SeaWorld, Russia, plus China Equals a Captive Dolphin and Whale Disaster

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Will some of the recently captured orcas wind up in China?

Orca captures result in the injury, death, and disruption of wild pods
Orca captures result in the injury, death, and disruption of wild pods (captured for Miami Seaquarium, please see below).

SeaWorld, while  claiming that their killer whale shows are an exemplary blend of education and entertainment, has inadvertently managed to teach us that whales don’t belong in captivity, yet simultaneously they have also taught other countries – including countries such as China that have little respect for animal life – that there are huge profits to be had at the animals’ expense.
According to an article by Tim Zimmermann, A Surge In Wild Orca Capture for Killer Whale ShowsRussia’s recent capture of 10 wild orcas may result in some of them going to aquariums in China:

“It seems like China is becoming, or has become, a primary source of the demand for belugas, dolphins, and orcas alike,” says Courtney Vail, Campaigns and Programs Manager for Whale And Dolphin Conservation, which helps sponsor Hoyt’s and FEROP’s work. “Chinese facilities also source from the Taiji dolphin hunts. Twenty-four dolphins were exported from Japan to China in 2012, and CITES trade reports suggest over 60 wild-caught belugas were exported from Russia to China between 2008 and 2010 alone.”

The thought of orcas in Chinese hands is particularly onerous, as that country has no laws to protect animals from cruelty and abuse.  That fact, coupled with deeply held superstitious beliefs by large segments of the Chinese population means that animals in that country suffer on all levels – the fur trade, scientific research, medicine, dietary preferences, and amusement. Dogs are baked and boiled alive (thought to taste better), other animals are skinned alive for fur, then sprayed with water to keep them moist until killed for food. Bears are cut to produce bile for Chinese Medicine. (A simple google search will show you more than you want to know on animal cruelty in China.)
Live animals sealed in plastic for key chains, which will be discarded when the animal finally suffocates.
An orca in a Chinese aquarium may receive better care than most animals there are entitled to, due to the whales’ high price tag as well as to the standards set by other aquariums. In order to belong to an accredited organization, any aquarium or theme park must care for animals by certain minimum standards – but when you think about it, even in the U.S. amusement parks such as the Miami Seaquarium are able to dodge the minimum standards as set by law as well as by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. In the photo of Miami Seaquarium below, one lone orca has been forced to live in a tank that is substandard in size for over 40 years. ( As far as I am aware, there are no aquariums on mainland China that are even accredited at this point anyway (there are two in Hong Kong which is independently governed).

(Courtesy Orca Network)
Captured as a calf, pictured at the top. (Courtesy Orca Network)

Zimmermann points out that we can help stem the flow of wild orcas into captivity by refusing to visit the amusement parks entirely.

But as the Russian Far East threatens to become the next wild orca gold rush, tapping into a remote orca population that until now has mostly been left alone, [Researcher Erich Hoyt] sees only one way the wild orca hunts will truly stop. “A lot depends on how many people per year pay to get into SeaWorld in the U.S., as well as paying to get into the growing number of such facilities in China, Japan and Russia,” he says. “By last count, more than 120 facilities in these countries exhibit whales and/or dolphins.

In Will SeaWorld tank after expose in ‘Blackfish’?  Commentary: Stock sinks as documentary makes a big splash, the author points out the decline in SeaWorld’s stock value, and explains that as a highly leveraged company, SeaWorld may be facing some tough times ahead, due to increased public awareness resulting in part from the documentary film, Blackfish.

Shares of Orlando, Fla.-based SeaWorld (SEAS -0.58%)  have been sinking with the gradual release of this independent documentary, and are now down about 25% from highs reached earlier in the year.

SeaWorld needs to survive this debacle, I personally take no joy in the prospect of them having to close their doors because they are uniquely poised to do immense good for whales and dolphins needing our help. But if instead they choose to move their whales offshore (as they have in Loro Parque, Spain), and to support amusement parks in countries that have few regulations, then they deserve to go down in history as a truly amoral and exploitative organization.

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