Thursday, February 20, 2014

SeaWorld: Improper Care of Orcas (2013)

Blackfish movie photograph

SeaWorld is a company with a chain of animal theme parks throughout the United States. SeaWorld currently has locations in Florida, California, and Texas. There are organizations that have criticized SeaWorld's care of their animals; more specifically the captivity of their dolphins and orcas. In fact, SeaWorld holds a majority of the entire world's captive orcas. In 2013 a documentary was released called Blackfish and it focuses on SeaWorld's treatment of their orcas. The documentary talks about one of SeaWorld's orcas, Tilikum, who has been held responsible for the deaths of three people. SeaWorld has denied all allegations, claiming that the reports were inaccurate. The CEO of the company stated that:
"It firmly crosses the line of what you would expect from a news organization, they are leveraging the imprimatur of a news agency for what really, clearly is another business venture of theirs, which is buying and marketing films." (Palmeri)
The documentary focuses on many different things but it's focal point is about Tilikum. It is stated in the film that orcas are not usually vicious but due to their inhumane captivity it causes them to act out. There are known facts that are not debatable and they are as follows. In February 2010 a very experienced trainer at SeaWorld, Dawn Brancheau, was killed by Tilikum shortly after a show took place in Shamu stadium. At this point, Tilikum was already responsible for two previous deaths. In May 2012 the Occupational Safety and Health Administration law judge cited SeaWorld for two violations in the death of Dawn. SeaWorld was fined a total of $12,000. Trainers were banned from making close contact with the whales but SeaWorld appealed that decision in November of 2013. After the release of Blackfish many musical artists cancelled their performances at SeaWorld parks across the country.

SeaWorld Co. logo
Individualism focuses on the economy theory and focuses on rights. This involves the minimum morality and asks whether it is lawful and whether basic needs are being met. This theory emphasizes the moral worth of an individual. In the situation of SeaWorld instead of talking about the moral worth of a human we are considering the moral worth of an animal. The difficulty when arguing for animals rights are that they cannot form opinions as a human can. Animals cannot tell us what they want, what hurts them, etc. People do not view animals such as killer whales as they view dogs. We know dogs have the right to not be abused, but why aren't whales looked at in the same spotlight? Although animals are not capable of expressing their emotions as humans are, it does not mean that anybody has the right to treat them wrongly. It should not be lawful to capture killer whales and force them to perform tricks for the pleasure of others. These animals basic rights are not being met because they are meant to stay in the wild. This is proved through the vicious activity some of the whales have shown while in captivity at SeaWorld. Aggression among orcas in captivity is not uncommon. Although we are considering animals instead of humans we still need to take into account the basic needs of each individual animal and in this specific case those needs are not being met.

An orca in captivity at SeaWorld, forced to perform

Utilitarianism is a moral theory that focuses on the good as that to which maximizes overall happiness or pleasure for the common good and minimizes the overall unhappiness or pain. One could argue that SeaWorld is practicing utilitarianism because they are having people come to the parks for their own enjoyment and satisfaction. However, we need to take into account not only the feelings of the individuals that visit the park but also the animals affected, as well as the families affected by the whale attacks. The company is doing what they have to do to maximize their profit but in the meantime they are maximizing the overall unhappiness, instead of minimizing it. SeaWorld could eliminate all whale or mammal shows, and still keep some of the other attractions they offer. This would continue to maximize overall happiness and at the same time minimize the overall happiness as well.

Tilikum, the famous Blackfish orca
being held in SeaWorld, Orlando, FL

Kantianism focuses on duties and considers whether all parties are being treated honestly and with respect. The Kantian view "emphasizes first, allowing and helping people to make rational decisions and second, having a motivation that comes from what Kant calls the 'good will', which means that your motivation is from duty and is not simply self-seeking." (Salazar) The Kantian approach includes acting with respect toward all autonomous beings. When considering how SeaWorld treats the whales it is clear that they are not acting with good will. Their motivation is simply to make the largest profit that they can. Therefore, they capture the largest killer whales and use them to perform tricks in front of an audience. Speaking from experience, the most enjoyable part of visiting SeaWorld is seeing all the amazing tricks the whales can perform. However, this is very self-seeking and selfish. People do not take into consideration that whales are not meant to be captured and put on display. Kant would argue that this does not only affect the whales but also the families of whales that have been killed. The Formula of Humanity states that "it can also be seen quite clearly that people ought never to be unfair or treat people poorly." (Salazar) SeaWorld is not acting with respect towards these families as fellow members of humanity. All members of humanity have value and these unfortunate individuals's values were not considered. SeaWorld knew there were possible risks while having trainers interact with the whales, and they still continue these risks.

Virtue TheoryVirtue theory focuses on character and the four main characteristics are courage, honesty, temperance, and justice. Courage is a companies will to consistently strive for the right actions to achieve a moral action. SeaWorld did not display courage because even after they witnessed people getting hurt from whale attacks they continued the shows and risked the dangers of more attacks. SeaWorld also did not display honesty because with all the backlash from the documentary Blackfish they attempted to justify their wrongful actions. Firstly, SeaWorld says that they did not capture killer whales in the wild. SeaWorld says that they have other people do it for them, but that certainly does not justify it. As for the killings, SeaWorld displays many different claims for each individual but the most repulsive is the one that follows Dawn Brancheau's death. Former VP of Animal Training at SeaWorld says that it was Dawn's own mistake that allowed Tilikum to attack her. SeaWorld employees told police that Dawn had slipped and fallen. As for temperance, it expects companies to have reasonable expectations and desires. SeaWorld clearly has no temperance because it is not reasonable that they continue to treat their whales the way they do. SeaWorld has not displayed justice because they have behaved in such a way where many animals and humans have been affected in an extremely negative way. People have died because of the practices SeaWorld continues and they are not acting justly whatsoever.

Even after all of these mistakes that SeaWorld has made, they continue to capture killer whales. Instead of owning up to their actions, they have attempted to justify them. It is a relief that Blackfish has been released because it is bringing awareness to the public eye of how wrongly SeaWorld is acting.


Palmeri, Christopher. "SeaWorld CEO Responds to Controversy Over Whale Handling." Bloomberg, 21 Dec. 2013. Web. 19 Feb. 2014.

Salazar, Heather. "Kantian Business Ethics." 20 Feb. 2014.

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