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For My Secret “SeaWorld Shame”

Well folks its that time of year again, Shark Week. All of last week the Discovery Channel brought us almost non-stop programming about these very misunderstood creatures, ideas which have been commonplace since “Jaws” was released in movie theaters in the 1970s.

I must confess I do love Shark Week but the programs I end up watching usually take me by surprise. I love seeing sharks up close, on my TV, in their natural habitat while some brave scientist dives underwater in a cage so he will not be eaten alive. Here I must also confess I don’t mind watching a show like that either because there use to be one with a similar central plot on Animal Planet called “Fatal Attractions.” I miss it so.

However interactive the shows during Shark Week seem, they are among the least controversial ways we can commune with nature without interrupting a natural environment. Sadly this is not something we can take for granted anymore.

When it comes to the subject of animals, specifically in the wild, we have not properly recognized the damage the human race has done by keeping them in captivity purely for our amusement in zoos or aquariums. But now the harm is exceeding to humans as well.

One of the few humans that have spent any real time in the wild with positive effects is undoubtedly Jane Goodall ( who I was lucky enough to meet a few years ago. Her work in Africa learning about chimps and promoting their well-being are just a few of the causes she has dedicated her life to. Ms. Goodall’s life experiences are an even rarer story that won’t be possible for future generations. We seem to only get in the way and follow trends that are only harming those we seek to understand.

It is along those lines where I must repeat my mantra; I hate people. No I really do. I always have and always will. Sure there are the handful that I am related to and friends with that are the exception to the rule but those people have been carefully selected. I find that most people are ignorant, idiotic, or even worse, immoral. The more I read about the crazy way in which people interact with wild animals the more I am sure I am right.

As the title of this blog claims, I have a secret SeaWorld shame to share. That being; I have never been to SeaWorld AND I really am sad I no longer have a chance to experience that magic.

The rest of this blog discusses the reasons why.

In 2013 CNN debuted the documentary “Blackfish” and pretty much changed my world forever. The film addresses the murder of Dawn Brancheau by the now infamous killer whale Tilikum, an innocent victim in the midst of this truly tragic story.   

Sure it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that SeaWorld was not a joy ride for the animals imprisoned there. But my mind was seriously blown by the extreme abuse suffered by the brilliant creatures by those claiming to love them.

This film cracked a whole in my soul. I cannot stop watching it. I have always known that zoos and the like were not in the animal’s best interest. I just didn’t realize the extent of the harm and abuse they suffered at the hands of commercial venues such as SeaWorld. Watching “Blackfish” led me to research this subject further and my first stop was John Hargrove’s book, “Beneath the Surface”. Sadness, anger, and shock are the least of what I felt. It was an education of the worst kind.

My sympathy for Tilikum stems from what I learned about his life. Now more than ever, I want to visit him in his torturously small pen to pet him and somehow comfort him. He is being cruelly punished even more for an act that was not his fault. How much can someone or something take before it finally reacts with its basic instincts?

Former animal trainer, Bruce Stephens said it best:

"If you fail to provide your animals with the excitement they need, you may be certain they will create the excitement themselves."

Of SeaWorld he continued:

“They basically ran it like you would run McDonald's….It just can't be good for an animal that is so intelligent to do the same thing every day."

Needless to say this was the crushing final blow to my SeaWorld dreams. It was kind of like I didn’t know what I was missing until I did and now morally I cannot step into any of their facilities. I have to remember that I have always felt strongly about elephant abuse in circuses and have never nor will ever go. I know how wrong they were to steal, berate, and train wild animals. But the thought of seeing one of these magnificent orcas up close still makes my heart flutter, right before the guilt surfaces. 

Two other films about elephants and dolphins respectively, that I recommend are “TYKE Elephant Outlaw” and “The Cove”. The latter stars Richard O’Barry and his monstrous mission to save dolphins from the hands of poachers in Japan.

Coincidently it was the Discovery Channel once again that provided the beginning inspiration for this post. Their show “Sonic Sea” was another source of education for me on the damage we are inflicting onto wild life, even those that we let remain there.

“Sonic Sea” has provided it’s viewers with too much information for me to provide here. Safe to say I didn’t realize that noise pollution was effecting animals so severely leading some whales or dolphins to become beached as they are driven out of the depths of the oceans because of the sound made by ships. Whales have an ability to hear sounds of the Indian Ocean all the way to Washington State. Hearing is how these animals survive especially as visibility decreases in the water. As a chronic migraine patient sound plays a large part in how I can function each day. It only takes one instance of sounds my brain can’t handle to trigger a migraine attack out of nowhere. I can’t imagine if sound played a bigger part in my daily life how I would cope. No wonder the whales in SeaWorld are suffering. They are in tiny immobile tanks listening to the crowds and shows happening all around them. It sounds like a recipe for disaster, no big surprise there.

As I process all of my thoughts about SeaWorld I realize there is one other event I feel shame about, specifically that I missed it but still wish I could see and that is the Siegfried and Roy show at The Mirage in Las Vegas. Their shows ended on the night in 2003 on which Roy was almost mauled to death by one of the couple’s beloved white tigers during their act. Roy insisted it was not the tiger’s fault but rather that he was instantly reacting to Roy’s energy during the performance. Roy maintains that he was about to have a seizure or other medical trauma that caused the tiger to pounce attempting to protect instead of hurt Roy. The men refused to let the tiger be put down instead allowing him to continue to live at the home they all share. I like to use a Chris Rock joke where he said: “That tiger didn’t go crazy. That tiger went tiger”. This is perhaps the most intelligent statement I have heard about the whole ordeal.

One of the few movies that I have truly enjoyed in the recent past is “Jurassic World” ( While this is a fictitious story there is a lot of take a ways we can relate to. The first being that there is no place for us in this world to remain safe as we continue to engage in works that are out of this world. Sure we aren’t making custom designer dinosaurs but allowing trainers to jump into pools with killer whales doesn’t seem to make much sense anymore, but it really should have been that way from the beginning. In this movie we can see the absurdity if we would continue on this paradigm.

In a perfect world I would have a home with the capability to have an orca, dolphin, and a panda as pets. They would each revel in their natural habits and we would all live in harmony together. But of course that is only possible in my imagination.

The closest I ever came to this dream was back in 2001 during a trip to Cancun, Mexico over college spring break. It was there when I had an opportunity to swim with dolphins. Those majestic creatures were so much bigger up close than you can ever appreciate when you are outside of the tank. They seemed so smart and at ease. We each took a turn taking a kissing picture as well as a dorsal pull swim. I have saved that photo all of these years. It is one of the things I am proud to have accomplished already off of my life’s bucket list. Now though, I have to acknowledge that I would never do it again. So much has changed since then so I know I have to refuse activities like this to do my part in protecting wildlife. Even if this gesture seems too small I still do not want to continue to act in an irresponsible way.

Animals are a very trendy topic now. They are stars of their own television show. CBS has created a new show called “Zoo” based on the novels by writing legend James Patterson. It is oddly addicting for a work of fiction but I find the topic fascinating. The core plot centers around a world where the animal population’s instincts have been rewired and they are all focused on hunting and killing humans. It is a world that is easily pictured if we were to let those in zoos, etc. the chance to express what they really feel about us as a species. It wouldn’t really even be their fault.

Despite all of this negativity there are many out there trying to do good by the animal community. The best way to make sure the facilities you are visiting are up to code please go to the websites for Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums. 

This all may have started with SeaWorld, but as we can see it sadly and certainly doesn’t end there.

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