Seaworld's New Public Relations Strategy: "Orca Treadmills"
An Animal Rights Article from All-Creatures.org

From Save Lolita
September 2013

[Ed. Note: Also read  Blackfish (The Importance of October 24th, 2013)]

It’s a common occurrence for those against captivity to talk about how these animals live in a featureless, barren tank with nothing to do but swim in maddening circles. To combat this, Seaworld has tried to save their name by creating an “Orca Treadmill.” This device will be implemented in all three Seaworld parks, and will create a current of water that will allow the Orcas to swim in a continuous straight line in efforts to keep the whales moving and stimulated rather than just sitting in one spot all day. According to the recent reports, the machine has already been tried successfully on Tilikum.

seaworld orca treadmill save lolita

This year has been rough for Seaworld, one of America’s most successful amusement parks. The most prominent blow to their facade of misleading education, faked bonds between whale and trainer, and halfhearted attempts at conservation comes in the form of the new documentary “Blackfish.” This film has been making its way around the globe since its first appearance in January at the Sundance Film Festival, and has received widespread praise. Along with this praise, the film has created much awareness about the treatment of Killer Whales in captivity, which has led to a stronger opposition to facilities like Seaworld and the Miami Seaquarium. Paired with this, multiple home videos have been released about animals in distress at Seaworld parks including a dolphin who jumped out of a tank, and a Pilot Whale who stranded on a slide out of the tank and was not helped for several minutes despite being in obvious distress. Even last year Seaworld was beginning to be put into the hot seat with the public when David Kirby released a novel called Death at Seaworld.

People who would not otherwise notice anything wrong are beginning to step back and question whether they should support Cetacean captivity or not, and Seaworld is desperately clambering around for ways to keep people coming to their parks.

It’s a common occurrence for those against captivity to talk about how these animals live in a featureless, barren tank with nothing to do but swim in maddening circles. To combat this, Seaworld has tried to save their name by creating an “Orca Treadmill.” This device will be implemented in all three Seaworld parks, and will create a current of water that will allow the Orcas to swim in a continuous straight line in efforts to keep the whales moving and stimulated rather than just sitting in one spot all day. According to the recent reports, the machine has already been tried successfully on Tilikum.

Despite Seaworld’s alternate motives of trying to clear their name, the proposition is a good idea, except for a few issues:

Swimming in a straight line in a tank is not the same as in the ocean.

It’s common knowledge among those who are educated on the basics of Orca lifestyles that they can swim immense distances, sometimes averaging out at 100 miles in a single day. During this time, an Orca pod can be foraging for food, teaching their young how to hunt, resting, socializing, and just exploring their surroundings, as Orcas are known to be curious by nature. Their environment is constantly changing, and there is always something new to be doing. All of these miles that the animals are covering are spent while doing something else. In captivity there just isn’t enough space or diversity in their environment to allow the animals to travel and be as stimulated as they would be in the wild. The tank walls are two-dimensional, and the tanks are usually only big enough for the animal to make a tight circle in. With these new installments of currents, the animals can now swim in a straight line, but nothing about their environment is changing. There are no passing underwater rock formations, no kelp forests to swim through, no differentiating depths to dive to. To put this situation into human terms, imagine a plain living room with no furniture, except for a treadmill. Yes, you’ll have an outlet for exercise, but this is not a solution to your boredom of your never-changing environment.

What about the underwater noise?

The machines that will be used to create these currents will be similar to the machines that are used at water parks to create wave pools. Orcas are very sound-sensitive animals, as their sense of sound is many times more developed than a human’s is. Imagine the underwater noise that these devices will create, paired with the concrete walls that the sound will be bouncing off of. All of this sound must be deafening to the whales. There is no information provided about how the sound issue will be solved so that leads one to assume that there isn’t a solution.

This is not a magical solution to the issues surrounding captivity.

Installing wave pools is an improvement that is welcomed by both sides of the captivity debate, considering any way to make the Orcas’ lives more comfortable for the present is a goal supported on both the pro-captivity and anti-captivity agenda. However, the installment of one feature to improve the Orcas’ lives is not going to suddenly solve the many problems that captive Orcas face. For example, Keiko’s rehabilitation tank at the Oregon Aquarium included currents with natural seawater, but he still exhibited the same stereotypical behaviors that he did while in sub-standard conditions at Reino Adventura, including logging at the surface and banging his head on the tank walls. The change will be nothing more than an added toy to the Orcas’ collections that they will once again become bored with, and will soon return to their usual stereotypical habits.

Seaworld and any other marine park housing captive Orcas will not have found a solution to Orca captivity until they end it. This can be done by phasing out captive breeding and retiring their current animals to sea pens to live out the rest of their days in peace. As for the few that can be released with the proper rehab, such as Lolita, sea pens will only be temporary until they are independent enough to leave humans and become wild again.

“We’re fighting until every cage is empty, not until every cage is comfortable.”
– Danny Brady


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