Vet Finds COVID-19 Risk at SeaWorld: PETA Tips Off Feds

Direct Contact With Visitors May Violate Federal Animal-Protection Law

For Immediate Release:
December 9, 2020

David Perle 202-483-7382

Orlando, Fla.

PETA has sent an urgent letter today asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to investigate SeaWorld for potential violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA), including coronavirus risks.

A veterinarian from the PETA Foundation who visited SeaWorld observed that visitors were permitted to touch dolphins during pool-side encounters, which involved the same dolphins multiple times each day, and that visitors were able to purchase food to feed seals and sea lions. The virus that causes COVID-19 is transmissible between humans and other species—which is a reason why the USDA has recognized that many species can contract the virus, and recent studies now show that whales, dolphins, and seals are “highly susceptible” to infection, which could cause life-threatening liver and lung damage. PETA believes that continuing these hands-on encounters amid an unprecedented pandemic may violate AWA health and safety regulations. The veterinarian also observed numerous people—including at least one tour guide—not wearing masks.

“By allowing visitors to crowd together to touch and feed marine mammals, SeaWorld is putting them at risk of contracting the virus that causes COVID-19,” says PETA Foundation Deputy General Counsel Jared Goodman. “PETA is calling on authorities to crack down on SeaWorld and protect the animals by stopping these reckless encounters.”

PETA’s complaint also notes other apparent violations of the AWA through the failure to handle and exhibit animals appropriately and prevent harm to them, including the following:

  • Two orcas exhibited dental trauma, a common and painful condition among captive orcas who gnaw on the sides and gates of their tanks.
  • Several dolphins, sea lions, and at least one orca had marks, including wounds or scars, on their bodies, likely from attacks by incompatible animals in their tanks.
  • Male orcas repeatedly ate, regurgitated, and re-ingested food, which can lead to chronic esophageal irritation and ulcers and is a common sign of psychological distress.
  • Two walruses swam repeatedly back and forth in their small tank, another sign of psychological distress.
  • One walrus exhibited apparent painful ocular disease, and other pinnipeds were frequently looking up into unnatural levels of sunlight for food tossed into their enclosures by trainers and visitors, conditions known to be linked to ocular damage in captive pinnipeds.

PETA—whose motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to use for entertainment”—opposes speciesism, which is a human-supremacist worldview that fosters violence toward other animals. For more information, please visit or follow the group on TwitterFacebook, or Instagram.

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