SeaWorld Entertainment and its parent company The Blackstone Group just made headlines with a much-anticipated announcement of a $100 million initial public offering. And though acquiring shares in Shamu may sound like a glamorous and profitable proposition, investors should carefully consider what, exactly, their hard-earned dollars are buying.
By all scientific accounts, Orcinus orca, the ocean's top predator that travels up to 100 miles a day, is an exceedingly unsuitable species for captivity. Captive orcas suffer an annual mortality rate 2.5 times higher than their wild cousins of the Pacific Northwest. Among some pods, males can live up to 60-70 years in the ocean, with an average expectancy of 30, and females can live to 90 or more, with an average of 46.
At SeaWorld, most orcas have perished in their teens and twenties, often from exotic causes. At least two died from mosquito-borne tropical diseases.
Many captive orcas die young despite extraordinary efforts to keep them healthy. Trainers routinely stuff the gills of food fish with antibiotics, antacids and vitamins, and inject them with fresh water, because frozen and thawed fish loses nutritional value and fresh water content. Some orcas receive up to 80 pounds of gelatin per day to combat dehydration.
Some killer whales break their teeth on metal gates and must have the pulp removed with a power drill. The teeth are flushed several times daily to prevent deadly bacterial infections. Meanwhile. all captive adult males have dorsal fins that are completely collapsed, a grotesque disfigurement that is extremely rare in the wild.
Once we started human captivity and bondage, mortality rates were staggering. Ten thousands years later, 1% of us are getting comfortable finally. In due time, we will figure out how to get the Shamu's of the world affluently malnourished and content in their servitude.