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Amid SeaWorld Controversy, Researcher Concludes Killer Whale Captivity Is Inappropriate

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In this handout photo provided by SeaWorld San Diego, mom and baby killer whale swim together at SeaWorld San Diego's Shamu Stadium February 14, 2013 in San Diego. (Mike Aguilera/SeaWorld San Diego via Getty Images)

In this handout photo provided by SeaWorld San Diego, mom and baby killer whale swim together at SeaWorld San Diego’s Shamu Stadium February 14, 2013 in San Diego. (Mike Aguilera/SeaWorld San Diego via Getty Images)

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SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS)— Since the release of the film, “Blackfish”, SeaWorld has seen a drop in attendance and a plummet of its stock price.

On Friday, the company announced that it will double the size of its killer whale tanks in response to criticism for their treatment of their marine mammals. In addition to the larger tanks, they will install a stream of moving water that simulates swimming in the open ocean.

But is it enough to save their reputation?

David Kirby, journalist and author of the book, “Death At SeaWorld: Shamu and the Dark Side of Killer Whales in Captivity”, didn’t really know much about killer whales when he started writing his book and didn’t have much of an opinion either way about the amusement park.

“It wasn’t until I actually went up to Pugent Sound in Washington State and saw them for myself in the wild that I realized what special animals they are and how strong their family bonds are,” he said.
He described the company’s conditions for keeping the mammals in water the size of a swimming pool and making them do tricks for tourists in return for dead fish as “inappropriate”.

He concluded from his research, which lasted about one year— that keeping the animals in captivity is unethical. With last week’s news about the changes at SeaWorld, he hasn’t changed his mind.
“Killer whales can swim up to 100 miles a day. Even if they double the size of their current tank, they may swim 100 laps. It’s a minor improvement.”

Most importantly, to Kirby was the separation of whale families. “These pods stay together for life,” he said. Male killer whales almost never their mothers, yet he said the whales are shipped around the country when they are as young as two or three-years old.

“The separation of family and the mixing of whales from different oceans even in the same tank will continue no matter how big the tank is.”

Kirby said he’s not opposed to zoos and aquariums, but he argues that some species are simply too intelligent, social and aware of their surroundings. Studies show that predators that travel long ranges, (such as killer whales) are the least suited for captivity. “Killer whales live longer in the ocean than they do at a place like SeaWorld.”

According to Kirby, most research done to benefit killer whales was done long ago. He considers most of the research done in the last 10-20 years to have been beneficial to the captivity industry.

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