After months of criticism and backlash following a documentary on how it cares for its killer whales, SeaWorld has responded with full-page ads in major U.S. newspapers.
In October, CNN aired the documentary "Blackfish" which tells the story of the death of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau who was killed Feb. 10, 2010 by an orca named Tilikum at SeaWorld Orlando. Brancheau drowned after Tilikum grabbed her ponytail and dragged her into the water.
The trainer's death led to OSHA hearings and changes at the park including not allowing trainers in the water with the whales.
"Blackfish" raised questions about the safety and captivity of killer whales. Since its airing, the theme park has been criticized by animal rights groups, and numerous musicians have cancelled their scheduled gigs at SeaWorld's "Bands, Brew & BBQ"festival in February.
In the open letter, which was printed in newspapers and posted online Friday, SeaWorld's zoological team said it hasn't collected a killer whale from the wild in 35 years, and that it does not separate killer whale calves from their mothers, despite "Blackfish's" claims.
We have reprinted SeaWorld's letter below:
'SeaWorld: The Truth is in Our Parks and People'
An Open Letter from SeaWorld's Animal Advocates
Inaccurate reports recently have generated questions about SeaWorld and the animals in our care. The truth is in our parks and people, and it’s time to set the record straight.
The men and women of SeaWorld are true animal advocates. We are the 1,500 scientists, researchers, veterinarians, trainers, marine biologists, aquarists, aviculturists, educators and conservationists who have dedicated our lives to the animals in our care as well as those in the wild that are injured, ill or orphaned. Whether it’s a sea lion, manatee, sea turtle or whale, we are on call 24/7.
Here are some important facts about SeaWorld and our work:
SeaWorld does not capture killer whales in the wild. Due to the groundbreaking success of our research in marine mammal reproduction, we haven’t collected a killer whale from the wild in 35 years. In fact, only two of the whales in our care were collected by SeaWorld and they continue to be in our care today. In addition, our research has led to a much greater understanding of whales in the wild, giving researchers important scientific insights surrounding marine mammal reproduction.
We do not separate killer whale moms and calves. SeaWorld recognizes the important bond between mother and calf. On the rare occasion that a mother killer whale cannot care for the calf herself, we have successfully hand raised and reintroduced the calf. Whales are only moved to maintain a healthy social structure.
SeaWorld invests millions of dollars in the care of our killer whales. In the last three years alone, we have invested $70 million in our killer whale habitats and millions of dollars annually in support of these facilities. Our habitats are among the largest in the world today. They are state-of-the-art, multimillion-gallon environments of cooled and filtered water that allow for the highest and safest standards of care. We give our animals restaurant-quality fish, exercise, veterinary care, mental stimulation, and the company of other members of their species.
SeaWorld’s killer whales’ life spans are equivalent with those in the wild. While studies continue to define the average life span of killer whales in the wild, the most recent science suggests that our killer whales’ life spans are comparable — indeed, five of our animals are older than 30, and one of our whales is close to 50.
The killer whales in our care benefit those in the wild. We work with universities, governmental agencies and NGOs to increase the body of knowledge about and the understanding of killer whales — from their anatomy and reproductive biology to their auditory abilities. Some populations of wild killer whales have been classified as endangered or threatened, demonstrating the potential critical nature of these research opportunities. This type of controlled research and study is simply not possible in the wild, and has significant real-world benefits to the killer whales that live there.
SeaWorld is a world leader in animal rescue. The millions of people who visit our parks each year make possible SeaWorld’s world-renowned work in rescue, rehabilitation and release. We are constantly innovating when it comes to this care: Our veterinarians have created nursing bottles to hand-feed orphaned whales, prosthetics to save sea turtles, and a wetsuit to help injured manatees stay afloat during rehabilitation. Whether it’s the result of natural or man-made disasters, SeaWorld is always on call and often the first to be contacted. We have rescued more than 23,000 animals with the goal of treating and returning them to the wild.
Naturalist Baba Dioum put it best when he said, “In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we have been taught.”
At SeaWorld, this has been our calling since we first opened our doors 50 years ago. It is a responsibility we do not take lightly. More than 400 million guests have visited SeaWorld. We are proud that their experiences here have a lasting and positive impact on them, and on the world in which we live.
The truth about SeaWorld is right here in our parks and people. Our guests may enter our gates having never given much thought to the remarkable animals in our oceans. When they leave with a greater appreciation for the importance of the sea, educated about the animals that live there and inspired to make a difference, we have done our job.
SeaWorld's statement on Bands, Brew & BBQ:
SeaWorld Orlando sent us the following statement Friday on the number of artists who have cancelled their appearances at the theme park's Bands, Brew & BBQ festival in February in response to fan reaction to "Blackfish."
While we're disappointed a small group of misinformed individuals was able to deny fans what would have been great concerts at SeaWorld, we respect the bands' decisions. We expect that other artists will be targeted in this campaign.
The bands and artists have a standing invitation to visit any of our parks to see firsthand or to speak to any of our animal experts to learn for themselves how we care for animals and how little truth there is to the allegations made by animal extremist groups opposed to the zoological display of marine mammals.
We continue to book other bands and artists as we plan for another great Bands, Brew & BBQ event in 2014. We'll announce our full lineup when all artists have been confirmed.
More than 11 million people a year visit SeaWorld parks and most will see a killer whale presentation during their visit. Over the course of our 50-year history hundreds of millions of people have experienced killer whales in our parks. There is tremendous appeal in that kind of inspirational and educational experience and we anticipate that killer whale display will continue for generations to come. We have always understood that we have an obligation to every animal living at SeaWorld to provide the highest quality care and to interpret the animals for our guests in ways that are meaningful and enriching. The benefits of zoological display also include conservation of wild populations, animal rescue, and scientific research.