by Barry Kent MacKay,
Senior Program Associate
Born Free USA's Canadian Representative
Barry is an artist, both with words and with paint. He has been associated with our organization for nearly three decades and is our go-to guy for any wildlife question. He knows his animals — especially birds — and the issues that affect them. His blogs will give you just the tip of his wildlife-knowledge iceberg, so be sure to stay and delve deeper into his Canadian Project articles. If you like wildlife and reading, Barry's your man. (And we're happy to have him as part of our team, too!)
Investment in orcas
The following blog series is a point-by-point rebuttal to SeaWorld, following SeaWorld's critical reaction to the controversial 2013 documentary, Blackfish. Each blog entry will present an argument made by SeaWorld and a rebuttal by Barry MacKay.
Investment in orcas:
There is an especially odd statement from SeaWorld, the absurdity of which possibly reflects a mindset alien to those who are dedicated to the causes of animal protection and environmentalism. SeaWorld, after talking about having “invested $70 million in our killer whale habitats” and millions more annually “in support of these facilities,” states, ‘’our habitats are among the largest in the world today…”
What habitats? This time, the debate is not even a matter of semantics. There are probably as many definitions of the word “habitat” as there are dictionaries, but let’s look at the first one that comes up on Google: “habitat: 1: the natural home or environment of an animal, plant or other organism. ‘Wild chimps in their natural habitat.’”
Or for more nuance, we can turn to Wikipedia, which defines habitat this way: “A habitat is an ecological or environmental area that is inhabited by a particular species of animal, plant or other type of organism. It is the natural environment in which an organism lives, or the physical environment that surrounds a species population. A habitat is made up of physical factors such as soil, moisture, range of temperature, and availability of light as well as biotic factors such as the availability of food and the presence of predators. A habitat is not necessarily a geographic area – for a parasitic organism it is the body of its host or even a cell within the host’s body.”
What SeaWorld provides for its orcas meets neither of those definitions, nor any others. We could fill up the next hundred pages with the names of animals, plants, or other organisms an orca can encounter during its lifetime in the wild and not mention one that it will ever encounter in SeaWorld’s tanks. And, far from the space provided being “among the largest in the world today,” they are, in fact, a microscopic percentage of the size of habitats available to free, wild orcas: habitats we call the Arctic, Antarctic, Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans.
As to the money “invested,” it is again useful to look at Google’s first reply to a search for the meaning of the word “invest:” “the action or process of investing money for profit or material result.” In short, the expectation is that the money is spent not to help orcas, but to generate a still greater amount of money, as from ticket buyers visiting SeaWorld and buying products while there. The amount of money thereby derived that is greater than the amount “invested” is called a “profit.” It is the purpose of investment to produce profit. The amount spent is irrelevant to the orca species, unless it benefits its survival. The amount spent on the individual orca is irrelevant from an animal welfare perspective, unless the orca benefits from being captive.
It is possible for species of limited intelligence (however intelligence is measured) to not suffer as a result of being confined by the zoo and aquarium industry. An ant in an ant farm, or, perhaps, a garter snake in a large and thoughtfully equipped terrarium, may indeed have no awareness of its confinement, and thus no subsequent stress or deprivations. But, an animal as highly intelligent and sociable as an orca—as the film Blackfish makes abundantly clear—does experience stresses that lead to aberrant behavior.
That SeaWorld does not want that fact made clear does not negate the fact.