Class Claims SeaWorld Drugs Orcas

     SAN DIEGO (CN) – SeaWorld conceals that it keeps killer whales in tiny spaces, inbreeds them, drugs them and deprives them of food, a class action claims in Federal Court.
     Lead plaintiff Valerie Simo claims she would not have paid SeaWorld Entertainment for tickets or membership had she known the truth about orca abuse.
     She claims SeaWorld made hundreds of millions of dollars from its signature “Shamu Show,” pushed in a massive public marketing campaign claiming that the whales and humans at their parks live in harmony and play together for public entertainment.
     “This illusion masks the ugly truth about the unhealthy and despairing lives of these whales. This is a truth that, if known to the purchasing public at the time families make the decision to visit SeaWorld, buy a membership, or pay for an ‘exclusive park experience,’ would lead them to seek entertainment elsewhere,” according to the May 7 lawsuit.
     Orcas are highly intelligent, family oriented, long-lived and self-aware, are socially complex with distinct cultural traditions among varied ecotypes, and roam 100 miles a day in the wild, according to the complaint.
     “Concealed from the public is the impact on these animals of captivity in a confined space, the forced separation of young whales from their mothers, the unnatural mixing of whales that do not have the same culture in small spaces, the forced breeding and inbreeding of young female whales, the routine use of pharmaceutical products to unnaturally drug the orcas, the psychological manipulation and at times food deprivation to which they are subjected, the deep rake marks on their bodies that result from incompatibility and cramped conditions, and many other life-shortening and painful experiences from which they have no escape,” Simo claims.
     As a result, according to the 87-page lawsuit, “SeaWorld whales die many years before they would in the wild.”
     Orcas in the wild can live roughly as long as human beings, with a mean life expectancy of 50 years for females and up to a maximum life span of 90 years, and a mean life of 30 years for males with a maximum life span of up to 70 years, the complaint states.
     But Simo claims that SeaWorld lies to the public that killer whales live to be about 35 years old and tend to live a lot longer as captives.
     “The vast majority of captive orcas of either sex die before their early 20s, many still in their early teens,” the lawsuit states.
     Captive orcas also “wear down and break their teeth on concrete and metal, and bang their heads into the walls of their pools from (what humans can only describe as) fear, anxiety, sadness, and a forced resignation to an unnatural and unreasonably monotonous, empty, and dangerous life of captivity,” according to the complaint.
     In nature, orcas choose their own mates, but at SeaWorld they are forced to breed on a regular basis, often with their own relatives, and trainers masturbate males to collect their sperm, Simo says.
     The whales are dosed with powerful drugs, sometimes for their entire lives, which are necessary because of their captivity at SeaWorld, according to the complaint.
     Simo says the orcas are given antacids to treat ulcers, antibiotics to treat infections caused by their conditions of confinement, strong contraceptives and antipsychotic and psychoactive drugs such as valium to calm them.
     “These drugs are dangerous for the orcas and would never be consumed in nature – but in confinement they are additional tools SeaWorld uses to dominate its captive orcas and keep from public view the reactions orcas have to confinement,” the lawsuit states.
     Trainers at SeaWorld also face dangers, as evidenced by experienced SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau, who was killed in 2010 by Tilikum, an orca taken as a young calf form his family in the wild.
     SeaWorld spread false information implying that Brancheau was to blame for her own death because she slipped, but then changed its story to falsely state that the trainer’s ponytail in the water caused the “accident,” the lawsuit states.
     “Dozens of documented examples of aggression toward trainers were unearthed during the OSHA investigation following Dawn Brancheau’s death, and were then made part of the public record over SeaWorld’s strong objection. In truth, several SeaWorld trainers have been variously hit and knocked unconscious, suffered broken limbs and ribs, and been grabbed and pulled into the water at great peril,” the lawsuit states.
     The OSHA investigation resulted in a citation and imposition of nominal fines against SeaWorld, decisions that were affirmed on appeal by the D.C. Circuit. The investigation also resulted in a ban on trainer performance in the water with orcas.
     Despite this, SeaWorld refuses to acknowledge the aggression of captive orcas for fear that the public would come to conclude, as scientists have, that the aggression is a product of the park’s treatment of the whales, Simo claims.
     The 2013 documentary “Blackfish,” which followed the 32-year history of Tilikum, revealed that the conditions at SeaWorld are unnatural and unhealthy for orcas, according to the complaint.
     In the wake of “Blackfish,” schools canceled longstanding annual field trips to SeaWorld, popular musicians withdrew from scheduled performances at the park, and longstanding sponsors and strategic partners – such as Southwest Airlines and Taco Bell – cut ties with the park, Simo says.
     Despite this, those who question the propriety of profiting from captive orcas are accused of “radicalism” and “extremism” by SeaWorld, which continues to claim that its whales are treated well and have “fun” lives in captivity, the complaint states.
     Simo and two co-plaintiffs seek to represent consumers who purchased SeaWorld tickets, memberships or other orca “experience” products at the San Diego, Orlando and Texas facilities before they became aware of the park’s alleged mistreatment of its captive whales. They estimate the class in the millions.
     They seek injunctive relief requiring SeaWorld to stop with its alleged misleading business practices. According to SeaWorld’s website, daily tickets to the three facilities range from $52 to $89.
     SeaWorld recently launched a national television and online advertising campaign aimed at reinforcing “the truth about the company’s commitment to its killer whales,” according to its website.
     The ad features a veterinarian at SeaWorld Orlando and a senior member of the park’s animal rescue team addressing many common misperceptions about SeaWorld’s whales, including how long they live and where they come from, according to the website.
     “We love these animals and do everything in our power to assure that they’re happy and health,” Jill Kermes, senior corporate affairs officer for SeaWorld Entertainment, said in a statement.
     SeaWorld also runs the website AskSeaWorld.com, which answers questions about how SeaWorld cares for, displays and educates the public about its animals.
     In response to questions about “Blackfish,” SeaWorld called it animal rights propaganda that is “manipulative and misleading.”
     The parties did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit.

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