the water is clear and shallow compared to the ocean There are lots of tricks of the trade that SeaWorld trainers and
veterinarians use to ensure the relative health of their animals, from
administering regular doses of Valium to teeth cleanings to prevent infection where their teeth have worn away from gnawing on the concrete bars in their tanks. One
of the lesser known of these tricks involves sunscreen -- and not just
any sunscreen. Black zinc oxide is applied over the black area of the
whales’ skin, both to prevent sunburns and to cover up the marks of
existing burns. Three former SeaWorld trainers that The Dodo spoke to
had personally applied black zinc oxide to the orcas, while another had
witnessed it being done. All of them noted that the animal’s skin was
usually burned or blistering before application. “Zinc
oxide is a way to paint over burns -- like a mechanical coat -- usually
on dorsal surface of the animal.” said Jeffrey Ventre, a former orca
trainer at SeaWorld’s Orlando park. “It’s also for aesthetic reasons, to
hide blistering peeling skin.”Carol Ray, a former trainer who
also worked at the Orlando park, said that when she applied the
substance to a male orca, burnt layers of his skin would peel off in her
hands.As it turns out, sunburns are a product of captivity for
orca whales. Here are four reasons why orcas at SeaWorld require
sunblock, unlike their wild counterparts:1. Their water is crystal clear.
ocean water contains tiny particulates in the water column that block
the sun, tank water doesn’t. In fact, it’s filtered so well that it’s
basically clear -- that way guests can see the entire animal when
looking through an above-water viewing glass. 2. They are more exposed to the sun.Captive
orcas spend a lot more time above the water’s surface than wild ones
do, leaving them even more vulnerable to the sun’s rays. It’s been shown
that captive orcas spend hours “logging” or resting at the surface of
the water, longer than wild ones exhibit the behavior. They also spend
more time jumping out of the water and up on platforms where trainers
can inspect them, unlike their wild counterparts.
safe to say that animals out here swimming probably spend close to 85
to 90 percent of time below the surface of water,” Ventre said. “Those
ones [at marine parks] are just exposed, baking in the sun all day.”3. The water isn’t deep enough.Wild orcas usually dive to depths of 328 feet, and can go as deep as 850, by SeaWorld’s own calculations.
Diving helps them get out of the sun, and shades their skin from UV
rays. But SeaWorld’s tanks are far shallower than orcas need them to be
-- the deepest tank is 40 feet deep -- not even twice as deep as
Tilikum, one of the park’s most famous whales, is long. 4. They aren’t afforded enough shade. Captive
orcas at SeaWorld parks get little -- if any -- respite from the heat.
There is no shade structure in any of the five pools at their San Diego
location, and only a limited shade structure in two of the four pools at
the San Antonio park. This photo, provided by former SeaWorld trainer
John Hargrove, who also applied sunscreen to orcas, shows the lack of
shade in startling clarity.
it’s helpful that trainers protect their animals from the sun, the
practice brings a sharp point to mind -- if the animals weren’t held in
tanks, they wouldn’t need sunblock. As the backlash -- both legal and political -- against SeaWorld’s orca breeding program grows stronger, that point is clearer than ever.