Mar 242016


The recent announcement that SeaWorld is ending their orca program and forging an alliance with HSUS sparked widely diverse emotional responses, from joy to despair, but most serious animal people were deeply hurt and furious.

I am not going to address the specific orca question: despite my tens of thousands of hours working with hundreds of species, I do not possess sufficient knowledge or experience with marine mammals to know whether or not orcas can thrive in captivity. This determination belongs in the hands of dedicated, knowledgeable, caring experts, and not abandoned to weekend activists, anti-animal fanatics, pre-occupied politicians, or casual animal lovers. And I am not privy to what happens at SeaWorld, so I cannot speak to the details of their care.

Nor am I going to attack those at SeaWorld for this decision.  We are all struggling to find best and most effective paths in the current world, and I do not have access to all the information they had.  I suspect it was a serious mistake for SeaWorld to become a publicly traded company, but even if they had not, no institution can long survive what SeaWorld has been facing, so they did what they believed was necessary to survive in the short term, even though doing so may well have sacrificed the future.

I want to discuss some of the broader realities and process failures that got us to this point:

It is profoundly saddening that SeaWorld has been unable to persuasively communicate the core truth that responsibly managed captivity is a great alternative in parallel with protection of wild animals. That animals can do better living with people than in the wild.  That they can be happier, healthier, and longer-lived.  That man has today claimed every inch of the planet and that the only future for most species inexorably includes human involvement. That most animals care not about the idea of freedom, but about survival, comfort, and happiness.

It is devastating that SeaWorld partnered with an organization that has shown repeatedly that it will not rest until every single animal living with man has been removed or eliminated.

It is flabbergasting that a filmmaker with no relevant knowledge, education, or experience, and a woefully lopsided, sentiment-based agenda, could produce false and misleading propaganda and raise up an army of well-meaning-but-utterly-misinformed do-gooders who—in the name of orcas—set about destroying the greatest ally orcas have ever known.

It is gravely disappointing how many excellent animal facilities have seen no choice but to die with a whimper, or hand over their soul to the devil and betray their colleagues and the truth.

It is crushing how close we are to a world in which all animals have been shoved out of our homes and lives and banished to an illusory “wild.”

It is depressing how little SeaWorld, and other animal professionals, have been able to educate the public that good animal training is not cruel, coercive, or exploitative.  That animals need, and love, to play the game, figure things out, and perform complicated behaviors.

It is unfathomable how many people embrace an agenda that they have not bothered to fully grasp, and do grievous harm to animals while passionately believing that they are helping.  How many people are certain they know best, even when they know nothing at all.

But the most frightening and saddening truth is this: science and reason surrendered to a mob of pitchfork-brandishing villagers.  Knowledge and thoughtful pursuit of truth abandoned the field to ignorance, hatred, and frenzy. However you may feel about SeaWorld, you should be very afraid of a world in which the mob can control such decisions.

Make no mistake: animals and those who love them are losing badly. Sea World’s capitulation was a grave defeat for Earth’s animals. But perhaps even worse, it was a devastating blow for mankind. Watch the responses to SeaWorld’s decision, and relentlessly you will hear people with inadequate knowledge repeat the tautological assumption—“Wild animals belong in the wild because they are wild and yearn for freedom.”  No matter how much logic and data are presented to them clearly demonstrating the fallacy of their position, they will simply repeat their impenetrable certainty.  Reason, knowledge, and discourse are little match for sentimentality, unabashed ignorance, certitude, and zealotry.

Some may not recognize the enormity of this event: SeaWorld, after all, is but one organization, and we are only talking about a few orcas. But we are not really talking about SeaWorld as a brick-and-mortar institution.  SeaWorld is an icon, a metaphor.  SeaWorld is a manifestation of the notion that enterprise, entertainment, education, and animal care can synergistically coexist. SeaWorld, until recently, generated a great deal of revenue and profit, but its managers directed a significant portion of those profits into the welfare of their animals, aiding wild animals, conducting groundbreaking research, educating the public, and generating interest and affection for marine mammals.  It is cruelly ironic that the only reason people care enough about orcas to be attacking SeaWorld is because SeaWorld brought the charismatic mammals to our focused attention, and made them into the icons we treasure so deeply.  SeaWorld was the principal global institution with the resources and commitment to stand toe-to-toe with the Animal Rights groups and say, “No! We will not capitulate to misguided sentimentality no matter how loudly you yell.”

SeaWorld was one of the last citadels protecting the ideal that animals and people can live together, and that both can be the better for it. I do not know if there is hope left, but if there is, it lies with every single person who loves animals banding together right now and saying with one voice what I wish SeaWorld had said: Enough. We will not be intimidated; we will not let you eliminate animals from our world.  We will not let you distort responsible care and love and stewardship and call them exploitation. We will not let your simplistic fanaticism crush truth. We are the true lovers of animals, the people who dedicate our lives to caring for them and learning about them. With immense devotion and immeasurable reflection and action, we have learned what is humane, what is ethical, what is best for the animals.  And while we will always welcome thoughtful, informed input into how we can do better, we shall ceaselessly strive to ensure that the animals we love always have homes in the wild and with us.

 March 24, 2016  Posted by at 11:01 pm Tagged with: , , , , ,

  20 Responses to “The Day the Music Died”

  1. I feel in love with animal training at Sea World. I was only 8. Sea World and its and it’s marine animals. Have taught us so much. These marine animals have taught us to be better humans to other animals. That we don’t need intimidation and threats and fear to infulace animals behavior. How many dogs are no long beat or just taken out and shot (like my grandpa did for the dog that kept getting in the garden). We now see there is another way. Now people all over the world interact in a positive way toward animals. The ocrca are not victims of us. The are teachers and soldiers of a greater cause to teach us to Care about how we interact with other species of this world.

  2. well said it needs to be said

  3. “I am not going to address the specific orca question: despite my tens of thousands of hours working with hundreds of species, I do not possess sufficient knowledge or experience with marine mammals to know whether or not orcas can thrive in captivity.”

    “But the most frightening and saddening truth is this: science and reason surrendered to a mob of pitchfork-brandishing villagers.”

    If you admit to not having the expertise to evaluate the condition of orcas in captivity, how can you then be certain that science and reason were surrendered? Though there have been very emotional activists, this claim still seems unsubstantiated.

    • Martie,

      A valid point. I do not “know” all the reasons SeaWorld made these decisions. But I do know that they have been espousing one view for decades, have backed it up with data (true or false), with reason, with argument after argument. Suddenly, right after their ticket sales and revenue crashed through the floor, without offering any new science or fundamentally different reasoning, they reversed their longstanding position and partnered with one of their most powerful previous enemies. If somebody hits me in the head and I fall down, it is certainly possible that I coincidentally had a stroke at the same moment, but it is pretty likely that the impact caused my collapse. If, at some point in the future, SeaWorld offers a viable alternative explanation, I will certainly reconsider my belief…

    • Can I speak as somebody who has considerable experience with marine mammals including cetaceans (whales and dolphins) in captive care. Over the years, I have known quite a few people who work with killer whales and I have had direct dealings with SeaWorld. SeaWorld has the most successful breeding programme of killer whales in the world. The fact that these animals have been able to breed and successfully rear their young (some to second-generation) is an indication in itself that the welfare of these animals is not is compromised to any degree the animal-rights supporters would suggest. No doubt, somebody will say that animals can breed in far from satisfactory conditions. However, as far as wild animals are concerned this is actually not true. Many species of wild animal in which I will include dolphins (the killer whale is the largest member of the Dolphin family) do not breed and rear their young to maturity when subjected to inadequate conditions; this is also true of even the most commonly kept wild animal such as lions and tigers. There is no scientific reason (animal welfare) why SeaWorld’s has ceased its killer whale breeding programme. This has been undertaken purely for political (business) reasons by their CEO Joel Maybe. Nevertheless, perhaps the most disturbing aspect of this situation is that Maybe has decided to go into association with the animal-rights group The Humane Society of the United States. This organisation is no friend to animal keepers and regularly attacks zoos and aquariums. The feedback I am getting from colleagues within the zoological community around the world is one of total disbelief that this has taken place. By this very action, SeaWorld has completely jeopardised its credibility as an international zoological organisation. Where we go from here is anybody’s guess but I can say candidly there are a lot of the zoological community around the world whose confidence in SeaWorld no longer exists. Certainly, this situation will embolden the animal-rights movement and I know this will have repercussions considerably wider than the keeping of killer whales in captivity.

  4. wonderful commentary as usual Roland. How I wish that the ignorant people would listen to you instead of the animal rights mob

  5. So is this setting a president? What next no more zoos? So no more life saving research, no more preservation of species which would otherwise be exterminated and completely elinated from the face of the earth? It is one thing to say they should not be treated as circus animals but a totally different thing to not support their continued existence through research and education. A very sad day.

    • yes that is exactly the end agenda of animal rights groups, and make no mistake H$U$ is one of the big ones.

      • Please try not to lump all animal rights activists together. I work for a great zoo and I stand behind their mission but sea world did not do right by their animals, especially the orcas.

  6. What a breath of fresh air to read. I am grateful to know there are other intelligent, passionate , wise souls out there that can see far beyond the yokel mentality that assumes it knows best & unduly influenced Sea World , manipulates the media& politicians & continues to spread holier than thou .”Thank you!”

  7. I do not care if they breed Orchas or not. I hate HSUS they are a corrupt and evil organizations that wants the end of animal ownership. They use deceptive means to gain huge financial gain, which is not used on helping animals, but in their warped agenda. I will never step foot in HSUS ever.

  8. I will attack those at $eaWorld who made this decision. They partnered with the enemy – H$U$. They are now my enemy.

  9. It’s an opinion, there are other opinions out there also based on science that say there is no way that we could ever adequately address the needs of marine mammals in captivity, no matter how “enriched” they are and how much their trainers love them.

  10. I am sadly being educated here….for the animals and for what remains in this world
    I wish I could do something but alas money rules dog shows and veterinarians who went to school for their passion to save animals only to be hood winked by big dollars into the enemy of most with the many funded by the devil and his minions…

  11. Beautifully written article. Well said.

  12. Well said ! Thanks a lot 🙂

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  14. Nice thinking @roland . thanks for sharing the article.

  15. If you believe Joel Manby is not doing right by SeaWorld’s animals, employees, and supporters, please sign and share this petition. It’s time Manby started listening to SeaWorld’s supporters (or in some cases now former ones) instead of only the critics.

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