SeaWorld Orcas Drugged with Valium

Not an uncommon practice

Apr 4, 2014
Outside Magazine

Killer whale (Orcinus orca) opens mouth and waits for fish    Getty Images/iStockphoto

SeaWorld's ongoing legal fiasco continues as court documents surfaced reporting the use of Valium and other tranquilizers on killer whales.

According to Discovery News, the drug was most recently given to a 4,000-pound male orca named Ikaika in 2006 at SeaWorld San Diego. The Orca Project reports that "Ikaika has a history of aggression, often of a sexual nature, which began with an attempt to breed a young calf at SeaWorld … SeaWorld's veterinarians then sedated Ikaika twice daily with Valium to 'try to mellow him out.'" Ikaika's father is Tilikum, the orca responsible for the death of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau.

As a member of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums, SeaWorld needs only to obtain a Drug Enforcement Administration certificate under the Federal Controlled Substance Act to administer benzodiazepine drugs. It's a common practice, and not just on killer whales. Proponents argue that using such tranquilizers to calm animals' nerves helps to prevent stress-induced heart attacks or unnecessary injury due to thrashing and aggressive behavior, keeping vets and trainers safe in the process.

But with regard to Ikaika, David Koontz of SeaWorld San Diego denied the claim, stating, "None of the killer whales [orcas] at SeaWorld San Diego are on these medications."

Animal rights group PETA presents the opposing argument. In a recent statement, PETA's president explained, “SeaWorld is in … hot water since Blackfish showed the mental anguish of orcas taken from the great oceans and trapped for eternity in SeaWorld's swimming pools—and now court documents have revealed that SeaWorld also pumps these marine slaves full of psychotropic drugs in order to force them to perform stupid tricks."

The California State Assembly votes next week on a bill proposed by Assemblyman Richard Bloom to end orca shows at SeaWorld San Diego, as well as to end the breeding of orcas in the state and require the release of any of the animals capable of surviving in the wild.

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