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SeaWorld’s Orca prison: Google-Earth shows what conditions are really like

Shamu show at SeaWorld San Diego

This has not been a quick decision for me. In fact it’s probably taken me way too long to make this stand…

Since I wrote this in 2015 there have been significant changes and updates both at Seaworld and from companies supporting them. We’re getting there!


In October 2019 Tripadvisor announced they will no longer sell tickets to attractions that that breed or import captive whales and dolphins. This is FANTASTIC news! See the story on

However, SeaWorld Orlando are still running Shamu encounters with their Orca (April 2024).


I have visited SeaWorld in California and in Orlando dating back to the 1980s, and I have had fun. I have loved watching their amazing Orcas leap into the air and plummet down in their huge pool at the daily Shamu show. I have laughed and taken photos alongside all the other fans as the whales ripped around the pool at speed deliberately crashing their tails down to ensure the maximum amount of water is heaved over the side onto spectators in plastic rain coats.

In 2010 I even wrote a blog post on this site featuring Shamu’s show as one of the Top 5 things to do in Orlando, and I raved about it for San Diego too. I’ve changed my mind.

But since then I’ve become a bit more aware. And apparently I’m not alone.

Shamu Orca show at San Diego SeaWorld 2021
Shamu show at San Diego SeaWorld 2021

I attended IPW in 2015, the International Pow Wow travel trade show with over 6000 travel industry delegates, in Orlando and as I write this, many of them attended the huge SeaWorld party. I went out for dinner instead, and here’s why.

I hadn’t seen Blackfish, the anti SeaWorld movie that has brought the world’s attention to some of the practices at SeaWorld, when I wrote this, but I had read both sides of the argument and a lot more around it as I’ve done some research for this post.

I’m not boycotting SeaWorld because of any propaganda movie. I just can’t bear to see those whales living in tiny tanks any longer. Scroll down to see them still here as at October 2023.

Wikipedia states that Orca swim up to 160km (100 miles) per day in the wild. I’ve marked a circle on this map to show the scale of 100km (so it’s actually even further than this).

100km circle over Orlando
100km circle over Orlando

If I were to put this pic over the 100km one above  it would be smaller than a speck.

SeaWorld’s tanks that these up to 6-ton whales are kept in are at most 30m wide. Here is the pic from Google Earth.

Look at the size of the whales vs the size of their tank! Pic from October 2023

SeaWorld’s largest pool is one ten-thousandth of their natural daily swimming space. 

But I’m not just going to slam the park and join the haters… I have an idea.

My solution for Seaworld

I know the company has taken a huge financial hit as times have changed and people no longer flock to see animals kept in cages. Elephants no longer perform in circuses, or at least not in circuses that most of us would go to, and killer whales are the next elephant. Huge, majestic animals trapped in aquatic prison cells.

I have seen renderings of SeaWorld San Diego’s plans to expand their pool area and make it look more like the ocean. But from whose perspective? We might think it’s more aesthetically pleasing to see rocks and sand in the whale pool, but they’re still trapped in a pool – ok maybe 60m wide instead of 30m.

No, what SeaWorld needs to do to survive is phase out their killer whale shows, stop breeding them in captivity (check) and certainly stop taking them from other pods around the world – either in captivity or not (check).

Here’s my big idea: They should hire Franco Dragone, the Cirque du Soleil mastermind who has developed gobsmacking circuses around the world using world-class athletes, gymnasts and acrobatics instead of animals, and choreograph a spectacular show in all Shamu stadia.

A new Cirque/Seaworld show that reflects everything Orca do in the wild except performed by people. It’d be a breathtaking show of awesome stunts set to music and lighting and fancy staging. At this moment whales perform stunts in these 30m pools against the backdrop of music and lighting and frankly it’s disturbing to watch. Imagine Bellagio’s O – on SeaWorld steroids!

It would be a show that would attract visitors every night, along with the theme park rides the parks already have, while the park morphs into the rehabilitation and breeding of endangered species for release that they also currently focus on.

Oh and if you want to see just how far and fast orca swim, watch this incredible video as they chase after a boat rocketing through the sea!

YouTube video

In January 2017 I received an email from the PR department of Seaworld San Diego trying to allay my fears by showing renderings of, among other things, the new Orca pool. They’re very excited about it. They think this will appeal to their shrinking audience and get visitors back to the park again. But is it just me or does this look like it’s meant to appeal to humans to make US feel like we’re in the wild, or do you think these killer whales will notice the difference?

Here’s the image so you can decide for yourself. I’m not sure if it’s to scale. Even if it is, it’s still waaaay too small (see the video of orca swimming the wild below)

Seaworld new orca enclosure
New Orca enclosure with beach and sea at dramatic sunset with clouds on a screen behind


From July 2016 : It’s not over yet friends! I was so thrilled to read that SeaWorld were stopping Orca shows (see link below), until I met the PR woman from SeaWorld San Diego at the IPW travel conference in New Orleans last month. She told me that the shows are still going to run, just without the music and lighting. Instead they’ll focus on their natural habitat – or some other bull. I was gob smacked. She wants me to go and visit and talk to their trainers so I’ll “understand”. I don’t think I should lest I get shouty!

I for one will be keeping pressure on to let these majestic animals out of their bathtubs… SaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSave

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Hi, I'm Megan Singleton and I'm the word slinger of this travel blog as well as on radio in NZ every Sunday. Former Travel Editor at Yahoo NZ and current freelance writer for a few newspapers and mags from time to time, I set off on this travel writing journey 20 years ago and I've pretty much always got a suitcase half packed (or half un-packed!) I'd love you to join me on Facebook or Twitter and sign up for my newsletters if you want loads of travel tips, advice and deals!