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eliminating orca breeding is a step forward for Seaworld’s business, a step backwards for animals

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SeaWorld has announced the breaking news that they will no longer be breeding orcas. And just as quickly as the media ate it up, vegans and non-vegans everywhere started posting this “victory” to their feeds. However, in wanting to believe that recent single-issue campaigns and protesting has made a difference, people seem to have forgotten all the orcas they currently have, and every other animal at SeaWorld. Rather than claiming this as a “win” for animal rights, we should recognize this move as one that’s positioning SeaWorld to be inappropriately seen as humane. It’s also likely that they’ll replace the orcas with another dolphin or walrus attraction, meaning this distant step forward won’t impact all animal but rather replace orcas with other animals.

This move supports the abolitionist perspective that single-issue campaigns might appear to help some animals, but more dramatically hurt others. The whales currently in their possession will remain in captivity. In keeping them on display, SeaWorld reminds us that their business is still in exploiting animals, but that public pressure means they’ll back off the orcas a bit. With a life expectancy well into their sixties, and some captivity-free whales reaching their 100’s, there’s no telling how long it will be before this animal act actually dies out. When this change to stop breeding practices is perceived as “humane,” it will ultimately make people feel good about attending SeaWorld again, despite their choice to continue to profit from animal exploitation. Additional whales won’t be raised, but the park’s dolphins, walruses, and other creatures will see regular attendance anyway. Not to mention, they banned breeding in the San Diego branch in October, a move that hasn’t proven to hurt their business.

Gary Francione, the father of the abolitionist theory, had this to say on the subject, “The banning of killer whale breeding will in no way deal with the exploitation of animals in zoos or at places like SeaWorld. It is similar to substituting camels for elephants in the circus. This is a problem inherent in single-issue campaigns.” I couldn’t agree with him more.

It’s easy to see that zoos and circuses have had good public relations teams for a long time. With single-issue campaigns like moving elephants from zoos to sanctuaries, people are made to forget about the suffering of all other zoo creatures. When it was announced that elephants would no longer be featured in the circus, starting in 2018, the focus wasn’t given to the animals already there, or the ones that would replace them. It’s no different than a restaurant being pressured to take foie gras off the menu, but continuing to serve other animal products. Both circumstances didn’t bring zoos or circuses anywhere closer to being seen as institutions of exploitation by the general, ticket-buying public. That’s because when we spend our efforts picketing the treatment of elephants, we show people that the treatment of every other animal isn’t equal. This is the same thing for these whales, and the popularity that stemmed from the Blackfish documentary. The problem is not what SeaWorld is doing to whales, it’s what humanity is doing to all animals. And the obvious solution isn’t to end one act of injustice, but all of them, by going vegan. This isn’t a new argument, but rather, a new example of why our activism efforts against animal use in entertainment needs to change.

Just as there aren’t any zoo protests or closures, this publicity stunt shows that we shouldn’t expect to see the end of SeaWorld. And while many activists think that small steps (like focusing on one animal and moving on to the next) will help, it does the very opposite. It allows people to find the baby pandas in captivity cute, and encourages the continuing support of inhumane animal use towards animals outside of the spotlight. The short term gain does not outweigh the long term loss of animal freedom and life, and the global perception that one small move can make a corporation go from bad to good.

In their press release, the company attempts to celebrate having not collected an orca from the wild for 40 years, another stunt that diminishes what they have been doing to orcas for much longer. They continue on to attest to inspiring future generations to be “conservationists,” while doing the exact opposite. In arguing the whales domestication as reason for non-release, they also attempt to brainwash the masses further, into believing humans know what’s best for these animals. Sorry, SeaWorld, I’m not buying it. My hatred for seeing whales in small pools is no different than my hatred for seeing any other species of animal being used for any reason. Praising the parks minor, future plans will not help anyone become vegan, the one piece of personal activism that will truly save animals.

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  • I don’t “buy it” either. In his LA Times Op-Ed, the Seaworld CEO said they would continue to “rescue” sea lions and dolphins. What on earth does that mean?

    Basically, they will try to do more of the same and hope that they can recover their image.

    But I don’t think they can. Many people will never attend animal performances ever again because of the attention that activists have given this issue. I believe all animal exploitation needs to end, but I also think it’s unrealistic to hope for a spontaneous mass awakening without first calling attention to individual issues. I think we can be glad that no more Orcas will no longer be bred at Seaworld while simultaneously calling for all animals there to be sent to sanctuaries. It’s not either/or – you can call attention to individual causes while promoting the greater issue of equality for all and the abolition of animal abuse and exploitation.

  • Dylan Wentworth

    I’m sure the sea world execs had their fingers crossed when they agreed to this.

  • dancingwaters

    The risk at the heart of single issue campaigns, as you state it, seems the same risk at the heart of animal welfare laws…the conscience of the public and that of many activists is misguidedly assuaged by the illusion that good is now ascendant over evil, progress for animals is inevitable, the corporate world is truly rational, and therefore everyone may relax. There would seem, however, something of that same illusion in your own approach when you write:

    “The problem is not what SeaWorld is doing to whales, it’s what humanity is doing to all animals. And the obvious solution isn’t to end one act of injustice, but all of them, by going vegan.”

    Yet even if everyone on earth turned vegan–and that would surely generate the most spectacular non-violent revolution imaginable and the consequences for the planet and its inhabitants would be stunning–that would still not end injustice toward animals. Though animals murdered for food represent the vast majority of animals killed here and elsewhere, universal veganism would not save the untold millions of creatures across the globe tortured and murdered by hunters, poachers, vivisecters, crush porn enthusiasts, kaporos and other ritual sacrifice zealots, government agents worried about non-natives species, and so forth. There’d still be zoos. There’d still be rodeos. There’d still be horse races. There’d still be Sea World.

  • Amanda Spring

    Spot on! Even most animal rights activists don’t realize how much single issue campaigns needlessly complicate and even hinder the progress for animals.

    It reminds me of when I want my house to be clean but am feeling lazy so I shove the clutter into a closet and sweep only a single room – the closet eventually won’t shut and the dirt just keeps getting dragged back in. If I’d just face the fact it’s gonna take a good few hours I could make it sparkle and reorganize it in a way that it doesn’t ever get to that point.

    In other words: If people went vegan, they would reject ALL individual industries that exploit animals, causing them to die out from lack of support.

  • MisterCadet

    Wayne Pacelle of HSUS approached Sea World with his usual bags of gas, lies, and snake oil. For the right price and media coverage, he will rehab the image of any wealthy and famous person (Michael Vick), United Egg Producers, many others, and now Sea World. Sea World will be paying HSUS $10 million a year for five years ($50 million, less than the $55 million HSUS stashed in the Cayman Islands in 2014 alone). HSUS will advise Sea World on rescue and rehabilitation (HSUS does not rescue any animals). Sea World will pay HSUS to lobby against shark fining (and advise SW on lobbying) and HSUS will help SW source it’s products from cage-free eggs. And other stuff. A $50 million endorsement deal just in time for Pacelle’s upcoming book tour for “The Humane Economy” to teach corporations how to change to a humane business model. Step One: Pay Pacelle $10 million a year to bask in the angelic glory of his spray on tan.

  • SarahBarnett

    I work at The HSUS, and wanted to join the discussion here to clarify that The HSUS received no money from SeaWorld. The 50 million SeaWorld pledged will go toward expanding their rescue and rehab work, and advocacy campaigns to end commercial whaling, the seal hunt, shark finning and other cruelties – but it will not go to the HSUS.

  • Sundown

    Excellent! Could not agree more. Please keep these terrific abolitionist essays coming.

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