Sea World Responds to Blackfish Documentary, Sea Shepherd Sets the Record Straight
By Laura Beans
The documentary Blackfish has left a desperate SeaWorld in its wake, struggling to stay afloat in a sea of bad press and criticism from the public. As performer after performer (eight in total, so far) cancels their scheduled show for SeaWorld's upcoming “Bands, Brews & BBQ" concert series due to concerns raised by the film, SeaWorld has fought back with a list of responses that they have called an open letter from SeaWorld's “animal advocates."
While their representatives have declined to share how much money was spent putting this response out there, it is almost certain that SeaWorld spent thousands of dollars getting the letter published in eight major U.S. newspapers.
If you have read the letter, you might be finding it hard to separate fact from fiction as it is filled with SeaWorld's spin on the captive marine mammal industry. Sea Shepherd would like to present a few counterpoints to SeaWorld's arguments that will hopefully clear up any confusion.
“SeaWorld does not capture killer whales in the wild. Due to the groundbreaking success of our research in marine mammal reproduction, we haven't collected a killer whale from the wild in 35 years."
While SeaWorld admits that they have two orcas in their “care" who were captured in the wild, they leave out the violent and traumatic captures that these orcas endured. Footage of a notoriously brutal orca capture in Penn Cove, a capture which tore apart a family of orcas and left some dead, can be seen in Blackfish. Those responsible for the capture even sank the bodies of the dead whales in an effort to hide their deaths.
Tilikum's capture took place off the coast of Iceland in 1983, when he was only two years old. He was sent to SeaLand of the Pacific, before enduring a stressful transport once again to his current prison, SeaWorld Orlando.
Many of SeaWorld's orcas were, indeed, born in captivity. Many of them are the offspring of Tilikum, who is used as SeaWorld's breeding machine. SeaWorld's marine mammals are often inbred, offspring of two mated members of the same family, resulting in a range of genetic abnormalities and mutations. That is the truth of SeaWorld's “groundbreaking success" in marine mammal reproduction.
The letter also conveniently leaves out the fact that SeaWorld plans to take some of the 18 wild-caught beluga whales that the Georgia Aquarium is currently fighting so hard to get their hands on. Some of the belugas would be split between SeaWorld Orlando, San Antonio and San Diego as well as other captive facilities. Why does SeaWorld support the captures of members of a healthy population of beluga whales from the wild, while claiming publicly that their orcas don't come from the ocean?
“We do not separate killer whale moms and calves. SeaWorld recognizes the important bond between mother and calf. On the rare occasion that a mother killer whale cannot care for the calf herself, we have successfully hand raised and reintroduced the calf. Whales are only moved to maintain a healthy social structure."
As you can see in Blackfish, SeaWorld has in fact removed calves from their mother's side and transported them to their other parks. Just as any mother would mourn for her child, the orcas have cried out long-range vocals looking for their young taken by SeaWorld.
Even if this is old footage, it is quite possible that SeaWorld continues this practice. They continue to breed marine mammals, including orcas. Some are transferred between facilities to breed or to perform. In the wild, orcas live in large pods, and in some populations calves stay with their mother for their entire life.
Regardless, the way to “maintain a healthy social structure" for orcas, animals who live in matriarchal pods, is never to separate a mother from her calf.
“We give our animals restaurant-quality fish, exercise, veterinary care, mental stimulation, and the company of other members of their species."
The “restaurant-quality fish" being served to these orcas refers to thawed dead fish, contrary to their natural hunting behavior in the wild. These fish are filled with antibiotics and vitamins to combat the effects of captivity on these often stressed, sick whales.
Wild orcas get moisture from the fish that they consume, but the frozen fish provided at SeaWorld have lost most of the moisture they once contained. So, SeaWorld feeds its orcas massive amounts of gelatin each day for hydration.
While some of these orcas may be kept with members of their species, these artificial pods are not the families that they would live with in the wild. Tilikum often remains alone, and now spends most of his time floating listlessly at the surface of his tank. He is used as a “stud" for SeaWorld's continuous supply of captive and in-bred orcas (perversely, marine park staff masturbate males in order to collect their semen, which is used to impregnate females), and occasionally he is forced to provide the “big splash" at the end of SeaWorld's performances. The in-breeding has led to unhealthy offspring and many babies have been stillborn.
"SeaWorld's killer whales' life spans are equivalent with those in the wild."
This is a lie that SeaWorld has been feeding to the public for years. They claim “no one knows for sure how long orcas live," a claim that has been refuted by marine biologists and orca researchers who have spent the greater part of their careers studying the lives and natural behaviors of orcas in the wild.
SeaWorld's claim that the life spans of captive and wild orcas are comparable is shattered by the real numbers. In the wild, the average life span for males is 30 years and 50 years for females. Males can reach an estimated maximum age of 60-70 years old, and females 80-90 years old. While SeaWorld points out “five of our animals are older than 30, and one of our whales is close to 50," this is highly unusual for orcas in captivity, including those at SeaWorld. Many die before those ages, and some even before reaching maturity.
“The killer whales in our care benefit those in the wild. We work with universities, governmental agencies and NGOs to increase the body of knowledge about and the understanding of killer whales—from their anatomy and reproductive biology to their auditory abilities."
SeaWorld's “research" on their captive orcas benefitting wild orcas is a stretch, to say the least. Captive orcas are mere shells of their wild counterparts, unable even to engage in the most basic of their natural behaviors or live in their natural social groupings. The collapsed dorsal fin that you see in captive orcas is something that SeaWorld claims is also common in the wild, but in fact is rarely seen in wild orcas. It is a sign of stress, illness, injury or other conditions.
“SeaWorld is a world leader in animal rescue.The millions of people who visit our parks each year make possible SeaWorld's world-renowned work in rescue, rehabilitation and release … We have rescued more than 23,000 animals with the goal of treating and returning them to the wild."
While SeaWorld does rescue, rehabilitate and release ocean wildlife, this statement included in their letter is disgracefully misleading. The animals released by SeaWorld are most often manatees, sea turtles and other animals who cannot be used as “performers" in their shows. Dolphins and whales and other animals such as sea lions rescued by SeaWorld who can be forced to perform tricks for food are kept and used as performers.
We have yet to hear conclusive findings on the actual success of SeaWorld's rescue and release program. They do not follow up and report on the survival of the animals who have been released from their care.
In addition, according to its 2011-12 Annual Report, SeaWorld has given only $9 million dollars over the last decade toward conservation efforts. That means for every 100 dollars in revenue they bring in, they donate approximately one cent toward saving the animals in the wild whose captive counterparts they are exploiting. That's .0001 percent of their income going to help animals in the wild. I think that might be the most telling point of all—that, in fact, SeaWorld is really nothing more than a money-making enterprise.
The bottom line is that SeaWorld is part of the massive machine that is the captive marine mammal industry, an industry willing to spew whatever lies it can in order to keep you spending your money at their parks. This industry is inextricably linked not only to the deaths of the animals in their tanks, but to the deaths of marine mammals brutally slaughtered in Taiji, Japan where dolphin trainers work side-by-side with dolphin killers to hand-pick those who are suitable for captivity—those who are “prettiest" and without visible scars. SeaWorld does not want you to know what Blackfish made so clear, and what our volunteer Cove Guardians continue to show on the ground in Taiji every day: captivity kills.
As that message spreads, a new generation is leading the way for a future of freedom for marine life. Children have begun to speak out and say that they will never spend another moment at SeaWorld or other marine parks that hold orcas and other dolphins and whales in captivity. Students have even gotten regular school trips to SeaWorld canceled.
Children may have small voices, but they also have powerful voices because they represent change. This may be the hardest hit to SeaWorld yet, as these future adults will usher in the end of support for the captive industry and a shift toward protecting marine mammals where they belong—in the wild.
Visit EcoWatch's BIODIVERSITY page for more related news on this topic.
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By Dr. Kate Raynes-Goldie
Of all the plastic we've ever produced, only 9% has been recycled. So what happened to all that plastic you've put in the recycling bin over the years?
Triangle of Mistruths<p>The myth created around plastic recycling has been one of simplicity. We look for the familiar triangle arrows, then pop the waste in the recycling bin so it can be reused.</p><p>But the true purpose of those triangles has been misunderstood by the general public ever since their invention in the 1980s.</p><p>These triangles were actually created by the plastics industry and, according to a report provided to them in July 1993, <a href="https://www.npr.org/transcripts/912150085" target="_blank">were creating "unrealistic expectations"</a> about what could be recycled. But they decided to keep using the codes.</p><p>Which is why many people still believe that these triangular symbols (also known as a <a href="https://sustainablepackaging.org/101-resin-identification-codes/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">resin identifier code</a> or RIC) means something is recyclable.</p><p>But according to the American Society for Testing and Materials International (ASTM) – which controls the RIC system – the numbered triangles "<a href="https://www.astm.org/Standards/D7611.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">are not recycle codes</a>." In fact, they weren't created for the general public at all. They were made for the post-consumer plastic industry.</p><p>In other words, the symbols make it easier to sort the different types of plastics, some of which cannot be recycled – <a href="https://www.ecobin.com.au/understand-recycling-codes/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">depending on the recycling facility</a>.</p><p>"Unfortunately, just placing your plastic into the recycling bin doesn't mean it will get recycled," says Lara Camilla Pinho. She is an architect and lecturer at the UWA School of Design who is researching novel uses of plastic waste.</p><p>"The recycling system is complicated and often dictated by market demand. Not all plastic is recyclable. We cannot recycle plastic bags or straws for example."</p>
Behind the Scenes<p>So, what makes recycling plastics so difficult?</p><p>"Essentially, there are two types of plastics – thermoplastics and thermosets. While thermoplastics can be re-melted and re-molded, thermosets contain cross-linked polymers that cannot be separated meaning they cannot be recycled," says Lara.</p><p>"Even thermoplastics have a limit to the amount of times we can recycle them, as each time they are recycled they downgrade in quality."</p><p>Even when plastics are recyclable, it is <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/oct/13/war-on-plastic-waste-faces-setback-as-cost-of-recycled-material-soars" target="_blank">often more costly</a> than simply making new plastics.</p>
Sugar, Seaweed and Mushrooms<p>If the conventional recycling system isn't working, what else can we do with all the plastic we've created?</p><p>Lara is looking for ways to add value to recycled plastics such as using it in the design and development of architectural products. She hopes to use these architectural products to help underserved communities that are disproportionately affected by plastic waste.</p><p>In addition to recycling, we also need to find ways to reduce our use of virgin petroleum-based plastics.</p><p>Bioplastic is one such product that has been getting a lot of hype over the last few years. And although they're better than petroleum-based plastics, bioplastics also come with their own <a href="https://phys.org/news/2017-12-truth-bioplastics.html" target="_blank">set of challenges</a>.</p><p>"There are already a lot of bio-based alternatives to plastic, such as bagasse – a byproduct of sugar cane processing," says Lara.</p><p><a href="https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/the-mycelium-revolution-is-upon-us/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mycelium</a>, a type of fungi we most often associate with mushrooms, are also providing an interesting plastic alternative.</p><p>"In the field of architecture, mycelium is starting to be used as an alternative to plastic insulation, but also as compostable packaging and bricks," says Lara.</p><p>"The bricks take around five days to make and are strong, durable, water resistant and compostable at the end of their use."</p><p><a href="https://www.arup.com/news-and-events/hyfi-reinvents-the-brick" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Hy-Fi Tower</a>, created by <a href="http://www.thelivingnewyork.com/living_about.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The Living</a>, is an example of a building made from these bricks.</p><p>And finally, there's seaweed.</p><p>"[Seaweed is] cheap and can reproduce itself quickly without fertilizers. In architecture, there is use for seaweed as an alternative to plastic insulation but also as cladding," says Lara.</p>
More Money, More Problems<p>While all these alternatives are great, the main cause of our plastic dilemma is not scientific or technological, but economic.</p><p>As long as it remains <a href="https://engineering.mit.edu/engage/ask-an-engineer/why-is-it-cheaper-to-make-new-plastic-bottles-than-to-recycle-old-ones/" target="_blank">cheaper to create new plastics</a> from fossil fuels rather than from bioplastics or from recycling, we're going to be stuck with plastic garbage islands floating in our oceans.</p><p>The true cost to our health and our environment has yet to be included in the equation. But once it is, maybe that is when the real shift will happen.</p>
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Towards the end of the final presidential debate of the 2020 election season, the moderator asked both candidates how they would address both the climate crisis and job growth, leading to a nearly 12-minute discussion where Donald Trump did not acknowledge that the climate is changing and Joe Biden called the climate crisis an existential threat.
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By Zheng Chen and Darren H. S. Tan
As concern mounts over the impacts of climate change, many experts are calling for greater use of electricity as a substitute for fossil fuels. Powered by advancements in battery technology, the number of plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles on U.S. roads is increasing. And utilities are generating a growing share of their power from renewable fuels, supported by large-scale battery storage systems.