What’s Happening with Captive Orcas and SeaWorld Post-Blackfish?

Written by on December 13, 2013 in Marine Life, Whales & Dolphins

UPDATE January 15 — The Beach Boys and Pat Benatar just canceled their scheduled appearances at the Bands, Brew & BBQ event at Busch Gardens Tampa. Busch Gardens, which is operated by SeaWorld Entertainment, wrote on their Facebook page that “It’s disappointing that a digital harassment campaign enacted by animal activists led to denying thousands of fans what would have been two exciting concerts…” Read more here.

UPDATE January 12 — In a new video, former SeaWorld orca trainer, Kyle Kittleson, says that the movie Blackfish is lying 85% of the time. He describes the anti-captivity movement as a fad. What do you think? Take a look.

UPDATE January 11 — After Southwest Airlines announced they would maintain their relationship with SeaWorld, Sea Shepherd proposed an alternative, writing that “Sea Shepherd and Southwest Airlines would make a great team.” Check it out.

UPDATE January 9 — Country star Trace Adkins canceled his SeaWorld performance. A statement mentions the current debate, saying that” Trace prefers that the focus of his performances be on music, not on controversy.”

UPDATE January 8 — Activists are rallying at Southwest Airlines headquarters, asking the company to end its relationship with SeaWorld. They will deliver a petition signed by 27,000 people on Change.org. Read more here.

UPDATE January 2 — A total of 19 protestors were arrested during the Rose Parade last week – among them was a 12-year-old girl. Rose McCoy joined PETA’s protest after watching the Blackfish. She had previously jumped the parade barrier at Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade to protest SeaWorld’s float. Read more here.

UPDATE January 1 — The SeaWorld float at the Rose Parade needed police protection. There were multiple protests for other floats, but the SeaWorld float was the only one that came with a guard. Protesters were apparently trying to stop the float from moving. Read more here.

COMING EARLY JANUARY – MST contributor Mike Bear interviews David Kirby, author of Death at SeaWorld. Death at SeaWorld was published in 2012, about a year before Blackfish, exposing the darker side of the family park.

UPDATE December 23 — The Oceanic Preservation Society wrote an open letter in response to SeaWorld’s most recent ad campaign. “Marine Mammal Captivity: The Truth Is in the Facts” includes information on SeaWorld and the lives of their orcas. Read the whole letter here.

UPDATE December 22 — After watching Blackfish, five-year-old Cash asked people to stay away from SeaWorld on his birthday, December 22. After his YouTube video went viral, protests were scheduled at all three SeaWorld locations: San Diego, Orlando, and San Antonio. Learn more hereRead more about the protests here.

UPDATE December 20 — SeaWorld recently launched a “more aggressive counter attack on the critical documentary,” Blackfish. SeaWorld bought full-page ads in eight of the country’s largest newspapers, making a case for the importance of keeping orcas in captivity.

UPDATE December 18 — At the request of CBS, SeaWorld responded to the number of petitions and signatures calling for artists to cancel their performances, saying “This is a coordinated campaign of digital harassment and does not in any sense represent the opinions of the American public.” What do you think? 

Seaworld Entertainment (NASDAQ:SEAS) major shareholder Delaware L.P. Sw sold 18,000,000 shares of the company’s stock yesterday, for a total value of $519,840,000.00.

SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. recently began using the online discounter Groupon to sell tickets to SeaWorld Orlando at 40% below the basic gate price.

Administrators at Point Dume Marine Science Elementary School cancelled an annual spring field trip to SeaWorld after students and parents complained about the “unethical treatment of orca whales.”

UPDATE December 17 — Florida Attractions Association has sent a letter to all FAA Members that begins: “One of our members is under attack.” They write that “a few radical extremist groups are attacking SeaWorld,” blaming CNN, Blackfish and all of their supporters. They are asking FAA members to vote on TMZ’s You Be The Judge page in favor of SeaWorld. You can vote here if you’re interested – the options are “I like it” or “Shut it down”.

UPDATE December 16 — Only two artists remain on SeaWorld’s original list of performances at the Bands, Blues & BBQ event. Over the last three days, Martina McBride, REO Speedwagon and .38 Special canceled their performances, leaving only Scotty McCreery and Justin Moore. Savage Garden has also sent a letter to SeaWorld asking that their music be removed from SeaWorld shows.

Blackfish, the movie about Tilikum, SeaWorld and other captive orcas, is now on the Academy Awards shortlist for best documentary. This comes as no surprise after the reactions the documentary has received, from SeaWorld annual-pass holders to big-name celebrities.

Here’s an overview of the biggest news involving captive orcas and SeaWorld over the past couple months.


At the beginning of November we learned that seven wild orcas were captured off the eastern coast of Russia. Three were captured in mid-August and four sometime later. They are most likely being held in in a facility near Vladivostok in southeastern Russia along with a young female who was captured last year.

Olympic RingsWe’ve recently learned that two of those orcas will soon be flown across Russia to the dolphinarium in Sochi, just in time for the 2014 Winter Olympics. According to Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC), these will be the first orcas ever displayed in public in Russia.

“A sad day for Russia, a sad thing for the Olympics, a very sad situation for 2 orcas who now will be flying across 7 time zones, some 7,427 kilometres (4,614 miles) to spend the rest of what remains of their lives in captivity,” said WDC’s Erich Hoyt.


Morgan the orca’s supporters were in court again earlier this month, fighting for her release. The Dutch court isn’t expected to make a decision for at least six weeks, during which time Morgan will remain in captivity. Learn more about her case here.


Several musicians and groups have cancelled performances at SeaWorld including Barenaked Ladies, Willie Nelson, Heart, Cheap Trick and Trisha Yearwood. All were scheduled to perform at SeaWorld Orlando’s Bands, Brews and BBQ Festival in February 2014. All have given different reasons for dropping out, but the key factor seems to be public pressure from fans prompted by Blackfish. Blackfish director Gabriela Cowperthwaite told Reuters that she’s inspired by the cancellations. Read more here: ‘Blackfish’ director ‘inspired’ by artists canceling SeaWorld shows.

An orca performing in the "Believe" show at SeaWorld Orlando in 2009.

An orca performing in the “Believe” show at SeaWorld Orlando in 2009. Photo credit: Magda Stremeski via photopin cc.

When discussing SeaWorld’s attempt to get trainers back in the water on air last month, Howard Stern shared his real thoughts about the park, asking “What kind of idiot goes to SeaWorld anyway?

And most recently, Joan Jett sent a letter to SeaWorld CEO Jim Atchinson, telling the park to stop playing her hit song “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” at the Shamu Rocks show. “I’m among the millions who saw ‘Blackfish’ and am sickened that my music was blasted without my permission at sound-sensitive marine mammals,” Jett wrote. SeaWorld says the song was only used as walk-in music for the nighttime show at SeaWorld Orlando (fully licensed for use), but wasn’t officially part of the show.


Now, SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. announced that researchers have completed a new study of killer whale metabolism using Tilikum, the orca at the center of Blackfish. The study aimed to determine the resting metabolic rate of a killer whale, which could help biologists make better management decisions for wild orcas. The results reveal that killer whales may only require half as much food as previously thought.

The Cove team, however, says this study isn’t exactly legitimate, calling it “SeaWorld’s newest attempt to distract people from their recent negative press. You can’t conduct a study on ‘killer-whale metabolic rates’ with a sample size of 1 captive orca!” (See the comment they wrote on the movie’s Facebook page.

Despite all the negative attention and a slight decline in attendance, SeaWorld’s third-quarter earnings are up 30%. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, CEO Jim Atchinson says there has been no “notable impact from this film atll.” Read more here: SeaWorld Profit Up 30%; Downplays ‘Blackfish’ Effect.

For more, check out this post and read about The Fate of Captive Orcas in 2013.

Orcas in the wild.

Orcas in the wild. Photo credit: Dave Ellifrit, NOAA.

Copyright © 2013 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 MarineScienceToday.com. 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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