- SeaWorld stock value dropped 30% overnight, and has dropped 45% in the last year. CNN
- SeaWorld plans to to “co-develop theme parks in Pan-Asia [note: Pan-Asia refers to the entire Asian region], India and Russia”, and in the Middle East.
- This is all bad news for SeaWorld’s captive orcas – there is a big loophole in the U.S. laws protecting captive marine mammals, and SeaWorld may try to swim their whales through it.
SeaWorld seems to have been brought to its knees by the changing tide of public opinion. Made aware of the fact that orcas are not suited to lives in tanks by both the book Death at SeaWorld and the film Blackfish, people voted with their pocketbooks and attendance has dropped.
SeaWorld has itself to blame – they have steadfastly clung to outdated business models and ignored the humaneness of how the whales are treated, and it has caught up to them.
But the reality that now faces SeaWorld doesn’t look any better for the orcas, and may in fact be worse. Reduced revenue means cutbacks in spending – why would they sink millions into designing habitats that would make the whales’ lives more bearable, or take the risks involved with establishing sea pens, when there is no guarantee that people will find the changes acceptable?
SeaWorld is a huge business, they will make business decisions, and the consequences may be dismal.
One option they have in their sights is to ship the orcas off to foreign countries where the minimum current U.S. standards are met (which are appallingly inadequate), and from where there is no option for release:
(SeaWorld news release) “Turning to our international efforts, we continue to make significant progress in our plans to expand our theme parks outside the U.S.
We recently signed a Letter of Intent with Village Roadshow Theme Parks, a division of Village Roadshow Limited, a leading international entertainment and media company, to co-develop theme parks in Pan-Asia [note: Pan-Asia refers to the entire Asian region], India and Russia.
This Letter of Intent, along with our previously announced Memorandum of Understanding with our partner in the Middle East, creates exciting opportunities to extend our brands beyond our domestic borders,” Atchison added.
According to NOAA, in order to export the orcas, the foreign country only has to comply with the following (notice the third rule, that would prevent release):
What is required to export marine mammals for public display in other countries?
For marine mammals that are not ESA-listed or designated as depleted under the MMPA to be exported to foreign countries for public display, the receiving person or facility must meet standards that are comparable to those required of a U.S. facility (see above).
In addition, the appropriate agency of the foreign government (e.g., the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) management authority of the government) must certify that the:
- Information submitted is accurate;
- Government will enforce its laws and regulations pertaining to the public display and captive care of marine mammals; and
- Animals will continue to be held for public display purposes.
Marine mammals that are listed as threatened or endangered under the ESA, or are designated as depleted under the MMPA, may not be exported to foreign countries for public display.
How would the welfare of the animals be assured in foreign countries when we can’t even get the governing bodies to force U.S. parks into compliance? In many countries such as China, fledgling animal rights movements are only beginning to make inroads against basic cruelty – such as baking dogs alive – so it is hard to comprehend how the orcas would be guaranteed even as good a life as they have here.
From Laws Concerning Captive Orcas:
The issue remains not of the whether facilities and organizations are following the law, but of the adequacy of the laws themselves. The minimum requirements of an orca enclosure are that it must be twice the length of the orca housed within. Is this an adequate standard for an animal that is capable of swimming over 100 miles in a single day? One whale expert claims that building a tank the size of Rhode Island would not be adequate to house a mammal capable of swimming one hundred miles a day (See Tilikum’s Law). The depth of the enclosure must also be only that of half the length of the whale. Is this an adequate standard for a whale capable of diving hundreds of feet below the surface and typically spends most of its time under the surface of the water? It is difficult to file and win a case against a facility who is legally meeting all of the required standards.
It is difficult to see any positives for the whales unless Congress can pass more stringent laws to regulate the care, breeding and transport of these benign and intelligent animals…and soon, before any more can be shipped to foreign lands (there are currently five of SeaWorld’s orcas living in Spain (Cetacean Inspiration) or are born into a life in a small tank in SeaWorld’s parks.
Contact your Congress members to voice your opinion, they are the ones who legislate the care of marine mammals.