An End to Orca Breeding and Swimming With Dolphins?

Good news for animals living in horrific captive conditions and in the wild

Posted Mar 17, 2016

I woke up this morning to some very good news for aquatic animals living in horrific captive conditions and for some living in the wild. SeaWorld, which has been under major scrutiny and criticism for years on end, much off it stemming from the award-winning documentary Blackfish (a Google search for "problems at SeaWorld" generated 513,000 hits), has made a major announcement that is nicely summarized in an essay by Wayne Pacelle, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Humane Society of the United States, called "SeaWorld to End All Orca Breeding." Of course, this announcement made global headlines because numerous people worldwide simply do not want venues like SeaWorld to continue using and abusing the amazing nonhuman animals (animals) who are forced to live there, many of whom are used as breeding machines (please also see "SeaWorld ends orca breeding program: Rise of the 'humane economy'?" (+video)).

To summarize briefly, SeaWorld "will end all breeding of its orcas and it won’t obtain additional orcas from other sources," will "phase out its theatrical orca shows in favor of orca exhibits that highlight the whales’ natural behaviors, and have no orcas at all in any new parks around the world," "has pledged to invest at least $50 million over the next five years for the rescue and rehabilitation of marine animals and on advocacy campaigns," and "Starting soon, all SeaWorld food offerings will be cage-free for eggs and gestation-crate-free for pork, all seafood will be more sustainably sourced, and there will be more vegetarian and vegan options." This news comes along with the disclosure that Tillikum, AKA Tilly, a SeaWorld star and former breeding machine (please see "Tilly's Willy: In the Name of Science?"), is deathly ill. It also closely follows the secret transport of 17 elephants from Swaziland to three zoos in the United States.

As Mr. Pacelle notes, "SeaWorld and The HSUS still have some disagreements. But we’ve found an important set of issues to agree upon. The sunsetting of orcas in captivity is a game changer for our movement, one that’s been a long time coming, and one that is only possible because of your advocacy and participation. I am immensely excited about this announcement and I hope you are too. Please sign here to show your support and share the news."

Putting an end to swimming with dolphins

In another potentially wonderful move for dolphins, I learned in an essay called "Rules About Swimming With Dolphins Could Soon Change in Hawaii" that "NOAA is getting ready to propose rules that could change regulations to protect them, which may include a ban on swimming with them, or closing areas where they’re resting. While there are voluntary guidelines in place, few are reportedly following them." This too is a wonderful beginning to ending this sort of human "entertainment."

"Cruelty can't stand the spotlight"

I know that many people want more, and so do I. However, this is a very good beginning (and consistent with the goals of the rapidly growing field called compassionate conservation), and I look forward to the day when venues like SeaWorld, including terrestrial zoos, morph into sanctuaries in which the animals' lives are put first and foremost and captive breeding, "zoothanizing" animals who are no longer "useful," and human entertainment go out the door totally. It is vitally important to keep working toward these goals, and as the late Gretchen Wyler, a longtime animal advocate once noted, "Cruelty can't stand the spotlight." 

Sitting by passively will retain the status quo. Surely, research by conservation psychologists, those people specializing in humane education, and others will be instrumental in bringing about further changes and in showing how people can truly learn about the lives of these and other fascinating animals -- about whom they truly are -- outside of the zoo environment. Blackfish was an extremely successful and groundbreaking exposé whose global influence surprised many people, and there is a plethora of information, supported by solid scientific research, that clearly shows that life in captivity is incredibly inhumane for orcas and the numerous other animals who are forced to live highly compromised lives in all sorts of cages. The time to free these amazing beings is right now.

Marc Bekoff's latest books are Jasper's Story: Saving Moon Bears (with Jill Robinson), Ignoring Nature No More: The Case for Compassionate Conservation, Why Dogs Hump and Bees Get Depressed: The Fascinating Science of Animal Intelligence, Emotions, Friendship, and Conservation, Rewilding Our Hearts: Building Pathways of Compassion and Coexistence, and The Jane Effect: Celebrating Jane Goodall (edited with Dale Peterson). (Homepage:; @MarcBekoff)

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