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Are Parks Like SeaWorld Harming or Helping Killer Whales?

The new book "Death at SeaWorld" and a serious recent injury to an orca at one of the parks is raising concern.

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Kirby adds that SeaWorld has “a lot to brag about in terms of education and conservation and animal rescue -- although not in terms of killer whales,” adding, “I'm not out to get SeaWorld, I'm out to question this practice.”

SeaWorld responded to questions and interview requests about Kirby’s book and the larger question of whether orcas should be held in captivity with the following statement:

Our initial review of Mr. Kirby’s book has revealed numerous factual errors, as well as rumors, hearsay and speculation masquerading as fact. Anyone concerned about the welfare of SeaWorld’s animals or the manner in which we care for them should visit one of our parks and judge our facilities and standards for themselves. SeaWorld is among the world’s most respected zoological institutions, and no facility in the world sets higher standards for the care and interpretation of marine mammals than we do.  Our animals are cared for by skilled and committed curators, veterinarians, trainers and animal care specialists.  The welfare of marine mammals in parks like SeaWorld also is enshrined in multiple federal and state laws and is assured by the rigorous inspection process of two federal agencies and the accreditation provisions of two professional zoological organizations.

However, SeaWorld declined to make any other statements, saying, “there is still active litigation surrounding our killer whale program.” As its statement mentions factual errors without identifying which parts of Kirby’s book SeaWorld finds incorrect, it is impossible to thoroughly examine the issue from both sides. That said, a trip to SeaWorld actually confirms several points in Kirby’s book, such as the whales’ willful disobedience of trainers’ commands (interpreted in the book as an expression of “f--- you”) and the lack of education provided about the lives of wild orcas. But one thing is certain: in the case of these magnificent and intelligent animals, we should have a thorough public debate about captivity, ultimately reaching a conclusion that is best for the whales – not for human entertainment or investors’ quarterly profits.

Jill Richardson is the founder of the blog La Vida Locavore and a member of the Organic Consumers Association policy advisory board. She is the author of "Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It."

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