Earlier this month, a man named Carlo De Leonibus visited SeaWorld Orlando and caught sight of a beached pilot whale stuck on a ledge during a dolphin show. His account of the length of time this went on varies — he says 10 minutes, "though my wife and daughter think it was more like 20 minutes.” His description of 38 seconds of footage of this that he uploaded on YouTube estimates 20 to 25 minutes. He says trainers eventually pushed the whale back into the water.
The crowd, including De Leonibus' daughter, was shaken. What's really ridiculous, though is SeaWorld's response. De Leonibus says that when he approached a SeaWorld employee, he was told, "It's normal, this is how they have fun, they're just playing." Tampa Bay's WTSP reached out to SeaWorld for a statement and received this response:
The pilot whales come out on the ledge all the time and always get back into the deeper water without any problem. The animals seem to enjoy it and it has no effect on their health of well being. The younger and more inexperienced animals – like the one on the video – sometimes take a little longer because they haven't completely mastered the technique yet. The whale was never in danger. The safety and health of the animals in our care are among our highest priorities.
Even if this is something that happens often without incident or injury, the editorializing about the animals seeming to enjoy this is absurd. The whale doesn't seem to be doing anything but writhing in discomfort.
Earlier this month, I discussed Gabriela Cowperthwaite's controversial Blackfish documentary with research biologist Debbie Giles. The documentary is damning regarding SeaWorld's captivity of killer whales (one of whom, Tilikum, is responsible for the deaths of three people). Here is what Giles said about killer whales being trained to beach themselves as part of their performances:
Killer whales in Argentina partially beach themselves to grab seals off of the beach, but they don't sit there and arch their back and beach themselves in the way that killer whales in captivity are made to do. It's got to be fairly uncomfortable for them to be out of the water like that, they're such huge animals, and the pressure of being out of water would be incredible, so now you're not going to see that [in the wild].
That doesn't sound enjoyable.
The film also exposes several instances of SeaWorld employees presenting false information about its captive marine mammals to park guests. The park isn't above lying to the public for the sake of its reputation.