< BACK TO THE HOME PAGE 20 comments

In the News A Whale Of A Business

March 1, 2010

VIEW: A bit of history on orcas, or killer whales, and how they became so popular -- and money making -- for marine parks like Sea World.

Tilikum's drowning of a trainer last week spotlighted again marine mammals in captivity and the debate about the safety and morality of this kind of 'entertainment.'

From the start, 19 years ago, the Tilikum-Sea World story was troubling. Read about the Tilikum Transaction, part of our 1997 report on captive marine animals.

Note: Another timely connection to this 1997 FRONTLINE report is the Oscar-nominated documentary, The Cove. Our 1997 site offers video and background on the slaughter of dolphins and whales in Japan, including at the Taiji cove.



Because animals can't speak for themselves, people who profit from them should not be allowed to speak on their behalf.

Bill / March 1, 2010 5:41 PM

Well said, Bill.

The time for these marine parks has passed. A moral society can not condone the capture and confinement of such intelligent, social animals.

RJ / March 1, 2010 6:53 PM

doesn't pepsico own seaworld? time to start boycotting whoever the parent company is....

Ed / March 1, 2010 11:13 PM

I have never been to Sea World or any other marine parks for the simple reason that truly. It is not humane to keep such large marine mammals in a large fish tank. Orcas and dolphins do not belong in captivity. In the case of the Orca that killed the trainer, I do not blame the animal but the humans who continue to keep these mammals in captivity for profit. How many more humans life must be taken by Orcas before Sea World realizes that these large mammals belong out at sea.

John / March 1, 2010 11:46 PM

Whales should be left ALONE. I don't feel badly if people who contribute to this atrocity get killed. You get back what you give...

Free Me / March 1, 2010 11:53 PM

You need to go watch the documentary 'The Cove' which is about the needless slaughter of 23,000 dolphins a year while trying to find dolphins for shows like Sea World.

It is shamefull and tragic and because mercury is so high in dophins (2,000 PPM) it is toxic for humans and other mamals to eat.

Yes there is another story about the capture for entertainment of cetaceans (which are everything from whales to dolphins) and it is told in the documentary 'The Cobe'.

Go download it from NetFlix and watch it. I saw it for the first time last week and was shocked that this type of thing still goes on.

Robin / March 2, 2010 1:13 AM

I agree with previous comments on Orcas and other sea mammals in parks. Live and let live! How would you like to be captured, forced trained to "jump" on command. For applause and fame? Are you kidding...it's not in their "vocabulary"!

Diane / March 2, 2010 5:42 PM

Cetacians do not belong in captivity period. I and many other people would be grateful if PBS would do an updated version of "A Whale of a business"

I was not aware of the many deaths not only in capture, but at the parks, the numerous deaths of young born in captivity calves and stillborns. Here is the website of a very enlightening report:


Krystal / March 3, 2010 12:48 AM

While the death of the trainer at Sea World was a tragic event ..it is not strictly by accident that these things happen, and will unfortunately continue to happen. Orcinas Orca have been at the top of the oceanic food chain for perhaps millions of years. Human fascination with their power and their grace should be confined to observing them in their natural habitat, not in an amusement park.


Steve / March 3, 2010 12:52 AM

The more I find out about this, the more I want a law banning the kind of performances that Sea World and the like do with Dolphins and Orcas. This is insane.

Sean / March 3, 2010 1:26 AM

They should also ban all pets, nascar racing, the space program, automobiles, football, cigarettes, junk food, air travel, tall buildings, oranges, bathtubs, hospitals, all zoos, all circuses, furnature, houses, suburbia, sprawl, and everything else that humans have ever done where there has ever been an accident where somebody made a mistake and some animal died. And when they get done with that they can ban all preditors. And when they get done with that they can ban all parasites. And when they get done with that they can just get it over with and ban all life on the planet.

picoVerse / March 3, 2010 10:38 AM

Thank you so much for posting this clip. I have been wanting see "Whale of a Business." I have tried to order it, but it does not seem to be available anymore. Where can we see the rest? Will it be back in th PBS store soon? Or maybe aired again soon?

Lili / March 3, 2010 2:31 PM

It seems that everybody is surprised that a Killer Whale killed a trainer. This animals are highly intelligent and as humans they get upset or they can have a "bad day". Tilki was a ticking bomb.He killed before either by accident or on purpose but that is not the issue. The issue is that these animals are the #1 predator of the ocean, The have been seen killed even white sharks.
High intelligence and predation makes the orcas dangerous that is why they belong to the wild.

Aida / March 3, 2010 3:45 PM

If whales in aquariums are so "unhappy" why don't more trainers get killed? it's ironic that people are so in love with orcas...something that parks like seaworld played a big part in fostering. Before seawold brought orcas into the forefront as intelligent agile creatures they were regularly shot and misunderstood by humans. Trainers who work with them understand the risks involved. I support seaworld and the dedicated people who work there.

Nick / March 4, 2010 1:50 AM

Such a waste of God's creation, for the love of money. Just another incident of man's greed for the almighty dollar.

Peggy L. Aldrich / March 4, 2010 10:18 AM

I am saddened and sickened by what we have done to these magnificent creatures. I will never again attend a show that features whales or dolphin "performing". Nonetheless, I do believe that seeing whales the only way most people can - in an aquarium setting-has helped people to "love" whales and want to protect them. I hope we can now move past this and educate people about these amazing sentient beings without hunting, capturing and incarcerating them. We have a moral duty to "live and let live". Cindy/March 5, 2010

cindy DeMaria / March 6, 2010 11:50 AM

Keeping any wild animal captive is cruel and inhumane. Captivity has nothing to offer a wild animal and there is no possible way to duplicate a wild environment.

Moreover, there is no educational value in observing a captive wild animal. Whether dolphin, whale, lemur, lion, reptile, or bear...all exhibit aberrant behaviors due to the stress and diseases brought on by captivity that greatly reduce their life spans.

The backgrounds of spokesmen touting the benefits of captivity, like the widely acclaimed Jack Hanna, should be disclosed before they are allowed to speak. Like Jack, many have great conflicts of interest because, like Jack, they have gained their fortunes and fame from the business of selling, buying, and displaying exotic animals. And, sadly, somewhere on their roads to fame and fortune, many animals have died and innocent people have been injured or killed.

Becky / March 7, 2010 1:55 PM

Wild and free is what we were meant to be.
A Orca whale belongs in the ocean and not in a bathtub.
Stop going to Sea parks, gradually re-introduce captive whales in to the ocean by means of open sea pens. It has been done on Vancouver Island.
You can see whales in the wild in Washington State, Hawaii, Alaska, British Columbia, Vancouver etc. etc.
Teddy Bear kiss me whale ride shows are over.
Set them free.

Mars / March 7, 2010 4:47 PM

We have a kind of catch-22 with captive animals. How many of you would even know what an Orca
(killer whale *) is if not for the popularity of Sea World? As the short take states we hardly knew anything about them as wildlife before Ted Griffin took an interest in them.

Without condoning what animal parks do in regards to capture and display, they do play a positive role in educating us to their existence and value in our ecosystem. There is also a lesson in learning that Griffin's whale died due to human pollution in Puget sound.

What other animals do we share this world in utter ignorance deserve our attention? For we need to learn to share, conserve and manage this planet and it's treasures instead of looking at everything that isn't human as a resource wasting about waiting for us to exploit.

It's time for the Human race to grow up and stop acting like a spoiled child. Can we do it?

*(killer whale is a name from whalers who noted that the Orcas hunted and killed baleen whales for their appetizing tongues and followed them for the leftover oil filled carcasses to light our lanterns)

Alex / March 9, 2010 12:37 AM

Thank you for this article and video. I want to quote the director of "The Cove" Louie Psihoyos "One animal killing three people in one lifetime shows these animals are stressed, they don't belong in captivity. And when we capture them out of the wild and force them to do stupid tricks for our amusement, it says more about our intelligence than it does theirs."

Karel / April 28, 2010 7:36 PM

FRONTLINE is a registered trademark of WGBH Educational Foundation.
Web Site Copyright ©1995-2014 WGBH Educational Foundation