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Over the past few years, SeaWorld has had a whale of a time defending its theme parks and the treatment of its orcas.

Most recently, UCF campus animals rights groups, Peta2 and Body of Animal Rights Campaigners, protested the sale of SeaWorld tickets at UCF in December.

“We don’t try to be ‘the wild,’” said SeaWorld veterinarian Dr. Lara Croft. “We’re not the same environment, so the animals here are not the same as the animals out there. That being said, I don’t think they have lesser lives, I think they have different lives.”

Even so, Peta2 began petitioning to cease SeaWorld ticket sales on campus, and had collected about 1,000 signatures in December.

“I find that these beautiful and intelligent animals don’t belong in captivity, and I would hope that they would see that,” said Hunter Menning, a student at the UCF and Peta2 campus representative. “SeaWorld is exploiting these animals for profit and that’s not right.”

But Menning and SeaWorld agree on one thing: Whales are beautiful and need to be protected, although SeaWorld argued that what they do is the best way to educate the public about these animals and push for greater conservation efforts.

Despite the theme park’s efforts to quell questions surrounding the care of its animals, from protesters and documentaries such as Blackfish, employees at SeaWorld have been affected by the recent outlook on their profession, said Kelly Flaherty Clark, a SeaWorld curator for animal training.

The staff at SeaWorld said they want to make it clear that the animals are allotted their full amount of food every day and are well cared for, mostly by their assigned trainers. Croft said that SeaWorld and the open ocean both have their benefits, but they also have their own challenges — you’ll never see a whale die of starvation at SeaWorld, though it’s common in the wild.

Still, protestors have increased their efforts to change the company’s biggest seller.

“I think SeaWorld needs to focus more of their efforts on rescue and rehabilitation, and look toward giving the visitors of the park a good time with rides and the ability to see and support the animals they rescue,” Menning said.

Menning also find the tank sizes, overall health and flipped-over fins to be points of concern. The flipped over fins of captive whales have been part of the battle cry for activists for a while, however, Croft said the fins naturally become bent overtime due to the whales being out of the water so often.

But Menning said that flipped over fins aren’t normal “like SeaWorld claims.”

“These orcas in captivity are in parks in the three hottest states: California, Texas and Florida, and in the wild they live in extremely cold waters,” he said. "Because there is no bone or muscle in the dorsal fins, because of the warm temperatures the tissue completely collapses, so no it’s not natural."

While the Orlando park has no set plan yet on ending breeding or the theatrical performances, it looks to continue educating the public on the importance of marine life conservation. SeaWorld also plans to introduce new attractions and bigger tanks at its San Diego park in 2017.

While the whales at SeaWorld might have different lives from those in the wild, Croft said, they are cared for to the fullest extent possible.

“From the trainers to the rescuers, one thing that can be said about SeaWorld employees is that they have a never-ending passion in what they do,” said Emily Kruszewski, senior public relations manager at SeaWorld.

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Rachel Lebar is a Contributing Writer for the Central Florida Future.

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