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Are sea pens or SeaWorld tanks better for captive killer whales?

During a night performance in 2014, trainers direct killer whales at Shamu Stadium in SeaWorld San Diego in California. The captive orcas are at the center of an animal welfare debate.
During a night performance in 2014, trainers direct killer whales at Shamu Stadium in SeaWorld San Diego in California. The captive orcas are at the center of an animal welfare debate. Don Bartletti/Los Angeles Times/TNS

The killer whales at SeaWorld SanDiego in California will probably never live in the wild.

A documentary movie was made about the killer whales in 2013. It says SeaWorld mistreats its orcas. Killer whales are also called orcas. People who want to help animals are angry. They ask that the theme park free its 11 killer whales.

Still, scientists say that the orcas may never be set free.

The closest they would get is pens in the ocean. The pens would be separated from open water. Netting would keep the orcas from swimming away. The killer whales would be fed and cared for by people.

SeaWorld Says Orcas Safer In Parks

SeaWorld's killer whales may never even move to sea pens. SeaWorld wants to keep its orcas. It says they are safer living in the parks.

After the documentary, SeaWorld San Diego came up with a plan. The plan was to make their killer whale tanks larger. California's leaders accepted the plan. The leaders also want SeaWorld to stop breeding killer whales. SeaWorld would also have to stop moving orcas in and out of the park.

SeaWorld said no to that. It will not build the larger tanks yet. SeaWorld is fighting to end the no-breeding rule.

Unhappy Ending

A famous orca was once released to a sea pen. His name was Keiko. He was the killer whale whose story was told in the movie “Free Willy."

Keiko was captured off Iceland in 1979. He was trained to perform at theme parks. He performed at a theme park in Mexico for several years. Then he was moved to a sea pen in Iceland. 

During a short swim outside of the pen, Keiko swam away. He was followed by people on a ship. He was found in Norway. There, he was playing around with children and fisherman along the shore. Keiko got sick and died a few months later.

Do Sea Pens Work?

Mark Simmons was once a SeaWorld trainer. He was hired to help with Keiko in Iceland. He said that this showed that sea pens are not a safe place for whales.

Some animal rights groups say lessons were learned from Keiko. They say we can figure out how to help orcas live outside of tanks.

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Anchor 3: People, Events & Ideas

Why did Keiko the killer whale die?


He was being mistreated at SeaWorld.


He swam outside of his pen and then died of old age.


After he escaped from his pen, Keiko was hunted by a fisherman.


Someone let him swim outside his pen, and then he got very sick.

Anchor 3: People, Events & Ideas

What did SeaWorld say it would do to help the killer whales?


build larger tanks


stop breeding killer whales


free killer whales from tanks to sea pens


stop moving killer whales in and out of the park

Anchor 6: Point of View/Purpose

What is SeaWorld's point of view about killer whales?


It wants to release killer whales into the wild.


It thinks killer whales can live safely in sea pens.


It wants to keep killer whales in tanks at theme parks.


It wants to stop breeding killer whales so it has room for its orcas

Anchor 6: Point of View/Purpose

According to the article, what do people who are upset at SeaWorld think?


SeaWorld should keep the killer whales, because the sea pens do not work.


SeaWorld does not treat the killer whales well and should release them to safe sea pens.


California's leaders should shut down SeaWorld because what it is doing is illegal.


SeaWorld should breed its own killer whales for the shows, so it doesn't steal them from the oceans.


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