9 Biggest Lies SeaWorld Wants You to Believe
SeaWorld worked long and hard to create the illusion of being a conservation organization that housed happy, healthy marine animals. Luckily, Blackfish—the groundbreaking documentary about the "abusement" park—shattered many of the lies that SeaWorld has been spewing for years. While there’s no hiding from the truth now, SeaWorld is still hoping that people will buy into the myths it’s fabricated.
Photo credit: Shutterstock
Here are some of the most shocking lies that SeaWorld expected you to believe. Are you smart enough to see through them?
1. Collapsed dorsal fins are normal.
All the captive male orcas at SeaWorld have a collapsed dorsal fin, and the company has said that this is a common and naturally occurring problem. But the truth is that this only rarely happens to wild orcas (only 1 percent), and when it does, it’s a sign that they’re injured or sick.
2. SeaWorld respects the bond between a mother and child.
In the wild, orcas stay in their family pods their whole lives. The company has said that it doesn’t separate mothers from their calves—but SeaWorld declares that calves are full grown at 4 years of age and moves them to a different location, away from their mothers, at this time. SeaWorld claims that this maintains a “healthy social structure,” while it’s actually the complete opposite of how orcas live in the wild.
3. SeaWorld cares about a “healthy social structure.”
SeaWorld insists that it promotes healthy social structures among the orcas it holds captive. In reality, the orcas are kept close together in cramped tanks, which causes stress and anxiety, which often lead to aggression and fights. When a fight or an attack occurs in the wild, orcas are able to flee—in captivity, they have nowhere to escape to.
4. The orcas at SeaWorld are mentally stimulated.
The orcas at SeaWorld would have to swim about 1,500 laps a day in their cramped pools to equal the approximate 100 miles they’d swim every day in their ocean home. Their desperation and boredom lead them to display psychotic behavior such as gnawing on the concrete sides of their tanks, which breaks their teeth.
5. SeaWorld prioritizes wildlife rescue, rehabilitation, and conservation.
SeaWorld tries very hard to appear as though it’s concerned with wildlife rescue, rehabilitation, and conservation. However, over the past decade SeaWorld has contributed less than 1 percent of its profits to conservation efforts.
6. Captive orcas’ life spans are equivalent to those in the wild.
Granny, a wild orca who was spotted off the coast of Canada in May 2014, is 103 years old. Other wild orcas have been known to live as long as 90 years—only five of the captive orcas at SeaWorld are more than 30 years of age. Most of them die in their teens, with the median age being 9 years old, and not a single captive orca has ever died of old age.
7. It’s safe for trainers to be in the water with orcas.
An orca at SeaWorld named Tilikum was forced to perform in circus-style shows, despite having already been involved in the deaths of two people. Dawn Brancheau, a trainer at SeaWorld, became the third person to die—a death that could have been prevented—when she was killed by Tilikum on February 24, 2010.
8. SeaWorld’s stock is fine.
After Blackfish unveiled the ugly truth behind the "abusemen"t park, stock in the company took a huge hit, plummeting by 35 percent. SeaWorld also saw a 13 percent drop in attendance, and its market value dropped $1.7 billion. Despite SeaWorld’s claims that its attendance was down only because of bad weather and “a shift in the Easter holiday,” it’s clear that many people no longer want anything to do with the torture that SeaWorld calls “entertainment.”
9. Increasing the size of the tanks will make a difference.
After its stock plummeted and its attendance dropped, SeaWorld released a media statement saying that it was going to expand the orcas’ tanks—despite the fact that it had yet to apply for the permits required to build the new tanks. The expansion plan, which is now expected to conclude in 2018, includes tanks with a maximum depth of 50 feet and a length of 350 feet. In the wild, orcas dive up to 1,000 feet and swim up to 100 miles a day. This expansion will affect only the paying guests—it’ll make virtually no difference to the orcas who are trapped at SeaWorld. The company’s plans are nothing more than an effort to distract us from something that we all know to be true: A bigger prison is still a prison.
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When hurricanes and other extreme storms unleash downpours like Tropical Storm Beta has been doing in the South, the floodwater doesn't always stay within the government's flood risk zones.
New research suggests that nearly twice as many properties are at risk from a 100-year flood today than the Federal Emergency Management Agency's flood maps indicate.
Flooding Outside the Zones<p>About <a href="https://furmancenter.org/files/Floodplain_PopulationBrief_12DEC2017.pdf" target="_blank">15 million</a> Americans live in FEMA's current 100-year flood zones. The designation warns them that their properties face a 1% risk of flooding in any given year. They must obtain flood insurance if they want a federally ensured loan – insurance that helps them recover from flooding.</p><p>In Greater Houston, however, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1539-6924.2012.01840.x" target="_blank">47% of claims</a> made to FEMA across three decades before Hurricane Harvey were outside of the 100-year flood zones. Harris County, recognizing that FEMA flood maps don't capture the full risk, now <a href="https://www.hcfcd.org/floodinsurance" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">recommends that every household</a> in Houston and the rest of the county have flood insurance.</p><p>New risk models point to a similar conclusion: Flood risk in these areas outstrips expectations in the current FEMA flood maps.</p><p>One of those models, from the <a href="https://firststreet.org/flood-lab/research/2020-national-flood-risk-assessment-highlights/" target="_blank">First Street Foundation</a>, estimates that the number of properties at risk in a 100-year storm is 1.7 times higher than the FEMA maps suggest. Other <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/aaac65" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">researchers</a> find an even higher margin, with 2.6 to 3.1 times more people exposed to serious flooding in a 100-year storm than FEMA estimates.</p>
What FEMA’s Flood Maps Miss<p>Understanding why areas outside the 100-year flood zones are flooding more often than the FEMA maps suggest involves larger social and environmental issues. Three reasons stand out.</p><p>First, some places rely on relatively old FEMA maps that don't account for recent urbanization.</p><p>Urbanization matters because impervious surfaces – think pavement and buildings – are not effective sponges like natural landscapes can be. Moreover, the process for updating floodplain maps is locally variable and can take years to complete. Famously, New York City was updating its maps when Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012 but hadn't finished, meaning flood maps in effect <a href="https://projects.propublica.org/nyc-flood/" target="_blank">were from 1983</a>. FEMA is required to assess whether updates are needed every five years, but the <a href="https://www.fema.gov/cis/nation.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">majority of maps</a> <a href="https://www.oig.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/assets/2017/OIG-17-110-Sep17.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">are older</a>.</p><p>Second, binary thinking can lead people to an underaccounting of risk, and that can mean communities fail to take steps that could protect a neighborhood from flooding. The logic goes: if I'm not in the 100-year floodplain, then I'm not at risk. Risk perception <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/ab195a" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">research</a> backs this up. FEMA-delineated flood zones are the major factor shaping flood mitigation behaviors.</p><p>Third, the era of climate change scuttles conventional assumptions.</p><p>As the planet warms, extreme storms are becoming <a href="https://nca2018.globalchange.gov/" target="_blank">more common and severe</a>. If greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase at a high rate, computer models suggest that the chances of a severe storm dropping 20 inches of rain on Texas in any given year will increase from about 1% at the end of the last century to 18% at the end of this one, a chance of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1716222114" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">once every 5.5 years</a>. So far, <a href="https://www.rstreet.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/195.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">FEMA hasn't taken into account the impact climate change is having</a> on extreme weather and sea level rise.</p>
Racial Disparities in Flooding Outside the Zones<p>So, who is at risk?</p><p>Years of research and evidence from storms have highlighted social inequalities in areas with a high risk of flooding. But most local governments have less understanding of the social and demographic composition of communities that experience flood impacts outside of flood zones.</p><p>In analyzing the damage from Hurricane Harvey in the Houston area, I found that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/aba0fe" target="_blank">Black and Hispanic residents disproportionately experienced flooding</a> in areas beyond FEMA's 100-year flood zones.</p><p>With the majority of flooding from Hurricane Harvey occurring outside of 100-year flood zones, this meant that the overall impact of Harvey was racially unequal too.</p><p>Research into where flooding occurs in Baltimore, Chicago and Phoenix points to some of the potential causes. <a href="https://www.nap.edu/read/25381/chapter/4#16" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">In Baltimore and Chicago</a>, for example, aging storm and sewer infrastructure, poor construction and insufficient efforts to mitigate flooding are part of the flooding problem in some predominantly Black neighborhoods.</p>
What Can Be Done About It<p>Better accounting for those three reasons could substantively improve risk assessments and help cities prioritize infrastructure improvements and flood mitigation projects in these at-risk neighborhoods.</p><p>For example, First Street Foundation's risk maps account for <a href="https://firststreet.org/flood-lab/research/flood-model-methodology_overview/" target="_blank">climate change</a> and present <a href="https://floodfactor.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">ratings</a> on a scale from 1 to 10. FEMA, which works with communities to update flood maps, is <a href="https://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/1521054297905-ca85d066dddb84c975b165db653c9049/TMAC_2017_Annual_Report_Final508(v8)_03-12-2018.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">exploring rating systems</a>. And the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine recently <a href="https://www.nationalacademies.org/news/2019/03/new-report-calls-for-different-approaches-to-predict-and-understand-urban-flooding" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">called for a new generation of flood maps</a> that takes climate change into account.</p><p>Including recent urbanization in those assessments will matter too, especially in fast-growing cities like Houston, where <a href="https://authors.elsevier.com/a/1boBRyDvMFW6W" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">386 new square miles</a> of impervious surfaces were created in the last 20 years. That's greater than the land area of New York City. New construction in one area can also <a href="https://scalawagmagazine.org/2018/01/city-in-a-swamp-as-houston-booms-its-flood-problems-are-only-getting-worse/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">impact older neighborhoods downhill</a> during a flood, as some Houston communities discovered in Hurricane Harvey.</p><p>Improving risk assessments is needed not just to better prepare communities for major flood events, but also to prevent racial inequalities – in housing and beyond – from <a href="https://www.npr.org/2019/03/05/688786177/how-federal-disaster-money-favors-the-rich" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">growing</a> after the unequal impacts of disasters.</p>
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