– By Genevieve Wauchope
Advocates campaigning for better welfare for whales and dolphins have been happily watching the ‘Blackfish effect’ spill over SeaWorld like so much stolen Orca milk. Despite all the negative publicity, the multi-national conglomerate still hasn’t really got the message. Even as their share price plummets, ticket sales fall, and their CEO quits, SeaWorld has failed to understand that keeping intelligent marine mammals in tanks is really not ok. After all, a tank is not the ocean, no matter which way SeaWorld wants to spin it.
In a sneaky move half way through last year, SeaWorld teamed up with Village Roadshow (an Australian company) to expand their business operations into Asia. On Wednesday August 13th, SeaWorld held their quarterly call for investors around the world, letting it be known, not particularly widely, that they will be working with Village Roadshow to open SeaWorld Parks in China, Russia, India and Pan-Asia.
This is particularly unsettling. Russia has started catching wild Orcas for the park trade again. There’s nothing to stop future captures from ending up in SeaWorld facilities.
Dolphins such as those captured using horrifically cruel methods in Taiji are likely to end up in the new parks in Asia. Many Taiji dolphins, and most of the orcas captured off the coast of Russia, have already been transported to China.
With so many marine parks already operating in the region, does it matter if SeaWorld & Village Roadshow get in on the act? The answer is an emphatic ‘yes’.
The drive hunts in Taiji are extremely lucrative, and dolphins sold into captivity from the hunts are worth far more than those sold for meat or fertiliser. The dolphin hunting ‘industry’ exists only because of demand, and SeaWorld, with Village Roadshow, is increasing that demand.
Erich Hoyt, who established the Far East Russia Orca Project (FEROP) with Russian scientist Alexander Burdin and Japanese researcher Hal Sato with the intention of studying orcas off the coast of Russia argues, “A lot depends on how many people per year pay to get into Sea World in the US, as well as paying to get into the growing number of such facilities in China, Japan and Russia. By last count, more than 120 facilities in these countries exhibit whales and/or dolphins. If there is no demand from the owners of these facilities and from the paying public, the selling price will go down and eventually there may be little or no supply offered for sale. Then the orca trafficking can stop.”
The same is true for dolphins. And whilst in Australia capture of animals from the wild has not been permitted since 1994, in other parts of Asia there are no such protections in place. There is nothing to stop SeaWorld joining existing parks to fund the drive hunts, take distressed animals from their families, and keep them in captivity in countries that have so far done little or nothing to ensure even basic welfare needs are met.
SeaWorld’s plans to move into Asia show that it is far more concerned with profit than the animals in its care. This has long been obvious to those documenting the impacts of using intelligent, social animals for entertainment party tricks. As other aquariums in the US retire their dolphins, understanding that forcing them to do tricks for dead fish leaves more people uncomfortable than overjoyed, SeaWorld forges ahead with their archaic amusement park model, maintaining that they have the best interests of their animals at heart.
Rather than change their failing operational prototype, SeaWorld is instead replicating it in countries that have not yet implemented animal welfare laws, where such laws are weak, or where they are not adequately enforced. Whilst the company has been prevented from importing dolphins from Taiji to the United States and Australia, its behaviour so far leaves little doubt the marine park chain will have no such qualms in countries where live capture is allowed.
There have long been calls for people to help prevent the slaughter in Taiji by not buying tickets to SeaWorld or other ‘seaquariums’. Perhaps it’s time Australians got in on the act by not buying tickets to parks run by Village Roadshow. Tickets to SeaWorld on the Gold Coast may not fund the wild capture of orcas or dolphins directly, but that money is now going to the same organisations that are establishing new dolphinariums that most certainly will.