SeaWorld’s treatment of orcas has become increasingly contentious over the last several years, leading the company to pledge an end to its orca breeding program and theatrical-style shows. However, it refuses to extend this same consideration to SeaWorld dolphins – continuing to breed them for display and abusing them in performances.
These cruel practises are now being challenged. A new report co-authored by PETA Foundation veterinarian Heather Rally and Toni Frohoff, Sonar Co-Founder and Director of Research at TerraMar, emphasizes that dolphins suffer in captivity, and should not be forced into servitude by any corporation like SeaWorld, for any reason.
“We are in a new era in which science has awakened us from antiquated and preconceived notions about dolphins and whales,” said Toni Frohoff during a news conference. “I am but one of many scientists who have concluded that holding dolphins in tanks is not only ethically unjustifiable – it is also scientifically indefensible; especially when they are made to perform unnatural behaviors for their dinner – and for our entertainment.”
Based on observations at all three SeaWorld parks, the study concludes that dolphins live under constant stress, evidenced by visible factors such as dental trauma and rake mark injuries and scars. Open lacerations on dolphins’ rostrums which occur as a result of performances – when SeaWorld performers stand on dolphins’ faces and are pushed through the water – are clearly evident.
Unsurprisingly, SeaWorld staff have spoken out about the study and made ridiculous claims. Hendrik Nollens, SeaWorld’s vice president of animal health and welfare, said that standing on dolphins’ faces and the resulting wounds “do not cause any discomfort for these animals, otherwise, they would not come right back and do the behavior again.”
What Nollens neglects to mention is that dolphins are not given the luxury of deciding whether to perform behaviors or not – since these behaviors are rewarded with food, and dolphins are often kept hungry in order to compel them to obey human trainers during performances. The only choice dolphins are allowed to make is between being perpetually hungry or sustaining discomfort and lacerations on their faces. This is a choice they should never be forced to make.
SeaWorld’s response has been typically defensive, given that dolphins’ rights and welfare threatens the financial viability of the company. “[The study] challenges financial structures that have been created to profit from the exploitation and domination of these wild and complex animals,” said Frohoff. “But the only responsible thing for SeaWorld to do is to evolve. And as an industry conglomerate, SeaWorld can do this. Because when we know better – we should – do better.”