The Surprising Reason SeaWorld Still Has Orcas, Years After Blackfish

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Years after the documentary backlash, five orcas remain at the SeaWorld theme park

With more than 40 years of experience visiting SeaWorld, I recently took my son to the popular Orlando Park. We wanted to ring in the New Year, check out the rides, and also check out the animal experiences. SeaWorld is a popular theme park in Orlando, Florida known for its roller coasters and aquatic animal exhibits. Over the years, it has become clear that orcas do not thrive in captivity. So, we went to SeaWorld to see how the park is handling its transition away from orcas.

SeaWorld ended its orca breeding program after backlash from the 2013 Blackfish documentary. Five orcas remain in captivity at the theme park still today and routinely participate in presentations. But they will be the last generation to do so. They cannot be released into the wild because they’re unfit to live outside of captivity.

Orca Show SeaWorld
SeaWorld still offers orca performances (photo by John Gullion/HeyOrlando.com)

Does SeaWorld still have orca shows?

Yes. SeaWorld Orlando has a massive amphitheater that hosts multiple orca “presentations” daily. Alongside videos extolling the importance of protecting wildlife and the environment, the orcas perform a variety of tricks. The trainers explain about the animals themselves, the care they are given, and how orcas live in the wild.

Of course, I was a bit hesitant about going to the show. But once in the theater watching the animals’ power and grace, I found it hard not to be moved. In addition to the presentation, there are underwater viewing options as well as a Killer Whale Up-Close tour for an additional price.

Orca in the Performance Pool and the Trainers
As a result of the Blackfish documentary, orcas will no longer be bred at SeaWorld (photo by John Gullion/HeyOrlando.com)

SeaWorld makes changes after Blackfish

Blackfish featured the stories of fatal incidents involving orcas and trainers in both Orlando and Canada. The film made the case that the psychological toll of captivity made the orca (Tilikum) aggressive. It suggested that orcas are built for large expanses of the ocean, not for captivity in comparatively tiny tanks. The film also alleged captive orcas were mistreated. As a result, public opinion on the matter swayed quickly.

SeaWorld announced in 2016 that the orca breeding program was ending effective immediately. Also, the orcas in the park’s care at that time would be the last generation of orcas at SeaWorld. The animals currently residing there could not thrive in the wild. There are five orcas at SeaWorld Orlando now. They range in age from late 40s to early teens. The longest a captive-born orca has lived in the wild is about 30 years. A wild-caught orca, captured at about the age of four, now lives at SeaWorld California and is approaching its 60th birthday.

Orca Rests on Platform During a Show SeaWorld
Orcas are now allowed some autonomy at SeaWorld during the shows (photo by John Gullion/HeyOrlando.com)

My opinion on SeaWorld orcas

It’s the best of a bad situation. I tend to be naïve, to think the best of people. Therefore, I think the people at SeaWorld have learned a lesson. I like to think the efforts made – including millions donated to protect orcas in the wild – are not just for PR purposes.

At our show, the trainer said the orcas have some autonomy. The trainer does not command, the trainer asks. For instance, if the orca performs, it gets a treat. If not, there are no repercussions. It’s not like the circus days. Two male orcas decided not to return backstage when they were supposed to on our visit. The presentation paused, giving the orcas more time to swim around in front of the crowd. After waiting, the trainer signaled for the orcas to return to the backstage area. When they did not, the rest of the presentation was canceled without the grand finale.

Ultimately, we enjoyed the show. We were moved by it and I thought the eco-friendly presentation was effective. Still, we understand why this generation of orca shows will be the last.

What do you think of the orcas at SeaWorld? Let us know in the comments below.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John Gullion

John Gullion, Managing Editor at the Citizen Tribune, is a freelance contributor for TheSmokies.com LLC – the parent company of TheSmokies.com and HeyOrlando.com.

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