How Does SeaWorld Transport Animals?

Three dolphins performing at a show.
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SeaWorld has to transport marine animals to its parks for many reasons, ranging from breeding to the rescue of animals from other parks closing their doors. Because these animals can weigh several thousand pounds, SeaWorld has developed a process as well as the technology of transport. However, the discovery that Sea World sedates animals about to be shuttled to another park has ignited outcry by animal advocates.

Customized Tanks

SeaWorld creates customized open tanks to shuttle the animals from one location to another. The container’s size depends on the size of the animal and is padded with foam. SeaWorld uses a forklift and a sling to lower the animal into the tank, which is typically filled with thousands of gallons of water and then set on a flatbed truck. When the killer whale Shouka was transported from the Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo,California, to SeaWorld San Diego in 2012, the container weighted 38,000 pounds, according to NBC.

Travel and Attendants

SeaWorld uses chartered jets, such as a C130 cargo plane or Federal Express Jumbo Jet, to fly an animal and tank to destined location. A team consisting of trainers, attendants and veterinarians accompanies the animal over the course of the journey. This team oversees the temperature, pressure and conditions of the inside of the jet. While in the air, attendants regularly pour water over the animal. When the killer whale Baby Shamu was transported from Orlando, Florida, to Ohio in 1990, four attendants poured water over the whale during a two-hour flight, according to the Orlando Sentinel

The Planning

Planning the transport of Baby Shamu, the first killer whale born in captivity, took six months, officials from SeaWorld told the Orlando Sentinel. To fly the whale across state lines, SeaWorld had to file for a transport permit from the state government of Florida. According to Florida law, state officials don’t have to take into account an animal’s social or familial network before granting the permit. Animal advocates claim that SeaWorld ignores the strong family bonds formed by killer whales. They believe that the shuttling of animals from park to park causes stress to the animal and threatens the animal’s emotional and physical health.

Use of Drugs

In a dispute between SeaWorld and Marineland over the custody and transport of the killer whale Ikaika, court documents reveal that SeaWorld trainers used benzodiazepine – an anti-anxiety drug along the lines of Valium and Xanax – to sedate the animal, according to the San Antonio Express-News. The drug prevents the orcas from acting aggressively in confined areas. It also calms the whales so SeaWorld trainers can more easily separate the whales from each other and prepare them for transport. Although SeaWorld officials claim that the use of this psychotropic drug is regulated and administered by a veterinarian, animal advocates believe the practice to be inhumane.

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