Seaworld San Diego In Perfect Weather, But…

We’re regular visitors to SeaWorld San Diego and have gone about a dozen times since my oldest was born. This time when I proposed it as a day of adventure while we were in town, I was surprised to get some pushback from A-, my 17yo. She had been hearing about a documentary called Blackfish that purports to expose the ill treatment of orcas in the SeaWorld parks worldwide and didn’t want to support the organization. We talked about it (though didn’t watch the film), I agreed that her concerns were valid, and pointed out that just like zoos, if we just left every animal in the wild, we’d only ever experience photos and video of them, not the entirely different experience of seeing them in person. I also pointed out that SeaWorld does a ton of ocean conservation and animal rescue work too.

I suggested that we ask the SeaWorld team about the documentary to learn from their response. Here’s what I sent:

I wanted to check in with you about something: My 17yo daughter watched the film “Blackfish” and is now having second thoughts about joining us at Seaworld. My question to you: Is it alarmist, or is there some truth to the film, and if so, what’s Seaworld doing to rectify the situation with the Orcas and other animals?

Frankly I wasn’t sure how that would be received, but felt that candor was the better part of valor and, of course, wanted to honor and respect my daughter’s opinions.

Here’s their thoughtful response:

Thank you for your email. We appreciate you sharing yours and your daughter’s concern with us. While billed as a documentary, the film Blackfish is really an advocacy piece. Instead of a fair and balanced treatment of a complex subject, the film is inaccurate and misleading and, regrettably, exploits the death of a trainer at SeaWorld Orlando more than four years ago.

To promote its bias that killer whales should not be maintained in a zoological setting, the film paints a distorted picture that withholds from viewers key facts about SeaWorld — among them, that we are one of the world’s most respected zoological institutions. There is no organization more passionately committed to the physical, mental and social care and well-being of all its animals, including killer whales, than SeaWorld. We currently have a website: that addresses our concerns with the film.

We also have series of videos at: These videos speak to the passion our people have for our animals. The videos are unscripted comments by members of our zoological staffs from all three of our SeaWorld parks, as well as others from other organizations, that speak to the commitment we have for all animals.

Here are a number of other non-SeaWorld affiliated online posts and videos that address various elements of Blackfish, as well as question the filmmakers’ intent, that you might be interested in reviewing:

Thanks again for contacting us. I hope this email and the information included in the various links helps give you and your daughter a better understanding of the commitment to care that we have for all of our animals. The real advocates for animals are the trainers, aviculturists, animal-care staff and veterinarians at SeaWorld.


Dave Koontz
SeaWorld San Diego

We explored the various content and afterwards A- agreed, somewhat grudgingly, to join us at SeaWorld and see how it went. I told her that if she really felt strongly about it while we were there, it was fine if we skipped the Shamu show and that I was proud both of her speaking up for her personal beliefs and having the presence of mind to do further research and learn that there are reasons to believe that Blackfish might not be a fair and accurate portrayal of the situation and is really more of an advocacy piece than a “documentary”.

It was with some sort of inevitability then that when we finally got down to San Diego and checked in at the gorgeous Kona Kai resort that G-, my 14yo son, was feeling poorly again and had very low energy. Miso soup helped a bit, and we finally got everything together for our day at SeaWorld.


After so much effort, we arrived and found the park positively mobbed on the Saturday of Easter weekend. So much so that we ended up parking in the dirt lot far, far away from the main gates. Good excuse for a walk, right?

When we arrived at the gates, we found they’d done a great job of decorating for the 50th Anniversary celebration, including completely redoing the entry area just after you go through the ticket gates, as you can see:

entry with 50th anniversary decorations, seaworld sandiego

We were more interested in the new Manta coaster and the various animal shows, so we zipped straight to where we could figure out all the show times and plan our afternoon. Which worked out great because we realized that we had time to start with a ride on the Bayside Skyride, a favorite.

For the first time K- (10yo) was tall enough that she counted as an adult, meaning that all four of us couldn’t be in the same car. That was a drag and when I suggested that the three kids be in one car and I’d just relax in a car to myself, they didn’t like that configuration so G- ended up joining me, though not with unabashed zeal 🙂

The Bayside Skyride offers a great view over the park and, especially, of the Cirque de la Mer stage, though in all the times we’ve been at the park we’ve never actually managed to see that particular show:

bayside skyride at san diego seaworld

Another reason I like it is that it’s reminiscent of a skyride attraction that used to be at Disneyland, connecting Tomorrowland and Fantasyland. That too offered a great view of the park but my suspicion is that because it traveled over pedestrian areas, Disney probably got tired of people dropping things over the side. Ah, humanity.

From there we decided to go to the One Ocean show, featuring the Orcas. For something different, we sat in the “splash zone”, though at the very back row of that section.

What’s the splash zone? The area where people get wet from the killer whales jumping and splashing them. It was quite amusing how people were really, really into that aspect, but given that it was a hot afternoon, a bit of a splash would feel good so it wasn’t too surprising.

Here’s one of the orcas pushing water our way:

orca / killer whale splash

We didn’t feel a drop, alas, but still enjoyed the show, though unlike the last time we’d seen it, this time there were no trainers in the water with the orcas, a change they had to make based on some legal decisions subsequent to a trainer being killed in a terrible accident a while back.

Since I like to just watch how the animals have been trained to react with specific behaviors, having the trainers on the edge of the pool was actually better, and since my mental image of most of these trainable animals are that they’re “kinda like dogs”, seeing them do tricks, jump, flip, and splash us humans was no different than a dog that knows how to sit and fetch a stick. Your perspective may vary.

Once that show was done we hustled across the park to go to the Manta ride, an amazing new roller coaster that was under construction the last time we were at the park. G- was feeling a bit queasy but he was determined to go on the ride, and me? You already know if you’re a faithful reader that roller coasters and I don’t get along well, so I was always planning on skipping it.

I did get this great photo while the kids were in line, however:

manta roller coaster ride at san diego seaworld park

Unfortunately 20min into them standing in line the ride was shut down. So disappointing, and the same thing that happened to them with the Matterhorn when we were at Disneyland a few days prior. These things happen, but a drag nonetheless.

We went through the park to get to an absolute family favorite, the Pets Rule show, featuring stray cats and dogs that they’ve adopted and trained. Hilarious and quite impressive, always an inspiration for what we could train our pets to do if, well, we were insanely dedicated to them doing weird and amusing tricks 🙂

There’s a great play area (that the kids shunned because it was so busy) and arcade that caught their attention, as you can see:

children shooting hoops in the arcade, seaworld

Even with all three of them triple-teaming the game, however, their score wasn’t that marvelous. So it goes. 🙂

When the Pets Rule show was over everyone was running low on energy, A- was complaining she wasn’t feeling 100% and G-, well, his stomach ache had returned even as I tried my best to encourage him to eat healthy foods. So we left a bit early and went out for some delicious sushi near our hotel.

We definitely enjoyed our day at SeaWorld San Diego but while I applaud my daughter’s growing awareness of the complexity of our world and her concern with the welfare of the animals at SeaWorld, I also realize that it cast a pall over our visit, which combined with G- feeling poorly the entire time to make it a less than stellar experience.

And as every parent knows, that’s part of life too. The best laid plans, and all that.

In fact, I think this trip was one of the most frustrating I’ve experienced with my children, and much of it was me having to remember how to let go and be present in the moment, not constantly pushing for us to meet our schedule.

And so it goes…

Disclaimer: My thanks to SeaWorld San Diego both for the park tickets and for their candor with me regarding my daughter’s questions about animal welfare. In that same spirit, I have opted to be completely candid with you, my reader, about the entirety of our experience.

7 comments on “Seaworld San Diego In Perfect Weather, But…

    • I congratulate you upon trying to research further about Blackfish and respecting your daughter’s wish.

      But did you honestly believe Sea World will answer you with all objective truths about their mistreatment of their “assets”? The moment you paid that ticket price to go through their doors, whether you knew or not, you have already agreed with them. Dave Koontz have liaise for Sea World in many years and is a current employer there. I can happily paste some objective sources with him it it for you. But I urge you to go and dig for yourself, find your own sources and then conclude whether you have been misinformed or not.

      Thank you.

  1. Wow, way to sway your daughter! Let’s ask SeaWorld but not watch the documentary nor consult with marine mammal scientists on the subject, or any independent science at all. Talk about projecting your own agenda onto your daughter. A responsible parent would have given her ALL the information that is available and then allowed her to come to her own conclusion.

    • You are, of course, entitled to your opinion, Jane. I see it differently. ‘nuf said.

    • Actually Jane, speaking as the daughter, that was not at all what happened. I’m old enough that I can make decisions for myself, and my dad would have supported me regardless of what that decision was. I had been talking with a few of my friends about the documentary Blackfish, and after one of them said it gave her nightmares, I opted not to watch it. Instead, I spent an afternoon watching YouTube video clips and reading articles back dated several years. I feel fairly well informed on the subject, despite not having seen the film itself. I do not support SeaWorld, and do not plan on attending again. I chose to go because of my family. So my “responsible parent”, as you so eloquently put it, left the decision fully up to me. Thank you for commenting, but as you don’t know anything about the situation, perhaps next time you might want to learn more about what you’re posting before you actually do so.

  2. Ashley-
    I applaud you for researching online about SeaWorld. You don’t have to believe Blackfish or SeaWorld- you appear to be a smart enough girl to do your own research. Point blank- Blackfish is a great documentary & is NOT one sided as SeaWorld claims it to be. Seriously- if it were filled with all the lies they claim don’t you think SeaWorld would sue them? In addition, are you aware that Gabriella of Blackfish has requested an open debate with SeaWorld several times & they have rejected?
    There is so much more to this than just Blackfish- I encourage you to continue your research. Here is a great video to show you how SeaWorld got their orcas (killer whales)-
    You can also watch A Fall From Freedom, and of course Blackfish.
    To go one step further- are you aware of the dolphin slaughters & captive trade that happens every year in Taiji, Japan? It is brutal & there is a documentary called The Cove about it. Well SeaWorld supports these drive hunts in which dolphin families are ripped apart- mothers slaughtered brutally & any babies are dumped back to sea to die. There was a megapod last year of 250 Bottlenose dolphins captured- a majority were killed after they chose several for captivity. One of the captives was an albino baby dolphin who was ripped from her mum & her mum was killed. This goes on & on and there is no truth to what SeaWorld says. Of course- you don’t know me either so please research this & share.
    For me personally I am against captivity. I am against stealing our cetaceans from the ocean, their family & forcing them to live in a small tank for human entertainment. There is zero educational value that SeaWorld or any other Sea Circus offers.

    • Oh, please. Do you do any research of your own, “T”, or just regurgitate what activists tell you? Seaworld hasn’t brought a wild dolphin into any of its parks since the early 1990s because it has enough now to maintain its population through captive dolphin births and from rescuing distressed animals as part of its conservation efforts.

      If you want to argue that animals shouldn’t be kept in captivity at all, that’s a different story, but don’t just paint the company as the ultimate evil because they’re not and it just dilutes your argument.

      And if you do believe that no animals should be in captivity, what about domesticated animals like cats and dogs? Ferrets, rabbits, birds, etc. I trust you have no pets at all…

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