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SeaWorld defends use of 'Tilikum' and other killer whales

After 'Tilikum' killed whale trainer Dawn Brancheau, SeaWorld officials are defending the use of captive orca killer whales for recreation and education.

Jim Atchison president and CEO of SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment, at a news conference at the killer whale underwater viewing area of SeaWorld in Orlando, Fla., Friday, Feb. 26. SeaWorld will restart its killer whale shows this weekend after Tilikum, the largest orca in captivity, dragged a trainer to her death.

Red Huber/Orlando Sentinel/AP

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Two days after a 12,300 pound male orca “killer whale” grabbed a trainer at the Orlando SeaWorld and killed her, park officials are still in damage control mode. But their tactics have changed from defense to offense.

Major animal rights groups – including People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the Animal Legal Defense Fund, the Humane Society of the US, Born Free USA, and others – excoriated SeaWorld for using wild animals in entertainment venues.

SeaWorld officials are openly questioning the motivations of such groups. They're also emphasizing the millions of dollars they spend in outreach, educational, and conservation programs to save animals.

“Criticism of keeping these marine animals in captivity is unfounded,” says Fred Jacobs, vice president of communications for SeaWorld Parks. “There are lots of animal rights groups who exploit a tragedy like this to try to advance their extremist agendas and get their names in the newspapers. We feel that is lamentable.”

Jacobs says careless allegations that surface after an event like this – that captive sea creatures develop ulcers, that echolocation studies cause insanity, that such animals have committed suicide, that they develop stress-induced illnesses – are “absurd.”

He says SeaWorld is subject to two major federal laws – the Animal Welfare Act and the Marine Animal Protection Act – which call for regular inspections. SeaWorld is also a member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which maintains standards. And Jacobs says the park is open to 12 million visitors a year, who can inspect the quality of care.

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