Notes on SeaWorld's Ad Campaign re. The Future of Orcas in Captivity


Dear Colleagues and Friends,


As you have probably seen, SeaWorld has initiated a new television and newspaper advertising campaign in which they claim that it would be inhumane to relocate the 28 orcas in SeaWorld facilities to seaside sanctuaries. They repeatedly refer to such sanctuaries as "sea cages", and they also cite the experience of Keiko, who lived in the ocean in Iceland and Norway for over five years, as evidence in support of their campaign to keep orcas in concrete tanks.


While we applaud the SeaWorld decisions to end immediately their captive breeding program and to phase out their theatrical shows by 2019, we cannot in good conscience allow the misrepresentations in their new advertising campaign to go unanswered and unchallenged.


Please join us in reaching out to all of your supporters and friends with your own message to SeaWorld and the public, letting them know that Sea World must go further: They should embrace relocating their orcas to natural, enclosed ocean environments. And they should immediately stop trying to mislead people about Keiko's quality of life, which was in fact greatly enhanced during his more than five years in natural habitat under the supervision of his caregivers.


You will certainly have your own wording for communicating to your supporters and friends, but there is no time to lose in getting the word out. Below we offer some suggested social media statements that may be helpful in selecting a few messages that work for you. Please use any of these or your own – but please join us today in responding to SeaWorld's misleading advertising campaign.


--Elevator Pitch--


SeaWorld has made important progress in recent months by announcing the phase-out of theatrical performances involving orcas by 2019 and immediately ending its breeding program. But 28 orcas remain in concrete tanks that are detrimental to their health. The best solution for those animals is to relocate them to seaside sanctuaries, living in natural habitat has been proven to promote the health and well-being of whales and dolphins. SeaWorld's current ad campaign blatantly conflates the effort to move orcas to sanctuaries with release to the wild, which is not being proposed.  SeaWorld also incorrectly calls the Keiko project a failure even though it made possible his recovery from a significant health issue resulting from his time in a cramped, artificially salinated tank in Mexico City, by moving him to a larger tank with natural seawater in Oregon and then returning him to his native habitat in Iceland and Norway, where he thrived for over five years. 


Some overall background points:


      SeaWorld's new advertising campaign seriously mischaracterizes the viability of seaside sanctuaries and their beneficial use for orca retirement in comparison to the detrimental impacts of continued lives in concrete tanks.

      Keeping orcas in barren, concrete tanks is a detriment to their psychological and physical health. SeaWorld has taken an important step toward preventing the suffering of future generations of orcas by immediately ending its breeding program, yet is refusing to pursue the most humane option for this last generation of orcas in captivity: retirement to seaside sanctuaries.

      Orcas are perfectly adapted to life in the ocean. They are far-ranging, top predators with incredible intelligence and complex social lives. The psychological deprivation and physical stress of SeaWorld's small, artificial concrete tanks causes suffering and shortened lives. All evidence suggests that sea sanctuaries can provide a more spacious, enriching, dynamic environment to promote orca health and wellbeing. In fact, current research strongly indicates that dolphins housed in sea pens do better than those in concrete tanks – they behave more normally, they are less stressed, and they even have better survival rates.

      SeaWorld is attempting to create a false choice: either keep orcas at their facilities, or drop them in the ocean to fend for themselves. No one is calling for simply turning orcas loose. That would be inhumane. What is being proposed as the best option is the relocation of captive orcas to carefully managed seaside sanctuaries where orcas can thrive without performances and the known stressors of lives in concrete tanks, and instead receive care, feeding, and veterinary support in natural habitat.

      Sanctuaries for the retirement of captive animals are a longstanding, effective, and globally used alternative to artificial enclosures for elephants, primates, big cats, horses, and many other species. It is a highly successful model. There is no valid reason not to extend the sanctuary model to whales and dolphins.




      The Keiko reintroduction program was always about seeing if Keiko could be reintroduced to wild orcas and bond with them after more than 20 years in captivity. He had continual support from his caregivers and Dr. Lanny Cornell, a former lead SeaWorld veterinarian, who oversaw Keiko's major health, behavioral, and welfare benefits derived from being in his native habitat, where he could engage in straight-line swimming and more natural behaviors. While he did not re-connect with wild orcas on any permanent basis, he interacted with his own kind in his natural birth environment in ways that an artificial environment found in captivity could never provide.

      Keiko lived in the wild in a very large enclosed bay for the latter years of his life; he had the opportunity to interact with orcas and other wild animals in the open ocean and gained health and stamina from being able to swim long distances.

      After more than twenty years in concrete tanks, Keiko's remaining years were significantly enhanced by having the opportunity to live in an enclosed ocean bay with many weeks of forays in the open ocean each year.

      Keiko had an amazing transformation from listless, underweight, and in poor health, all the way to swimming with wild whales in his native waters in Iceland where he had not been since his capture at age two.

      Keiko lived far longer than most male orcas held at SeaWorld have.

      During the more than five years that Keiko was in seaside sanctuaries in Iceland and Norway, 17 orcas died in captive concrete tanks. When Keiko died, he was the second longest-lived male orca ever held in captivity. He is still among the top five.

      Keiko left Iceland on his own and swam 1,000 miles over the course of three weeks, before finding a new home in Norway. During his journey, he maintained himself as a wild whale, maintaining his weight and arriving in good health. He lived in Norway in a location where he received continued care from his caregiving team (who relocated to a field station above Keiko's fjord), coming and going as he chose, until he died of natural causes in 2003, his caregivers by his side.


Messages for a social media campaign (just suggestions – make your own!)


      Dear @SeaWorld, u done good by stopping #Blackfish breeding & circus style shows. Don't ruin it by calling sanctuaries "sea cages". #PRFail 

      Kinda ironic, @SeaWorld is using term "cages" in new Ad Campaign to talk about sanctuaries, while they're the only ones using cages/tanks! 

      Bad PR move 4 @SeaWorld 2 say "sea cages kill"...when captivity kills year after year, month after month. #Blackfish

      Oh, @SeaWorld, I thought u cud change, but maybe you can't? You're calling sea pens "sea cages" while your #Blackfish are in concrete tanks.

      >@SeaWorld says it's changing, but hard 2 see change w/this new ad campaign. Why do they think Keiko release was failure? B/c he swam free?

      >@SeaWorld's misguided new ad campaign fails to mention how 17 captive #Blackfish died during time Keiko was rehabbed & released. #EpicFail 

      Is @SeaWorld really trying 2 use term "cages" when talking about sanctuaries. So far, it's only been the captivity industry that uses cages.

      Who at @SeaWorld's Ad Agency told them 2 start calling open sea sanctuaries "sea cages"? Bad move. You are losing all good will. #Blackfish

      >@SeaWorld, we're tryin hard to support ur changes, but your ugly PR move of trying to call open sea habitats "sea cages" is a big #PRFail.

      In new slick Ad Campaign, @SeaWorld argues against sanctuaries & claims #Keiko release was a failure. Same old, same old. #PRFail #Blackfish

      Former sick, dying captive Keiko, swam free & lived in natural ocean water for years. Why does @SeaWorld call this a failure? #Blackfish

      #Keiko swam free in his natural birth environment in ways that cement pools could never provide. Why does @SeaWorld consider this a failure?