After the social media tirade that has been Blackfish, Seaworld finally caved in and abolished its breeding programme of orcas as well as announced its new partnership with the Humane Society of the US (HSUS). A move that has been highly controversial with many branding Seaworld as selling out and teaming up with “animal terrorists”.
If you aren’t aware of the Blackfish documentary and Seaworld’s ruined reputation, where have you been for the last few years? If you have been living a social media-less hole you can catch up here.
So the first thing that people are really angry about is the teaming up with the Humane Society of the US. This is like teaming up with PETA, an organisation which hates Seaworld. They are at opposite ends of the spectrum with their views on keeping marine mammals in captivity. This is something I will only gloss over. However many are worried that with the ending of orca breeding and this new partnership it may also mean the potential end of other breeding programmes such as the dolphins. Moreover by teaming up with the might of Seaworld it gives HSUS a foothold to combat issues it feels are unacceptable within other zoological collections.
That sounds pretty good on the surface of it. I mean HSUS are an organisation which work to increase animal welfare so if they can influence good welfare in zoos it’s surely a win-win. Unfortunately that’s where the waters become muddied because as previously mentioned HSUS are generally are of a differing opinion to zoos and again the worry is that they could push for reduced captive breeding or releasing captive animals into the wild.
Moving onto the release of captive animals back to the wild. There is not a zookeeper in the world who deep down doesn’t want their animals to be back in the wild. But its not always feasibly possible and when it is it can be a double-edged sword as when zoos attempts to reintroduce animals goes wrong there are a lot of people waiting to blame them. Undoubtedly however reintroduction science will receive more pioneering work in coming years and see further breakthroughs.
I personally feel the main problem however is that Seaworld’s plans don’t seem very forward-focussed. What I really want to know is what both Seaworld and HSUS propose as actions to conserve orcas from now on, as unfortunately the captive orca breeding programme was a large part of that. By eliminating breeding, you are eliminating a future safeguard population which could have benefited from future reintroduction techniques.
In 2016 we face numerous threats to our oceans, from pollutants to habitat disturbance leading to a drop in prey for predatory species. Yes global whale populations have been on the increase in recent years, however there have been some local differences, for example Europe’s marine mammals are seemingly facing a chemical extinction.
Moreover will Seaworld still be able to make the money to support its conservation programmes? This is an issue I highlighted in my blog; Seaworld: the uncomfortable truth. Conservation across the planet, across all continents and species is losing out because of Blackfish. The money the parks lost out on because of the boycott meant conservation lost out. Something which those arguing for the closure of Seaworld seem to often and conveniently forget.
The problem with Seaworld is that it actually did do such a good job at making people care for a species that was once feared, its helped create its own backlash. A similar problem has been faced by zoos in Europe and America during the 1970’s and 1980’s, which forced them to evolve into conservation centres. Unfortunately for Seaworld zoos were often able to mitigate the public baying for their blood by introducing the kind of conservation programmes which Seaworld already operates.
Seaworld must evolve. That much is for sure. But it must not forget itself and the important role it plays within the conservation world. It is a world leader in this, and most of what we know about orcas comes from Seaworld research. However those wolves baying for Seaworlds blood must also not forget this. If we all truly care about the long-term survival and welfare of the species we must work together.
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