“SeaWorld accepts that abnormal (even desperate) orca behavior... is the price paid for this form of human entertainment and company profit,” the court documents say.
As the documentary Blackfish so poignantly pointed out, animals in captivity – especially large, marine mammals like killer whales – are not meant to be raised and bred for public entertainment. Worse off, living in small, confined areas, they are more prone to become aggressive and suffer from declining physical and psychological health.
For reasons such as these, many people are beginning to speak out against the inhumane treatment orcas are receiving in marine parks, and even take legal action against companies like SeaWorld to ensure it no longer continues.
Receiving its second lawsuit in less than three weeks, Seaworld is being sued in Florida by a woman who claims the marine park is keeping its performing killer whales drugged and letting them suffer from sunburn in tanks that are equivalent of “chemical bathtubs.” She concernedly adds that such conditions are leading to early death for the intelligent mammals.
Joyce Kuhl, a grandmother from South Carolina, is suing the Orlando park to receive her money back from her visit in 2013 – and for ticket money to also be reimbursed to millions of other visitors – via a federal class action lawsuit that could cost the park billions of dollars, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
After a similar class action lawsuit was filed in California last month alleging the company is misleading the public by claiming its captive killer whales, or orcas, are happy and thriving, the marine park is surely feeling the heat to change its ways.
The lawsuit filed in California targets all three SeaWorld locations: San Diego, California; San Antonio, Texas, and Orlando, Florida. Kuhl’s action, however, focuses solely on the Orlando park in Florida.
When one of SeaWorld’s star trainers was killed by the male orca, Tilikum, in 2010, the park began receiving a hail of criticism from the public, some shareholders, regulators, and animal welfare groups. Many allegations of chronic mistreatment followed in the 2013 documentary Blackfish, which the company, of course, denies.
But while the park maintains the opinion they are running an establishment to the highest standard, opposition to their stance and continued mistreatment of animals is growing.
Kuhl filed suit in federal court in Orlando on Thursday accusing the company of spinning an illusion about the “magic” of man and whale living and playing in harmony in the marine park, which “masks the ugly truth about the unhealthy and despairing lives of these whales.”
The price she paid for her ticket in December 2013 was $97, and she demands this be refunded, along with millions of other tourists’ fees. Declining to talk with The Guardian, she instead had all inquiries referred to her Gainesville-based attorney, Paul Rothstein.
According to him, Kuhl states that SeaWorld of making millions of dollars in profit via “false, misleading, and deceptive” business practices. Rothstein confides that the grandmother is not an animal rights activist, but “an ordinary animal lover” who found out information after visiting the aquatic park that was “inconsistent” with the company’s marketing.
Such seems like solid grounds for a claim. “She would not have purchased her ticket had she known then what she subsequently found out,” he said.
If Kuhl is successful, this will result in at least $2 billion being paid out by the company. Prices are charged across a range, but a typical ticket costs around $100 a head, and SeaWorld Florida receives just over 5 million visitors a year, according to the lawsuit.
The public court document accuses SeaWorld of keeping the whales in tanks that, compared with the open ocean where she says they regularly swim 100 miles a day, is like being confined to a single room for life.
In the lawsuit, chlorine solution is detailed to be “many times stronger than household bleach” and other chemicals dissolved in the water where the whales are confined after being caught or bred. The solution makes their trainers’ eyes burn, and also forces humans to have to stay out of the water on occasions.
“The orcas, of course, have no such reprieve,” the court document states. “These orcas suffer in tiny, unnatural chemical tubs.”
But this isn’t the only allegation. Kuhl also accuses SeaWorld of keeping orcas in holding pools as shallow as 8 ft for hours every day in the blazing sun, “essentially roasting” until they are so sunburned they have to disguise the injuries by painting the mammals with black zinc oxide.
It gets worse: The orcas are sometimes trained to perform by being deprived of food for several days or even weeks, the lawsuit alleges, “when positive reinforcement fails.” Kuhl’s suit details forced breeding, incestuous inbreeding, and whales kept together in ways that make them hyper-aggressive so that they fight and inflict deep gashes on each other.
At times, whales will bang their heads against their tanks and grind their teeth on the walls, floors, and bars until their teeth break or are worn to the pulp, allegedly because of boredom, frustration, and ennui. “SeaWorld has long known this, but accepts that abnormal (even desperate) orca behavior… is the price paid for this form of human entertainment and company profit,” the court documents say.
SeaWorld disputed such claims in the recent California lawsuit by stating that the company is among the world’s most respected zoological institutions.
The company added that it is “regularly inspected by the US government and two professional zoological associations. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums recently granted SeaWorld accreditation from its independent accreditation commission. There is no higher priority for SeaWorld than the health and well-being of its animals,” said the statement.
SeaWorld said on Friday that it “is committed in every respect to the health and well-being of the animals in our care” and said the lawsuit “appears to be an attempt by animal rights extremists to use the courts to advance an anti-zoo agenda.”
“The suit is baseless, filled with inaccuracies, and SeaWorld intends to defend itself against these inaccurate claims.”
It’s definitely a heated conflicted, with both sides adamant they are sharing the truth of what’s really going on.
Kkuhl’s lawsuit notes that in the wild, orcas typically live between 30 and 50 years of age, and can often live into their 80’s and beyond. In SeaWorld, most orcas die in their teens or 20’s, she alleges.
And she adds that staff at SeaWorld administer antacid drugs to the orcas to alleviate stomach ulcers, antibiotics, and contraceptives.
“Perhaps most telling, the captive orcas are also subject to drugging by SeaWorld personnel with anti psychotic and psychoactive drugs, including benzodiazepines such as Diazepam (generic Valium) which are given to calm the captive orcas which react against their conditions of confinement,” the lawsuit states.
It comes down to the concern of should animals be raised in captivity and bred for human entertainment or not? Share your opinion below.