcas at SeaWorld San Diego
By Yathin S Krishnappa (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

SeaWorld’s decision to envision a future without its iconic Shamu attraction comes amid mounting criticism by animal rights activists over the company’s treatment of captive marine mammals. SeaWorld has faced increased scrutiny for keeping killer whales in captivity since the tragic death of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau. A killer whale named Tilikum battered and drowned the 40-year-old animal trainer on Feb. 24, 2010, at SeaWorld’s Shamu Stadium in Orlando, Florida. The growing backlash against SeaWorld intensified with the 2013 documentary, “Blackfish,” which scrutinized the company’s practice of keeping killer whales in captivity and focused extensively on Tilikum, the killer whale involved in the deaths of three people, including Dawn Brancheau. The film attributed Tilikum’s aggressive behavior to his life in captivity and accused SeaWorld of mistreating its killer whales.

“Blackfish” was largely responsible for shifting public opinion about the use of captive wild animals for entertainment purposes. The documentary incited widespread outrage after airing repeatedly on CNN and changed Americans’ perception of SeaWorld. Since the release of the documentary, SeaWorld has suffered a decline in attendance, revenue, and stock value. In October 2015, SeaWorld was dealt another blow when the California Coastal Commission moved to ban the breeding of killer whales in captivity as a condition of its approval of SeaWorld’s proposed plan to expand its killer whale habitat in San Diego.

Orcas at SeaWorld San Diego Show

Orcas at SeaWorld San Diego Show
By Leon7 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

SeaWorld tried to repair its tarnished image by launching an advertising campaign aimed at refuting the claims made in “Blackfish,” defending its treatment of killer whales, and promoting the company’s rescue and conservation efforts. SeaWorld also committed to donating $1.5 million to a partnership with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation through the Killer Whale Research and Conservation Program as part of the company’s pledge to contribute $10 million to fund conservation and research of killer whales in the wild. But eventually Americans’ growing discomfort with companies using animals as entertainers forced SeaWorld to relent and change its policies for killer whales.

SeaWorld’s ground-breaking conservation and animal welfare reforms won praise from a long-time foe, the Humane Society of the United States. The two organizations announced a new partnership focused on protecting marine wildlife and ocean preservation. They will work together to advocate for animal welfare and ocean conservation. In addition to the partnership, SeaWorld has committed to spending $50 million over the next five years to rescue and rehabilitate marine animals.

However, not everyone is satisfied with SeaWorld’s historic changes. Some critics want SeaWorld to release the killer whales currently in captivity to sea pens. SeaWorld’s most vocal detractor, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, released a statement saying that “SeaWorld must do more and ‘open its tanks to the oceans to allow the orcas it now holds captive to have some semblance of a life outside these prison tanks.'” In a Los Angeles Times op-ed, Joel Manby, the president and chief executive officer of SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment, wrote that releasing the killer whales back into the wild is “not a wise option.”

“Most of our orcas were born at SeaWorld,” Manby wrote, and “those that were born in the wild have been in our parks for the majority of their lives. If we release them into the ocean, they will likely die. In fact, no orca or dolphin born under human care has ever survived release into the wild. Even the attempt to return the whale from ‘Free Willy,’ Keiko, who was born in the wild, was a failure.”

Keiko was captured off the coast of Iceland in 1979. He was trained to perform at a marine park in Mexico City. The star of “Free Willy” became famous after the movie was released in 1993. In the movie, a young boy helps return the captive killer whale back to the ocean. Inspired by the film, a real-life campaign began to return Keiko to the wild. In 1998, Keiko was moved to a sea pen in Iceland, where his handlers tried to teach him how to survive in the wild. Millions of dollars were spent to coax Keiko back to the open ocean. He was released in July 2002, but never fully adapted to life in the wild, remaining dependent on humans. Keiko died of pneumonia on Dec. 12, 2003.

What do your students think about the controversial debate over keeping killer whales in captivity? They can learn more about both sides of the debate in our Animal Cruelty Leading Issue.

SIRS Leading Issue: Animal Welfare

SIRS Leading Issue: Animal Welfare by ProQuest LLC via ProQuest SIRS Issue Researcher

Students can find more information about killer whales, SeaWorld, and the captivity debate through resources available in ProQuest eLibrary and SIRS WebSelect:

A Whale of a Business

Killer Controversy: Why Orcas Should No Longer Be Kept in Captivity

Killer Whales Research Topic

SeaWorld Cares

SeaWorld Research Topic

Whales in Aquariums

What are your thoughts on SeaWorld’s recent announcements? Do you support or oppose keeping killer whales in captivity? Do you think SeaWorld’s killer whales should remain in captivity or be released to sea pens?

Comment below or tweet us using #ProQuest.

Happy 60th Birthday, Disneyland!

“To all who come to this happy place: Welcome! Disneyland is your land. Here age relives fond memories of the past, and here youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future. Disneyland is dedicated to the ideals, the dreams and the hard facts that have created America…with the hope that it will be a source of joy and inspiration to all the world.”—Walt Disney, July 17, 1955

The Partners statue in Disneyland, California.

The Partners statue in Disneyland, California.
By James Ferrandini (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

If you’re a huge Disney fan like me, then you probably already know that Disneyland is celebrating its 60th anniversary. I visited Disneyland for the first time this year and was captivated by Walt Disney’s original theme park. Disneyland has a certain nostalgic charm that in my opinion makes it the most magical of all the Disney theme parks in the United States. In honor of Disneyland’s 60th anniversary, I want to share some fun facts about the beloved park’s history and changes over the years, as well as its anniversary celebration.

Walt Disney shows Disneyland plans to Orange County officials in December 1954.

Walt Disney shows Disneyland plans to Orange County officials in December 1954.
By Orange County Archives [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Walt Disney transformed 160 acres of orange groves into Disneyland. He opened the $17 million amusement park in Anaheim, California on Sunday, July 17, 1955, to the media and invitees only. The grand opening was broadcast live on ABC and hosted by Bob Cummings, Art Linkletter, and Ronald Reagan. 6,000 guests were invited to Disneyland’s “International Press Preview” event, but thousands of additional guests showed up with counterfeit tickets. Total attendance for the day was 28,000. Attractions were unfinished, rides broke down, lines were long, and food and beverages ran out. Walt Disney referred to Disneyland’s opening day as “Black Sunday.” The park opened to the public on Monday, July 18, 1955. Over 700 million guests have visited Disneyland since it opened its doors.

In 1955, Disneyland charged an entrance fee of $1.00. Tickets for rides and attractions were sold separately. Tickets for individual rides cost 10 to 35 cents. Ticket books containing eight “A” through “C” ride tickets were also sold. Attractions were designated “A,” “B,” or “C” based on their level of popularity and the lettered tickets corresponded to the attractions. “C” tickets were required for the best rides. Disneyland’s admission price is now $99.00 for one day and that entitles guests to unlimited use of all rides and attractions.

“The Happiest Place on Earth” has grown into a world-class tourist destination. The Disneyland Resort has expanded to approximately 500 acres. It now includes two theme parks, the iconic Disneyland Park and its sister park Disney California Adventure Park, three hotels, and the Downtown Disney District.

Disneyland Research Topic

Disneyland Research Topic Screencap via ProQuest eLibrary

The year-long Disneyland Resort Diamond Celebration began on May 22, 2015 and features three new nighttime spectaculars. Disneyland Park unveiled the new “Paint the Night” electrical parade and the new “Disneyland Forever” fireworks show. A new version of the popular and elaborate “World of Color” water and light show called “World of Color—Celebrate! The Wonderful World of Walt Disney” debuted at Disney California Adventure Park. Disneyland is also marking the 60th anniversary with decorations, special snacks, and new souvenirs. Walt Disney said, “Disneyland will never be complete as long as there is imagination left in the world.” 60 years later, his words still ring true.

To learn more about Disneyland, explore these resources available in ProQuest eLibrary.

Anaheim Research Topic

Disneyland Research Topic

Walt Disney Research Topic

Walt Disney Company Research Topic