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SeaWorld Doesn’t Need Shamu (and I Could Cut Back on a Few Things, Too)

Here at Gimme the Good Stuff, we like to think that by helping parents fill their homes with safe, natural, nontoxic products, we are helping to preserve the planet, too. After all, what’s better for your body is usually better for the planet (although there are weird exceptions to this–like recycled toilet paper, which contains BPA). Still, we always feel we should devote more blog posts to eco-conscious topics. In honor of Earth Day, we asked guest blogger Alison Relyea to share her experience at SeaWorld–which led her to make some environmentally-minded lifestyle changes.

Alison Cupp Relyea's Headshot
Written by Alison Relyea, Guest Blogger

On a Monday in early March, I found myself in SeaWorld, Orlando, contemplating environmental issues and animal rights while simultaneously marveling at sea life and riding kiddie rides alongside my three young children. My husband, Rich, and I had decided to make the most of an extra day in sunny Florida after a winter storm in the northeast ruined our Sunday night travel plans.

We considered going to Disney’s Animal Kingdom, but I wanted something a little more relaxed than a Disney park and remembered loving SeaWorld as a kid. I was torn because of the ethical issues surrounding SeaWorld’s treatment of animals. I hadn’t actually seen Blackfish, the documentary about SeaWorld’s orca whales, but I had read some research and statistics regarding their shortened life span and related health problems in captivity. I decided to go this one time and see for myself how I felt about the theme park and specifically Shamu, the park’s orca whale mascot.

The experience left me questioning not only SeaWorld’s ethics, but also my own lifestyle choices.

A Depressing Orca Show

We had a picture-perfect day at SeaWorld. The weather was warm and sunny, the rides were appropriate for all three of our kids, and the food was even pretty tasty, rare for a theme park. The true lowlight of the day was the orca whale show, called One Ocean. It was kind of boring at best, and hypocritical and disturbing at worst.

The Shamu show left me feeling depressed.

While the audience watches the whales jumping around at their trainers’ commands, a movie about ocean conservation plays on giant screens above the pools. As an audience member, this movie made me very aware that while SeaWorld may be a leading supporter of keeping the oceans healthy, these animals are not swimming in that beautiful, underwater world projected above them. They are in saltwater pools in central Florida, performing choreographed shows multiple times a day for an eager audience.

It seemed eerily unnatural, and I became convinced that Sea World would be better off without this whale show. For the past few years, the company has been trying to defend its practices and make slight changes to please animal rights activists when maybe they should try freeing Shamu and focus on preserving the oceans.

But It Wasn’t All Bad

SeaWorld actually surprised me with its philanthropic efforts in other areas. It has a lively and humorous show called Pets Ahoy that features cats, dogs, and other rescued pets who are seemingly living much better lives following their adoption by the park. It was adorable and my kids really connected to the animals and the mission, much more than with the orca show.

I left SeaWorld remembering that no company is perfect, just as no person is perfect. Individuals and companies do make choices, though, that impact the larger world. We each have some power to make a positive difference if we pay attention to these choices.

While I’ve never considered myself to be an aggressive environmentalist, I care deeply about the environment and want to take care of it for my children and all future generations. Sometimes that goal feels hopeless to me, as I see evidence of global warming, videos of plastic swirling in the oceans, and watch my own recycling bins fill up weekly, not confident that the paper and plastic will ever be repurposed once the truck takes them away.

Rather than get down about it, I remind myself that small steps can make a difference and it is not my responsibility to save the world, but to make it a little better. Just as SeaWorld might not need Shamu, surely there are things in my life that I do not need.

As parents, we think about making good food and health choices for the kids and for ourselves, but we don’t always think about making good choices for the health of the world around us.

What I’ve Pledged to Do

Not long after the trip to Florida, I found myself walking alone on a beach and thinking about the SeaWorld experience again. I grew up spending summers at the beach, and have always felt a strong connection to the ocean. It made sense that I take this rare quiet time with waves crashing in the background to brainstorm. If I think of ways to live a bit more mindfully, I can reduce how much we waste and teach my children about the importance of conservation. I decided to make a list of natural environments that are close to my heart, and for each one, find something I can do to be less wasteful in my everyday life. Here are some excerpts from my list:

  1. Stone Harbor, New Jersey: No more Ziploc bags for lunch snacks or sandwiches; use reusable fabric bags instead.
  2. Shelter Island, New York: Remember to bring the brown paper bags back to Whole Foods or Trader Joes each week.
  3. Chincoteague, Virginia: Stop using disposable coffee pods and switch to drip or reusable pods.
  4. Camden, Maine: Bring reusable produce bags to the store rather than using the plastic ones they supply.
  5. Kauai, Hawaii: Wipe up spills with cloth, not paper towels.
  6. Stoney Lake, Ontario: Shorter baths and showers for everyone in the house, and do not let water run unnecessarily.

The list is quite long, and surely I won’t be perfect every time, but the goal is improvement. Years ago, in the early days of online quizzes, I was drawn in by a tool that promised to calculate my global footprint. I was getting on a plane later that day to Rincon, Puerto Rico for a weekend with friends and one of the questions asked how many flights I take in a year. It left me feeling a little guilty and very aware of how much air travel had increased in my lifetime. At the time, I traveled a great deal more than I do now. I accepted almost every wedding invitation, often destination weddings. I visited friends in other cities, went to Europe on vacation, and ate out regularly. I don’t think I was overly wasteful, and the quiz judged me as slightly better than average, but I wasn’t going to great lengths to protect the environment, either.

Moms Can Be Environmentalists, Too

Now I have three kids. Flights are limited, as are dinners out, but five people in a house means a lot of groceries, laundry, and trash. As parents, we think about making good food and health choices for the kids and for ourselves, but we don’t always think about making good choices for the health of the world around us. Our children learn from what we model, and in their lifetime, some of the places that we’ve loved and treasured may be destroyed or changed forever. It is easy to point fingers at big companies, fast-food restaurants, the oil industry and places like SeaWorld for the damage they do to natural habitats, but we have to look at ourselves, too. While we might not be housing endangered aquatic species in our basements, surely we have some practices that could be changed for the better. It is time to start thinking bigger while taking small steps in the right direction.

About the Author

My name is Alison Cupp Relyea and I’m a 38-year-old, mother, teacher and former marketing professional now trying my hand at writing. I live with my three children and my husband in Rye, New York. After sixteen years in Manhattan, we left the city for the suburbs. I am currently taking a break from teaching elementary school to be home with my kids and explore some of my other interests. Writing has always been a passion of mine and part of my professional life, and now use it as a creative outlet to share my stories and connect with people. Writing helps me stay engaged, think critically, and find humor in the everyday moments life brings us. I hope you enjoy this piece and please check out my other work at alicupp.wordpress.com.



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