Following a recent article suggesting that SeaWorld’s profits have recently fallen by 84%, as customers desert the park, we decided to investigate what the UK public’s standpoint is on keeping orcas in captivity.

SeaWorld has been repeatedly accused of mistreating orcas, particularly in the emotive documentary ‘Blackfish’, which may explain the reported decline in visitors to the parks. The backlash against the park was recently given celebrity backing when Jackass star, Steve-O was arrested for protesting with a giant inflatable whale balloon. OnePoll carried out a survey of 1000 UK adults to gauge public opinion, and the results are profound.

Although many people have visited parks with captive orcas (43% of those polled), just 6% of respondents agree with orcas being kept in captivity. Could this be because the public are becoming increasingly aware of the ethical issues surrounding orca captivity?

Furthermore, 77% of people also said that other dolphin species shouldn’t be kept in captivity. This could explain the reasons for SeaWorld’s recent losses; as the public feel increasingly unconvinced of their ability to provide adequate welfare.

Issues with keeping orcas captive:

  1. We don’t give them enough room to swim (77%)
  2. They aren’t able to exhibit normal behaviours (60%)
  3. We don’t understand their social needs well enough (59%)
  4. Dolphins/orcas are highly intelligent so we don’t know how to care for them (49%)
  5. Dolphins/orcas are self-aware (35%)

Only 4.5% of people said that there are no issues with keeping orcas in captivity.

Benefits of keeping orcas captive:

SeaWorld naturally defend their actions, stating that their parks provide important education and research.

The top 5 perceived benefits of keeping orcas/dolphins in captivity, according to our research are:

  1. Research purposes (37%)
  2. Education (34%)
  3. Getting to swim with dolphins (17%)
  4. To be able to see a dolphin/orca (15%)
  5. The shows (10.6%)

4 in 10 people stated that they don’t see any benefit to keeping these intelligent creatures captive.

There are claims that the benefits are not benefits at all, and that the research carried out nowadays in these parks is not generally useful to wild dolphin/ orca conservation, as these animals exhibit entirely different behaviours when in captivity, including stereotypies (unusual behaviours).

When asked whether they think the research carried out is useful, only 35% of UK adults said yes.

We also asked our panel to estimate how many times an orca would need to swim around its SeaWorld enclosure to equal the amount they’d swim in the wild. The average estimate was 661 times. In reality this figure should be closer to 1400, as dolphins/orcas can swim over 100 miles a day (perceived average by the public: 64.2 miles).

When asked about the future of the parks, just 20% of people said SeaWorld should remain open.

So what would happen if SeaWorld closed? Although many of the captive orcas would be unable to survive in the world due to psychosis and loss of natural behaviours (e.g. hunting ability), there have been success stories of releases. Other orcas could be released into open ocean pools where they can live out their lives with room to swim freely.

While the reputation and future of SeaWorld remains to be seen, one thing is for sure – they’re certainly fishing in troubled waters.