In late October a video about a depressed orca mom went viral and made headlines, appearing prominently at the top of the Facebook trending news column. Kasatka, the name of the killer whale, was so depressed that she neglected to nurse her own calf, who nudged persistently at her stomach. Her calf–a two-year-old named Makani–was so “‘desperately hungry'” that it was leaving a bruise on its mom.
Abnormal behavior is common among animals in captivity, but the conditions that orcas at SeaWorld live in have been tragedized in recent media as something of a prolonged death sentence. Orcas, which swim up to a hundred miles per day in the wild, are confined to a pen of glass which is to them what a bathtub is to humans. At SeaWorld, they are used for performances–for entertainment purposes–and according to outcries from animal rights organizations and documentaries like Blackfish, these conditions lead to premature death (at least a 50%, if not a 70%, reduction in lifespan), violence to humans, collapsed dorsal fins, and broken teeth.
Blackfish, which was released in 2013, has greatly affected SeaWorld’s profits and the public’s perception of SeaWorld as a park. In the last year alone, SeaWorld’s attendance dropped 17% to 3.8 million visitors. The documentary focuses on Tilikum, or Tilli, an orca in captivity at SeaWorld Orlando, who has been directly involved in or entirely responsible for the deaths of three people, including trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2006. The documentary argues against keeping orcas in captivity, detailing all of the accompanying psychological and physical detriments.
Today, SeaWorld’s CEO, Joel Manby, announced that “he had listened to guests’ criticism of [SeaWorld’s] Shamu stadium whale circus and that it would end the ‘theatrical killer whale experience’ in San Diego by the end of 2016.” This comes in light of recent legislation by California lawmakers and politicians to ban SeaWorld from turning orcas into money-makers on both a state and a federal level. According to NBC News, however, many activists are “underwhelmed” by this plan because it does not address other big issues like captive breeding. It also does not address whether orcas in other SeaWorld parks (the ones outside of California) are protected in the same way.