SeaWorld CEO’s Halo is Already Slipping

There was tremendous optimism when SeaWorld’s new CEO announced an orca breeding ban and teamed up with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) to announce a new way forward. But people questioned not only the partnership but what it would mean for all the remaining cetaceans held across SeaWorld’s parks. Today, it appears, we have found out.

In an interview published in the ‘San Diego Union-Tribune‘ on Saturday, Joel Manby further cemented his vision for SeaWorld’s future, and it couldn’t have been clearer:

Although I think there will be pressure from these (animal rights) organizations on other animals, I don’t think it will have the same kind of traction that the orca issue did because of our rescue operations.

In rejecting a wider breeding ban, Manby reincarnated well-worn excuses by the park to justify his sentiment — conservation, extinction, and its rescue program. The CEO suggests that their rescue program will mitigate negative public opinion over the others cetaceans held in its park — dolphins and beluga whales.

The Blue World Project proposed by SeaWorld is canceled. SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment press release

The Blue World Project proposed by SeaWorld is canceled. SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment press release

Manby believes SeaWorld has weathered the storm.

“Out of every eight people, seven were very supportive or extremely supportive,” of visiting the park,” he said. He added, “this was the general population, and that was who we were going after. We weren’t trying to please the most radical activists.”

Manby did stipulate that the questions SeaWorld posed, were done so “in disguise.”

We will never know how loaded those questions were and whether being incognito served to eliminate activists from participating or because SeaWorld’s brand name may have conjured less than a stellar image. As for being “in disguise”, hasn’t that been a big problem for SeaWorld? Wasn’t the SeaWorld spy “in disguise” when he infiltrated Superpod three, or when he wormed his way into the PETA van yet somehow walked out of the police station without charge?

This is a person that attempted to incite violence and yet still remains on SeaWorld’s payroll at the San Diego park. So while we’re screaming at SeaWorld to be more transparent with its future endeavors, they’re still conducting business “in disguise.”

Manby is completely missing the point. It isn’t about pleasing radical activists, it’s about the statistics on record. Figures that not even a new CEO can gloss over.

These numbers are available to anybody who wishes to take the time and tally them up. You can do this at The deaths of 21 orcas since 1992 is troublesome enough but the numbers of dolphin and beluga whales death are even worse:

Dolphin and Beluga Whales Deaths Across All SeaWorld Parks
Species SeaWorld San Diego SeaWorld of Texas SeaWorld Orlando
Dolphins/All Species  47 (Since 1995)  37 (Since 1995)  38 (Since 1997)
Beluga Whales  05 (Since 2000)  19 (Since 1995)  03 (Since 2006)
 TOTAL  52 Animals  56 Animals  41 Animals


All told, since 1995, SeaWorld has lost 149 dolphins and beluga whales — almost 150 animals in just 21 years plus 21 orcas in 24 years. This is a number that nobody who claims to care for these animals can, or should, justify.

Manby does just that by applauding SeaWorld’s rescue program. And while they should be proud of the animals they have assisted, when those animals are deemed non-releasable, where they end up is very much a joint decision — if not ‘officially’.

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) does make the ultimate determination on what happens to a rescued animal — whether it will be released or not and if not, to whom that animal goes, but their decision accommodates the vet that works at the facility who initially conducted the rescue. NMFS would  rarely go against such a recommendation and neither would it suggest moving that animal elsewhere if the rescue facility was willing to take it. As you can see, there is much room for maneuver.

Manby suggests that SeaWorld’s rescue program justifies breeding … “we have to have the facilities year-round, and to have genetic diversity of animals under human care, you have to allow breeding.”

His rhetoric is superfluous, however, once things are stripped down to the bare bones:

  • SeaWorld didn’t want to change, it was forced to change thanks to documentaries such as ‘Blackfish’, increasing legislation and a massive change in public opinion that hurt their bottom line. As much as Manby attempts to reassure the public that SeaWorld has evolved, his latest statements to SeaWorld pass-holders, clearly indicate that they haven’t really evolved at all.
  • SeaWorld may have agreed to cease breeding its orcas but all other animals are considered fair game.
  • The orca shows (as we know them) are changing, but SeaWorld Texas has massively expanded its swim-with-dolphins, belugas, and sea lion program so other marine mammals will pick up the slack.
  • Aside from its rescue program and an insulting $10 million pledge to study a population of whales that SeaWorld helped to push toward endangered status, its partnership with HSUS tackles Japanese whaling and other HSUS-led campaigns mostly unrelated to the preservation of orcas, dolphins or beluga whales. To add perspective to what essentially is a drop in the bucket for SeaWorld, studies show that their whales are estimated to be worth $15-20 million each.
  • SeaWorld remains adamant that it will never release its orcas to sanctuaries and while its exhibitions will move beyond entertainment, it has abandoned its plans for the ‘Blue World’ project which would have increased space and benefitted all of the orcas across its parks.
  • When asked whether SeaWorld might ever change its decision about ending breeding, Manby responded, “a couple of centuries from now, orcas’ conditions in the ocean many deteriorate to the point that people may ask us to take whales again.”

In the past, SeaWorld has used the threat of extinction as justification for keeping marine mammals in captivity. Manby is no exception. “There is a crisis of animals in the ocean going extinct,” he said. While this is true, the answer doesn’t lie with keeping cetaceans in captivity. It is their home that needs urgent help primarily due to human-related activities that continue to destroy it.

It makes no sense to fix the animal until we begin to fix where they live. If we start to fix the ocean, then marine life will take care of itself. To begin with the animal makes no sense, it’s like putting the cart before the horse. And it’s completely pointless if these animals have nowhere to return to that isn’t a concrete tank.

Featured Image: Alexisrael; CC BY-SA 4.0/Wikimedia Commons

Don't be shellfish...Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on Google+Share on LinkedInShare on TumblrShare on RedditBuffer this pageShare on StumbleUponEmail this to someonePrint this page

About Elizabeth Batt

View All Posts

Elizabeth is a freelance writer, a former large animal nurse and a former certified NREMT. She is passionate about the ocean and its inhabitants and her work focuses on cetacean-related issues, including captive whales and dolphins. She graduated in psychology and sociology and lives with her family in beautiful northwestern Montana.

Author: Elizabeth Batt


Lost your password?