Disney Called Out Over Captive Animals, Compared to ‘Blackfish’

in Walt Disney World

A Guest meets a dolphin and its trainer at The Seas with Nemo and Friends

Credit: Disney

Everyone knows about SeaWorld’s Blackfish (2013) controversy. Now, some Guests are calling for Walt Disney World to meet the same backlash.

While SeaWorld San Diego, Orlando, and San Antonio have kept killer whales, dolphins, and other marine creatures in captivity for years, it was in 2013 that some Guests started to turn against the Parks for their treatment of wild animals.

SeaWorld Orlando entrance sign
Credit: SeaWorld

Related: Ex-SeaWorld Dolphin Trainer Speaks Out On Animal Abuse Backlash

After Blackfish delved into the life story of Tilikum – a captive orca involved in three of the four fatal captive orca attacks on humans – its reputation took a beating, with SeaWorld Orlando’s attendance never quite meeting its pre-Blackfish attendance levels even a decade later. It’s also faced more drama after several violent incidents involving its dolphins.

Since the documentary’s release, SeaWorld has shifted away from using its creatures as entertainment and instead leaned into the education and conservation side of its Parks. With its orca breeding program now defunct, it has invested more money into new thrills – such as Pipeline: The Surf Coaster and Ice Breaker – while its newest Park, SeaWorld Abu Dhabi, went totally orca-free upon its opening in May 2023.

Orcas performing at SeaWorld
Credit: SeaWorld

Other Parks have met similar backlash, including Miami Seaquarium, which announced plans to free the second-oldest captive orca – Lolita – over the next few years. However, some Guests are now questioning why the Walt Disney World Resort has not met a similar fate.

In a recent Reddit post exploring why Parkgoers still visit SeaWorld post-Blackfish, one user wrote: “SeaWorld has been given a ton of flack over Blackfish, but what really infuriates me is how Disney is spared because they have animals in captivity too.”

The exterior of The Seas with Nemo and Friends at nighttime at EPCOT
Credit: Disney

Related: SeaWorld Issued Warning by Government After Dolphin Attacks

Like SeaWorld, Walt Disney World has captive dolphins at EPCOT’s The Seas with Nemo & Friends. Previously known as Living with the Seas, the dolphins feature in the land’s Sea Base in tanks next to West Indian manatees, moray eels, seahorses, and other species. Guests can pay for an exclusive, up-close encounter with the dolphins through EPCOT’s Disney’s Dolphins in Depth backstage tour.

While Disney works with several marine science authorities – including the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the National Geographic Society – to ensure its animals receive the best care possible, and has been praised for its care over at neighboring Park Animal Kingdom, some still feel it’s unfair that SeaWorld gets all the flack when Disney’s dolphins are kept indoors, rather than at least in an outdoors tank.

A Guest meets a dolphin and its trainer at The Seas with Nemo and Friends
Credit: Disney

They’re not the only ones. In 2015, the Dolphin Project labeled the experience as “Disney’s dismal dolphins” and called for Guests to boycott the Park. TripAdvisor reviews have dubbed their presence at EPCOT as “terrible” and “shocking.” There’s also an entire online movement dedicated to freeing the creatures: Free the Disney Dolphins.

As of 2023, three dolphins remain at EPCOT. Whether or not Disney will bring in more in the future remains to be seen – but considering the growing sentiment towards captive creatures, this might be one part of EPCOT that’s best left in the past.

How do you feel about dolphins in captivity for entertainment? Does it put you off visiting a Park? Let us know in the comments!

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