Talking to your kids about Sea World

Sea World San Antonio will add "natural orca encounters" in 2019.

Sea World San Antonio will add “natural orca encounters” in 2019.

Today Sea World announced that it will end its breeding program of orcas as well as end the live orca shows as they now exist. Instead it will offer “new, inspiring natural orca encounters.” Those encounters will start in San Diego, but not happen in San Antonio until 2019.

That “new, inspiring natural orca encounters.” language brings a lot of questions to my mind. First of which is, how can it be a natural encounter with a mammal in captivity? Larger questions: If Sea World no longer breeds animals, does this mark a real phase out of orcas at Sea World or will it just go to other shows that breed the animals or will it go back to the wild to find orcas, which was an underlying problem with the animal highlighted in “Blackfish.” Sea World, of course, has refuted a lot of what is in “Blackfish.”

Sea World has been a serious talking point in our family since my 12-year-old daughter watched “Blackfish” more than a year ago. She used to love Sea World. She went with her preschool; our Girl Scout troop went when they were kindergarteners and first-graders; we even went as a family a couple of times. No more.

Last year, when her Girl Scout troop was exploring where to go for the end of the year trip, Sea World came up and Ava gave a point by point argument on why they should not use their cookie money to support Sea World. Nothing Sea World can do can change her mind, and this is a kid that at times has wanted to be a marine biologist.

If your child is too young to see “Blackfish,” what do you say about the change in Sea World’s show if you should happen to go to Sea World San Antonio in 2019 when Shamu will no longer splash you? Can you even say that an orca killed a trainer and Sea World needed to make this change? How do you even explain that? And how do you explain that the orca show had to change, but that the sea lions, dolphins and beluga whales are fine in their tiny tanks? Can you even go back to Sea World since “Blackfish” came out?

Kids are incredibly perceptive. I’ve been with young kids at zoos who have asked why the animals were in cages. I, as a parent, have long explained that the animals are endangered in the wild, but that by being in a cage here, we get to protect them to make sure there are still lions and tigers and bears. I’m not even sure I fully believe my own explanation. “Blackfish” has made me rethink all of it.

The truth is that kids love to see animals and these are animals they would probably not get a chance to see in the wild. But the whole animals in captivity is a difficult thing to explain to young kids,  especially as kids get older. So do your research about the zoo or aquarium you plan to visit. Make sure they are accredited through the Association of Zoos & Aquariums. Of course, you’ll find Sea World San Antonio on that list, too, so a good Google search might be needed to see if there were any reports of cruelty recently. And you can look at groups like PETA and the Humane Society for guidance as well to see if they have any current action regarding the zoo or aquarium you plan to visit.

Let’s hope that one day, your kids get the opportunity to see an orca in the wild instead of Sea World.