SeaWorld, the amusement company that had showcased captive killer whales (Orcinus orca) in its theme parks for decades until 2016, announced that it is publishing 20 years of blood data on its captive whales. This is in an effort to help scientists who study wild killer whales to determine how they should proceed, if at all, in helping stranded or sick orcas. 

“For us, collecting blood from free-ranging killer whales is exceedingly difficult, so it’s something we would rarely ever do,” Deborah Fauquier, a veterinary medical officer at the National Marine Fisheries Service, told Komo News. “Having partners that are in the managed-care community that can provide us with blood values from those animals is very useful. It’s giving us a very robust baseline data set that we haven’t had previously for these whales.”

The data includes more than 2,800 blood tests from 32 whales dating from 1993 to 2013. These blood values include cholesterol, platelet count, triglycerides and others. 

This image was taken at SeaWorld in Orlando, prior to the death of employee Dawn Brancheau. Tim Ross/Wikipedia

Today, 17 of the company’s 20 whales were born in captivity. The company, which devastated the Pacific Northwest’s southern resident orcas in the 1960s and 1970s when it killed 13 orcas and took 45 for entertainment purposes, according to the Center for Whale Research on Washington’s San Juan Island, in 2016 ended the captive breeding program as well as the Shamu show in response to public outcry.  

“Our stance is to do research with our animals to try to help this population now, and that’s what we’re doing,” Todd Robeck, SeaWorld’s vice president of conservation research, said of the Pacific Northwest’s resident orcas. ”That’s why I got into what I do — to try to help animals in the wild, “ Robeck told Komo News.

The company pledged $10 million to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Killer Whale Research and Conservation Program, in an effort to help the southern resident orcas.

Robeck, one of the lead authors of the review of SeaWorld’s orca data, said that while there will be some differences between the values for captive and wild whales due to climate, diet, and other factors, the results should provide a baseline to compare data from blow samples or fecal samples.  SeaWorld is also studying the effects of toxin build up in adult whales and how those toxins are transferred to calves. 

“It’s something that could only be done with our animals,” Robeck said. “It’s an example of how we are dedicated to participating in the wellbeing of killer whales in the Pacific Northwest and around the world, and how research with our animals is vital in answering some of these questions about how to address the needs of the animals in the wild.”