SeaWorld vs. SEA LIFE: Same Mission, Different Values

Written by on November 26, 2012 in Policy & Ocean Law

Emily Tripp

SeaWorld promotes and profits from maintaining cetaceans in captivity for public entertainment, while SEA LIFE (owned by the Merlin Entertainments Group) is adamantly opposed to keeping cetaceans in tanks.  SeaWorld officials criticize anyone who calls for the early retirement of performing cetaceans, while SEA LIFE fights for the development of retirement sanctuaries for these same animals.

Why does this stark contrast in opinions matter?  Because The Blackstone Group, one of the world’s leading private equity firms, is the parent of both SeaWorld and SEA LIFE–two aquarium-based companies that are on opposite ends of the spectrum.

Orca performing for a crowd.

Orca performing for a crowd. Photo credit: c@rljones via photopin cc

David Kriby recently wrote for TakePart about this “sibling dissonance” and how challenging it must be for Blackstone to cope with it.

He notes that divisional director of Merlin Entertainments (Midway) USA, Janine DiGioacchino’s letter to NOAA‘s National Marine Fisheries Service regarding the pending import of 18 beluga whales received no mainstream media attention.

“Cetaceans are not suited to captivity, no matter how spacious or well-designed the facilities,” wrote DiGioacchino.  “They are wide-ranging, highly intelligent and social animals which suffer acute sensory deprivation in any kind of unnatural confinement.”

DiGioacchino said that “all leading authorities in this field and indeed the majority of ordinary American citizens canvassed on this subject” oppose keeping cetaceans in captivity.

“Unless they are injured or ailing rescued animals requiring full time care, it is just plain wrong,” she continued.  “We would be failing in our responsibility as the world’s largest aquarium operator were we not to say so publicly.”

Dolphins performing at an aquarium.

Dolphins performing at an aquarium. Photo credit: Steven2358 via photopin cc

While Merlin has acquired three parks with cetaceans, they “are urgently progressing plans to create a natural sanctuary where these and hopefully others from other public attractions around the world, can be re-homed, retired and if feasible, rehabilitated.”

Merlin is working with groups like Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) to find suitable locations for the dolphins, belugas, orcas and other cetaceans at their facilities.

“Interim activities are being developed and explored to improve the conditions of the animals at the Merlin facilities, and these will be the first candidates for the sanctuary/retirement facility, with a goal towards release,” said WDC’s Courtney Vail.  “With our own expertise and involvement in release projects, and in consultation with others, we are working with Sea Life/Merlin to make this a reality.  It is a complex and delicate process, but it’s in progress.”

Kirby concludes: “It’s hard for SeaWorld to attack critics, (including me), when its sister company is openly stating precisely the same thing.”

Copyright © 2012 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .


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