Orcas should not have to swim in bathtubs


Julia Nardone

Staff writer Julia Nardone examines the treatment of orcas at SeaWorld.

You heard me right.

Wild orca whales can swim up to 140 miles a day and dive down to 500 feet in the open ocean. They are animals of great intelligence that thrive through swimming long distances.

In captivity, they are restricted to the equivalent of a bathtub to swim in. In sea-parks like SeaWorld Orlando, an orca would have to swim more than 4,280 laps to even come close to the distance they would have gone in the wild.

The smallest orca tanks at SeaWorld Orlando are roughly 8-36 feet deep and 170 feet long. For reference, some things that are bigger than those tanks are a traditional bowling alley, the distance from home plate to first base, and SeaWorld’s very own parking lot. 

It’s disturbing to know that some people think that those tanks are anything close to the sizes they should be to give the orcas in captivity even a pleasant life. But I guess the whole point is to keep them controlled in the smallest space possible.

“We can recreate terrestrial environments somewhat, like a savanna for example,” marine mammal scientist at the Animal Welfare Institute, Naomi Rose said, in an interview with National Geographic. “But we can’t recreate an ocean. Not one marine mammal is adapted to thrive in the world we’ve made for them in a concrete box.”

And once the whales are rescued or retired from sea-parks around the world, there is nowhere for them to go. They become dependent on humans for food and shelter, so they can’t just be put back in the ocean.

The fact that there are very few marine mammal sanctuaries compared to other animals only increases the need to protect marine mammals. Over the past couple of years, an organization called the Whale Sanctuary Project has been working on creating a sanctuary for marine mammals. Their first site is being developed in the Canadian Province of Nova Scotia, and is hoping to receive whales in 2022.

“We have sanctuaries for every other species,” advisory member on the Whale Sanctuary Project Heather Rally said in 2019. “Despite the challenges, it’s absolutely the time for a marine mammal sanctuary. It’s long overdue.”

SeaWorld is opposed to creating more sanctuaries, referring to them as “sea cages”, ironic considering their whales are in much worse cages.

Something about seeing animals in captivity, forced to endure torturous conditions and training for entertainment and profit is sickening. They are not attractions to do party tricks for vacationers. The amusement park can stay open, but the live shows have to stop.

In 2013, the Netflix documentary Blackfish came out. It brought to light the heart wrenching stories of orca whales captured and brought into captivity and what happened between certain deadly orca-trainer incidents. The film spurred a large controversy regarding the legitimacy of the information used, many saying SeaWorld works to help the orcas.

SeaWorld trainers debunked the information from the film, saying it wasn’t true…but what else would you expect from people who believe what they’re doing is right. 

“SeaWorld can call Blackfish propaganda. This does not make the assertion true,” the Oceanic Preservation Society said, in response to the backlash faced after the documentary was released. “We stand by the film and the truth it tells. We also stand by the brave whistleblowers featured in it.”

Regardless of the controversy around the movie, the message is still the same; marine animals should not be held in captivity for entertainment and profit. It’s inhumane. 

There are so many other places people can go to have fun, whether its a local amusement park or a hiking trail. Going to a sea-park to see an orca show where that whale had previously been floating, not swimming, for hours on end can not be the most productive way to spend money and time. 

Orcas are living, breathing beings too. How about we start treating them like it.