They’re required to demonstrate that their shows are educational
A New Beginning for Dolphins
Part Three of “Dolphins and Us”
A New Beginning for Dolphins
Could Tilikum Also Be Set Free?
Making the Case
Is SeaWorld on the Ropes?
In the World Spotlight
SeaWorld Testifies before Congress
How You Can Help
Interviews & Reports
The Case for Dolphin Rights
When the Watchdog is Just a Guard Dog
Communion in the Wild
It’s the law of the land that businesses like SeaWorld that exploit animals for entertainment must be able to demonstrate that they have an educational program.
On April 27, 2010, in Washington, the House Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife held a hearing to discuss the issue. Eight people were called to testify. You can watch complete video or read the individual testimonies here.
Eric Schwaab from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), which is supposed to have oversight over marine parks like SeaWorld, explained that, in reality, his agency has its hands tied when it comes to businesses like SeaWorld.
“Once a public display facility meets [initial] criteria and has legally obtained and is maintaining a marine mammal at the facility,” he said, “NMFS has no authority under the Marine Mammal Protection Act to provide oversight over the holding, breeding and care of the animal.”
Oversight, Schwab explained, is carried out by trade associations like the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which are staffed and funded by people from the zoos and aquariums! In other words, there is no oversight.
Many of the education programs at the animal parks include outdated and inaccurate information and often omit information critical of captivity, said Dr. Lori Marino, Senior Lecturer in psychology at Emory University. “The basic requirement that information be accurate is not being met.”
Naomi Rose, a senior scientist for Humane Society International, noted more mistakes in SeaWorld educational materials, including the stated life expectancy of killer whales. In a teacher’s manual, SeaWorld had said the animals live “25 to 35 years,” she said, when in fact males live up to 60 years in the wild and females up to 80 years. The reason for a mistake like this would appear to be that these facilities don’t want to admit that dolphins in captivity have a much lower life expectancy than dolphins in the wild.
And Louie Psihoyos, director of the Oscar-winning movie The Cove, said that “There’s no education at all involved in a dolphin circus show.” The animals, he said, are trained “to do stupid tricks for our amusement. We are beyond that. Our kids are beyond that.”
Defending the marine park industry, Julia Scardina, the Curator of SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment, repeated that “Education is a cornerstone of SeaWorld parks. She added in her written testimony that “The exhibits (i.e. dolphins) at SeaWorld are designed to inspire visitors to conserve our valuable natural resources by increasing awareness of the interrelationships between humans and the environment.”
But Louie Psihoyos said that in 35 years as a diver in the wild, “Never once have I seen a dolphin flip, spit water at a human, wave goodbye with their flipper, or moonwalk. Professional divers would never feed, touch or attempt to ride an animal in the wild – it’s one of the first lessons taught during dive certification – because they are not performers.”
Most of the evidence provided by the entertainment industry came in the form of comments from young people who had visited SeaWorld and who “felt” that they had been educated. Dr. Marino noted, in response to this, that this would be like her students telling her that they’d enjoyed her lectures and had learned a lot, and her giving them an “A” on the basis of that.
Among the congress people on the committee was Rep. Alan Grayson of Florida. “SeaWorld is a shining jewel,” he said proudly. “The economic impact is tremendous.” No surprise there; SeaWorld Orlando is in Grayson’s district, and the company has five other parks in Florida. And attendance at SeaWorld had fallen since trainer Dawn Brancheau was attacked and killed by Tilikum the orca.