SeaWorld has announced that their San Diego park orca display is to be altered to a more ‘natural’ performance. To be known as ‘Orca Encounter’ the park also plans a virtual swim with whales exhibit. The Shamu stadium is to be transformed with natural rockwork, fake trees and man-made waterfalls. SeaWorld has said that trainers will ‘ask’ the whales to perform natural behaviours, related to hunting, social interaction and communication in the wild, but how can any of this ever be described as natural? For the orcas their world will still be fake – from the pool which confines them to the trainers they will rely on for any food they receive. Altering orca performances in their parks may enhance the visitor’s experience, however it changes nothing for the 11 whales they hold captive, including Corky, taken from the wild in waters of British Columbia in December 1969 and at 52, is the longest-serving orca in captivity.
No amount show format change and renovation will ever make this marine park ‘home’ for these whales. A natural solution for SeaWorld’s orcas would be for the company to help establish seaside sanctuaries for their orcas and retire them from public performance completely. If SeaWorld are committed to changing the lives of the orcas they hold, they have to choose to end their confinement. To our mind, this is the only real way forward.