As if SeaWorld didn’t have enough bad press in the wake of the shocking documentary Blackfish, a document obtained by Buzzfeed reveals that the marine park gives its whales psychoactive drugs and anti-depressants. According to the Ontario Superior Court of Justice affidavit, SeaWorld’s whale trainers give their orcas benzodiazepine, which has a valium-like effect on the mammals.
The document is from a court dispute between SeaWorld and rival company Marineland over the transport of a prized killer whale. Benzodiazepines is reportedly very similar to valium and Xanax, and it can, according to SeaWorld’s critics, be linked to the whales’ mental health issues that were documented in Blackfish.
Speaking to Buzzfeed, Jared Goodman, Director of Animal Law at PETA said the document would be detrimental to SeaWorld. “The veterinary records show that orcas at SeaWorld are given psychotropic drugs to stop them from acting aggressively towards each other in the stressful, frustrating conditions in which they’re confined instead of funding the development of coastal sanctuaries – the only humane solution,” Goodman said.
Fred Jacobs, a spokesperson for SeaWorld, defended the medication in an emailed statement saying: “Benzodiazepines are sometimes used in veterinary medicine for the care and treatment of animals, both domestic and in a zoological setting.”
“These medications can be used for sedation for medical procedures, premedication prior to general anesthesia, and for the control of seizures. The use of benzodiazepines is regulated, and these medications are only prescribed to animals by a veterinarian. Their use for cetacean healthcare, including killer whales, is limited, infrequent, and only as clinically indicated based on the assessment of the attending veterinarian. There is no higher priority for SeaWorld than the health and well-being of the animals in its care.”
However PETA’s president, Ingrid Newkirk has said that the use of this controversial medication only reinforces the case that SeaWorld “uses these marine slaves in order to force them to perform stupid tricks.”
Image by Olivier Bruchez