Argh, the seas have been rough at SeaWorld.
Ticket sales are reportedly down, staff hours are being cut, and stock prices dropped to an all-time low in late August since the company went public in April. And while SeaWorld vehemently denies it, a firestorm of negative publicity from the breakout documentary, “Blackfish”—which some critics say is sure to get an Oscar nod—might be to blame.
But now the PR spin doctors at America’s much-treasured marine prison are responding to pressure from families and animal activists.
Their glowing solution? Wave machines.
Described as “killer whale treadmills,” the new exercise devices are said to produce strong currents, or “endless waves,” for the orcas to swim against to more closely resemble their natural habitat. The new wave technology will apparently fool whales into thinking they are swimming for miles, though they remain in roughly the same spot.
Since SeaWorld opened to the public in the early 60s, whales who live captive on park grounds have endured life in what better resembles a cramped bathtub of still water with no stimuli, marine life and few, if any, animal companions.
While it hasn’t been confirmed, the machine has reportedly been tested on Tilikum, the 12,000-lb tragic star of “Blackfish” who is responsible for the 2010 death of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau. If testing of the new technology proves successful, it will be incorporated into all SeaWorld parks.
The theme park’s recent announcement has spurred a Catch-22 debate in the animal rights community. On one hand, not giving Seaworld any praise shows little encouragement in the way of improvement for orcas living in captivity. But, on the other hand, activists struggle with supporting SeaWorld’s attempt to enhance the quality of life over concern that it may imply that captivity is “okay.”
As David Kirby, author of Death at Seaworld so simply put it, “If you make something less bad, it’s still bad.”
Author and activist, Deborough Blalock, is also hesitant to give the folks at SeaWorld any pat on the back. “Anytime we praise them, we’re colluding with them to fool the public,” she says. “SeaWorld has now offered the introduction of a swimming treadmill as a step up from the monotony that orcas endure. SeaWorld is acknowledging that captivity makes orcas unhappy. While it’s always a welcome change to see a focus on improving their lives, these animals are in the wrong place and no amount of swimming in place will change that.”
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