personal reflections photography whales wildlife

SeaWorld Orlando and marine mammal intelligence on cue

SeaWorld Orlando was the site of one of the IPW 2015 Orlando convention evening events this week. All the photos in this article are my own photos from Central Coast California and SeaWorld Orlando performances.

This week was the first time I saw a live Orca since 1966 when I was six years old and saw the original Shamu perform at San Diego SeaWorld. The original Shamu was only the fourth orca killer whale to be captured alive and the first healthy killer whale intentionally captured for exhibition. She was also the first orca to survive more than two years in captivity. Shamu performed for a little more than five years before biting a SeaWorld employee who was riding her. Shamu was retired from performing after that incident and died a few months later. Her name was trademarked and there have been other Shamu orca performers over the decades in Sea World parks around the USA.

SeaWorld Orcas-1

SeaWorld is a controversial theme park due to captive orcas and sea lions trained to perform and entertain visitors daily for a profit-oriented corporation.

My primary purpose for this article is to share my photos of marine mammals. One of the great joys of my life is the ability to frequently see whales, sea lions, seals and other marine mammals in their natural habitat in the central coast California region of Monterey where I live. In the past few years I have had the opportunity to closely observe the behavior and life cycle of many types of marine mammals.

Seal pup nursing

One of the last harbor seal pups still nursing at Whalers Cove Point Lobos State Preserve, Carmel, California. There were around 20 pups born and weaned at this small 30 yard stretch of beach in Monterey County in April and May. After 30 days or so, young pups are on their own to make their way in the world. This photo is from May 20, 2015.

To Boycott or Not to Boycott SeaWorld

There is a boycott SeaWorld movement that raises many strong objections to marine mammals in captivity for performance entertainment. I have not seen the movie Blackfish, although I probably will watch it in the coming weeks. SeaWorld provides their response to the movie at

In recent weeks SeaWorld San Diego has been one of the primary rescue and medical facilities caring for injured animals in California as a result of the May 2015 pipeline oil spill at Refugio State Beach in Santa Barbara County, California.

This is not an anti-SeaWorld article. As a credentialed teacher and life-long educator, I try and present information and resources to allow individuals to make up their own minds on what is right and wrong and what needs to be changed in our society. In this article, I provide some links to share both sides of the argument on large animals in captivity and you can decide your position on the issues. Here are some informative articles I read as I researched SeaWorld while writing this piece.

Reasons Why I Won’t Be Boycotting SeaWorld – (Jan 20, 2014)

7 Reasons You And Everyone You Know Should Boycott SeaWorld – (May 6, 2014)

A win-win solution for captive orcas and marine theme parks – CNN (10-24-2013)

The orca show at SeaWorld Orlando amazed me through its display of orca higher intelligence exhibited by their ability to perform on cue. They are beautiful creatures.

SeaWorld orcas-2

My perception of orcas as a person who loves gray whale watching season from the California coast each year between December and May is their pack animal predatory nature. Gray whale mothers and their newborn calves migrating from Mexico to Alaska during the late winter and early spring months face two primary dangers, ship strikes and orca attacks. A pod of orcas separating a calf from its mother is a heart-wrenching and gruesome sight I have seen on video, but that is the natural way of the world. And their pack animal predation is why Orcas are more commonly known as killer whales.

SeaWorld orcas-3

Sea Lions from a Different Perspective

My fascination with visiting SeaWorld this week was from the point of view of someone who lives near thousands of wild California sea lions in Monterey, California. Some nights I hear the barks of sea lions in Monterey harbor from my bed, particularly when the fog is thick and sounds carry up the hill about one mile to my bedroom.

The past six months have been specifically harsh on sea lion life in California. I have spotted more dead sea lions in 2015 than any previous year. Any beach where there is a colony of sea lions generally also reveals the presence of turkey vultures feeding on the carcasses of a dead sea lion or two or more. This is a common sight for me in 2015 and one I do not recall from previous years. Along with the California drought posing a problem for residents, apparently there has been a lack of food near shore for sea lions resulting in a large number of young sea lions dying.

Monterey Sea lions

Young and weak sea lions moved en masse onto the Monterey harbor boat launch in April 2015 closing it down for a couple of weeks. Several sea lion carcasses floated in the water nearby. I have seen many sea lions dead and dying this year in California.

Sea World Sea Lion

Sea lions are another intelligent marine mammal and the Sea Lion High show at SeaWorld Orlando is entertainment demonstrating this animal’s ability to perform on cue. The opportunity to be close to these marine mammals is something I am sure the trainers love. The bond between the staff and the animals is apparent in the shows.

Sea World Sea lion-2

The trained sea lions and cast provide a good show and give visitors who have never seen these marine mammals in the wild an opportunity to appreciate their beauty, intelligence and physical ability. I enjoyed seeing these sea lions display their intelligence by performing on cue. It is not their natural behavior from my observations of sea lions in the wild.

Normally I see sea lions on rocks and docks and beaches around the coastline of Monterey County. They are amazing climbers and extremely social animals who tend to gather in large groups. And they are loud, as exhibited in the show where they are trained to bark on cue. As I said, the sounds of sea lions carry over a mile across Monterey, where I can sometimes hear sea lions in Monterey harbor barking in the otherwise quiet night from my home.

Sea lion climber

Sea lions on a floating dock at Monterey Fisherman’s Wharf and one sea lion climbing up the fence.

One other point came to mind as I watched the shows at SeaWorld Orlando. The trained animals at SeaWorld are accustomed to being touched. I have been within a couple of feet of sea lions in Monterey, but always at a safe distance with a barrier like a fence or wall protecting me from the wild animals. Sea lions have large teeth. It is a federal crime to touch a wild sea lion and dangerous.

There was a river otter who was a cute character of the sea lion show at SeaWorld Orlando. Last month when I was in Canada on Vancouver Island, I came upon a couple of river otters in Sooke Harbor. I was photographing them playing in the water. When they came on shore, I walked over to a bluff where I was about 15 feet above them to get better photos. One of the river otters took exception to my close proximity and I was amazed at how quickly that otter scaled the rock embankment in what looked like a mission to attack me. I moved quickly away from its territory.

river otter-2

Orcas, sea lions and otters are trained performers at SeaWorld. Their apparent docile behavior in SeaWorld captivity is quite different from their behavior in the wild, where life and death is a delicate balance of predator and prey in the struggle to survive.


  • Ric Garrido June 4, 2015

    My wife says I punted the ball on this article. She is unequivocally opposed to SeaWorld using captive orcas for shows and a boycott advocate. She is disappointed in me for going to SeaWorld.

    For 20 years she worked in veterinary medicine before becoming a school teacher. She worked with marine mammal rescue and care in Monterey and Eureka, California and she has a strong stance on the issue of marine mammals used for performances.

    I believe in signs. What I left out of this article is when I saw Shamu in 1966, I also came down with German Measles during the Shamu performance. I was taken to the hospital directly from SeaWorld San Diego.

    I developed a sudden illness while at SeaWorld the other night and I was sick for about 12 hours.

    Kelley said I deserved to feel ill after visiting SeaWorld.

  • Charles Clarke June 4, 2015

    Mean wife! Good thing you have a few days away…

    Considering incubation times, it is highly unlikely that you got the germs at the show. More likely that you got them from the mean wife or the germ incubators she deals with for her job. My grandnieces and grandnephews are always good at making sure I have the latest germ updates.

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