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Shamu performs at SeaWorld in 2009
Mind your own
Icon business.png
"You're fired!"

SeaWorld is an entertainment destination in Orlando, Florida. USA that holds large animals in small enclosures. It is infamous for its mistreatment of orcas (Orcinus orca), and an incident in which a trainer was killed.

It has somewhat improved in recent years.

Abuse of animals[edit]

Unfortunately, after all the years of experience that I had, I saw the psychological and physical trauma that results from captivity. A massive corporate entity is exploiting the hell out of the whales and the trainers. You are nothing more than a number on a sheet, and if the moment arises, you will be thrown under the bus and even blamed for your own death.
—John Hargrove[1]
At SeaWorld, all these animals are able to do is swim in endless circles. Some are so frustrated that they break their teeth by gnawing on the concrete corners and metal bars of their tiny tanks

Orcas and other animals are kept in too-small enclosures. Due to stress and frustration, the animals would develop repetitive behaviors, fight and injure each other to the point of gashes and broken bones, attack divers, and mangle birds. One orca (Ruby) even killed her own calf and attacked another.[3] Instead of being moved to better conditions, they would be dosed with Valium (diazepam), an anti-anxiety drug.[4]

They face several hazards:

  • Guests may throw objects into enclosures. Penguins will compulsively eat shiny objects (such as pennies), and SeaWorld penguins often need surgery to remove items they have eaten. While trainers called for a glass wall to protect the penguins, corporate refused.[5] The stressed penguins will attack divers.
  • No sun protection is given to protect their eyes, which may develop cataracts.[6]

SeaWorld animals are prone to health issues such as dorsal fin collapse, which is rare in the wild.[7]


The training is hardly humane either.[8] Orcas are fed for doing tricks, and food may be withheld for non-compliance.[9]

For example, during tooth drilling (which is frightening to orcas), the drill is brought progressively closer to the orca, and calm responses are rewarded with food.

It has been compared to applied behavior analysis, a torture method "therapy" commonly used on autistic children.[10]

Small changes[edit]

While SeaWorld defended its treatment of orcas for a long time, it eventually decided to get rid of its orca shows.[11]

SeaWorld's breeding program is very aggressive. Females may have babies back-to-back, and males may act out in stress.[12] SeaWorld no longer breeds orcas.[13]

SeaWorld is now focusing on new attractions, such as theme park rides (for humans, of course). Its new direction is leading to a boost in attendance.[14]

Poor treatment of trainers[edit]

Trainers aren't treated much better than animals at SeaWorld.

Workplace injuries are commonplace at SeaWorld. Ex-trainer John Hargrove suffered multiple broken bones.[15] Ex-trainer Sarah Fischbeck reports that numerous injuries were covered up, and that trainers' concerns about the treatment of the animals were ignored: "If you speak out against it, you're fired."[16]

Other conditions aren't ideal either. For example, trainers need to share wet suits.[17]

Workers must sign confidentiality agreements. Many of their interview answers are scripted.[18]

In 2015, OSHA fined SeaWorld over $25,000 for its poor safety protections.[19]


The 2013 documentary BlackfishWikipedia follows a history of abuses at SeaWorld, focusing on an orca named Tilikum. Its reception was largely positive, and it has a 98% score on Rotten Tomatoes.[20] Former trainer Bridgette Pirtle Davis viewed it positively,[21] Trainer Mark Simmons criticized it as being agenda-driven.[22]

SeaWorld had a $15.9 million loss following the documentary, which they tried to cover up. The cover-up resulted in a $5 million lawsuit for fraud.[23]


It's not his fault what happened, just as it wasn't Dawn Brancheau's. The fault lies with using these wild animals as entertainment – this was an accident waiting to happen.
—Naomi Rose, marine mammal scientist[24]

Tilikum was an orca captured at age 2 and kept in captivity. He was deprived of food as punishment, and larger whales injured him. He was purchased by SeaWorld after his involvement in the 1991 drowning death of trainer Keltie Byrne. He was only supposed to be used for breeding purposes, and he was heavily bred. They also used him for performances on a demanding schedule.[25][26]

In 1999, Daniel Dukes, a trespassing guest was found dead in Tilikum's enclosure.[27] He had been injured and his cause of death was drowning.[28]

In 2010, Tilikum pulled a trainer named Dawn Brancheau underwater by her ponytail and dismembered her.[1]

Tilikum died in January 2017.[29]

A few good deeds[edit]

SeaWorld does rehabilitation work for injured animals. It has a rescue facility where it helps manatees, turtles, and more.[30]

See also[edit]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Former Trainer Slams SeaWorld for Cruel Treatment of Orcas (Note: Contains graphic details of death)
  2. Pink, SeaWorld Battle Over Killer Whale Captivity
  3. Ex-SeaWorld Employee Gives Chilling New Details About Orca Mistreatment
  4. SeaWorld Gave Valium To Whales For "Grotesque" Behavior Uncommon In The Wild
  5. SeaWorld Gave Valium To Whales For "Grotesque" Behavior Uncommon In The Wild
  6. Former trainer blasts SeaWorld over killer whale captivity, woman's mauling death
  7. Killer Whale Dorsal Fin Collapse
  8. What scientific idea is ready for retirement? Response by Simon Baron-Cohen
  9. Why Killer Whales Belong in the Ocean, Not SeaWorld
  10. ABA and the thorny problem of control and consent - Think Inclusive
  11. The Other Side Of SeaWorld
  12. Ex-SeaWorld Employee Gives Chilling New Details About Orca Mistreatment
  13. Pink, SeaWorld Battle Over Killer Whale Captivity
  14. Is SeaWorld mounting a comeback? New rides boost attendance as 'Blackfish' turmoil fades
  15. Why Killer Whales Belong in the Ocean, Not SeaWorld
  16. Ex-SeaWorld Employee: 'If You Speak Out Against It, You’re Fired'
  17. 21 Things That Happen Behind Closed Doors At SeaWorld
  18. 21 Things That Happen Behind Closed Doors At SeaWorld
  19. 21 Things That Happen Behind Closed Doors At SeaWorld
  20. Rotten Tomatoes: Blackfish (2013)
  21. Op-Ed: Sean Hannity's 'debate' on orca bill evolves into full-on bashing
  22. More Blackfish Backlash – Tilikum’s Trainer Dives In
  23. SeaWorld Agrees to Pay $5 Million in ‘Blackfish Effect’ Case
  24. Killer whale Tilikum to be spared after drowning trainer by ponytail
  25. Blackfish: Sundance Review
  26. Why Tilikum, SeaWorld's Killer Orca, Was Infamous
  27. Corpse Is Found on Whale
  28. Daniel Dukes Medical Examiners Report
  30. The Other Side Of SeaWorld