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Surfer Joins the Ranks of SeaWorld Critics

First Posted: Jun 11, 2015 05:25 PM EDT
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As if SeaWorld doesn't have enough to worry about, now professional surfers are piling on, demanding the release of the park's killer whales into seaside sanctuaries. And it all started with a documentary.

The 2013 film, entitled Blackfish, has been a PR nightmare for the folks at SeaWorld. The documentary claims the captivity of orcas (commonly called killer whales) provokes violent behavior in the mammals; behavior that led to the death of trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010 at the San Diego Park. Her death occurred during a live show and was captured by video, highlighting the inherent danger of working alongside captive wild animals.

Professional surfer Kelly Slater has now joined the ranks of PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), urging the release of the whales.

"The veil has been lifted on SeaWorld. All the ads in the world won't change what the public now knows to be true: that the company imprisons highly intelligent, emotionally complex, social animals in tiny, barren concrete tanks, which leads to aggression and disease."

Slater's statement has naturally prompted a response from SeaWorld officials, who explain the complexities of releasing into the wild animals born and bred in captivity.

"More than 80 percent of our whales were born in our care, and sea pens would be a poor choice for them," CEO Joel Manby told shareholders on Wednesday at SeaWorld's annual meeting.

"Uncontrollable exposure to pollution, ocean debris and life-threatening pathogens in ocean waters are just a few of the factors that make sea pens an unhealthy living environment for any of our animals."

But advocates continue to fight. Marine expert Jean-Michel Cousteau, who has actively participated in the release of killer whales into seaside pens (Keiko, star of "Free Willy"), claims the pens make suitable homes for previously captive orcas.

"The problem I have with SeaWorld is they are looking for all kinds of excuses to keep doing what they are doing."

Despite loss of sponsorship and a continuously hostile campaign, SeaWorld intends to keep doing what they are doing. Which, aside from the whale controversy, has resulted in the rescue, rehabilitation, and release of thousands of animals. For over 50 years, SeaWorld has promoted animal advocacy, conservation, and marine research, which should not be overlooked, regardless of one's stance on animals in captivity.

According to the Association of Zoos & Aquariums, who ensure exceptional care and management within their accredited parks (of which SeaWorld is a member), the SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund has granted more the $9 million toward wildlife research, habitat protection, animal rescue and conservation education.

Perhaps we shouldn't throw out the baby (or whale) with the bathwater.

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