The SeaWorld stranded whale incident during which a short-finned pilot whale was beached on the side of the pool caused SeaWorld Orlando visitors to stomp their feet, to yell, and to demand action by SeaWorld personnel. “The crowd was in a rage and uproar, and some were stomping their feet. The gentleman behind me went to go protest because he was really upset,” said 33-year-old Carlo De Leonibus who filmed the video footage of the beached pilot whale struggling to get back into the water at SeaWorld in Florida. On July 29, 2013, WESH Orlando published SeaWorld’s response to the incident.
“The safety of guests and employees and the welfare of our animals are SeaWorld’s highest priorities. The pilot whale shown in the video is not stranded or beached on the ledge at SeaWorld Orlando’s whale and dolphin stadium. The whale was never in danger. This is social and play behavior our trainers see daily and sometimes hourly by the pilot whales. If you listen closely the trainer on microphone is trying to tell the audience just that.
This whale was beached and stranded when it was saved by our animal rescue team last Labor Day weekend in South Florida. After it was rescued and rehabilitated, it was deemed un-releasable by the federal government.
The younger and more inexperienced animals – like the one on the video – sometimes take a little longer to find their way back to the water because they haven’t completely mastered the technique yet. When this happens the animal is constantly monitored by our animal trainers. The whale was never in danger. In fact, the pilot whales are trained to swim onto the ledge so we can monitor their growth and give them veterinary care.”
As a former SeaWorld employee who spent months, days, and long hours with SeaWorld animals in San Diego – yes, SeaWorld’s above information is a correct description of the whale’s behavior.
Dolphins, whales, including killer whales, are mammals and short-finned female pilot whales even go through menopause. Other mammal characteristics that dolphins and whales share with humans include being warm-blooded, giving live birth, nursing their young, breathing oxygen, and having hair.
When the SeaWorld stranded pilot whale was outside of the water, he was not in danger because SeaWorld personnel knew that the short-finned pilot whale’s body temperature would not overheat nor that his skin would get too dry; the reason why stranded pilot whales are doomed to die unless rescuers can help the pilot whales’ body temperature and skin with ocean water. For bigger whales, being out of the water for too long also causes problems because of their own body weight and the pressure of their organs.
Unfortunately, while SeaWorld Orlando personnel knew that the short-finned pilot whale was not in danger, it failed to use the situation as an excellent opportunity to share some major insights about whales and dolphins with the audience.
If SeaWorld Orlando’s visitors would have seen what SeaWorld narrators and trainers see on a daily basis – that pilot whales love to be out of the water to rub their sensitive skin on the side of the pool, that they love being touched and rubbed down, that they love the attention when they are being checked out, that they enjoy seeing what is outside of the pool, and that if one gets out, others will want to join also or check out what is going on since whales and dolphins are highly sociable animals.
Instead of talking to SeaWorld Orlando visitors over an impersonal loud speaker, trainers could have joined the pilot whale, explain his behavior and his mammal characteristics, rub him down, play with him, spray water on him, play with the other whales who came to the side of the pool, and make the whole “SeaWorld stranded whale” incident an opportunity to share their knowledge with the audience.
SeaWorld Orlando personnel could also have informed the visitors who were witnessing the “SeaWorld stranded whale” that the main cause of death for short-finned pilot whales is not being playful. According to OPR, the Office of Protected Resources, the primary threat to pilot whales is fishing gear.
“Bycatch in fishing gear is the primary threat to pilot whales. Several types of commercial fishing gear, including gillnets, longlines, and trawls, incidentally take short-finned pilot whales. Short-finned pilot whales have been documented entangled, hooked, and captured in these various types of fishing gear. Drive fisheries that specifically target pilot whales exist in Japan and the Lesser Antilles. Ship strikes may also pose a threat in Hawaii as propeller scarred whales have been documented.”
Besides being killed by fishing boats and being hunted for their meat, hundreds of pilot whales die each year being stranded on the beach not because they follow their natural playful behavior but because of ocean pollution and ocean sound interferences.
Instead of sharing their knowledge about the “stranded pilot whale,” SeaWorld personnel let the SeaWorld Orlando visitors watch the whale being “stuck” for 10 minutes while it appeared to struggle to get itself off the ledge at the edge of the pool until finally two trainers came out and pushed the “stranded pilot whale” back into the pool after the disturbed crowd can be heard screaming, demanding someone do something.
Carlo De Leonibus, who filmed the video when he was at SeaWorld Orlando for his daughter’s 11th birthday, said that his daughter was heartbroken by the incident and that his daughter was crying at night. “She was really upset. She felt that SeaWorld was going to take care of their animals.”
If SeaWorld Orlando personnel would have shared their knowledge about the “SeaWorld stranded whale,” the short-finned pilot whale would have enjoyed the attention and the audience would have loved it.