Maximizing Utility: Sea World

Sophia Hartin – honorbound

Every single day people make decisions that impact their lives.  The ultimate goal of every person when making these decisions is to maximize their utility, a decision that they hope will make them better and happier in the long run.  Charles Wheelan, author of Naked Economics, claims that “Individuals act to make themselves as well off as possible.  To use the jargon of the profession, individuals seek to maximize their own utility, which is a similar concept to happiness, only broader”.[i] Although individuals constantly seek to maximize their utility, this concept is also applicable to larger companies and businesses such as Sea World.

In 2013 a documentary named Blackfish, which publically criticized the treatment of orcas at Sea World, was released.  Because of the controversy it created in society and the negative impact it had on Sea World’s income, Sea World was forced to make a decision that maximized its utility. If they decided to continue to keep the whales in captivity, many people would stop paying to attend and support Sea World therefore causing Sea World to lose profit.  In this situation Sea World would not benefit from the decision and would not maximize their utility.  The other option available to them was to listen to society’s complaints and take actions to fix their problem.  People were previously complaining that the orcas should not be kept in captivity because “SeaWorld confines orcas, who could swim up to 100 miles a day in the wild, to tanks that, to them, are the size of a bathtub”.[ii]  In the aquariums that Sea World provides for the orcas, they are not able to swim as far as they normally would in the wild causing their life expectancy to drastically decrease in captivity.  Sea World decided to choose the second option and listen to peoples complaints.  They began searching for a way to restore the popularity and wealth that they had before the documentary was released.  Although the cost to rebuild the orcas tanks would be expensive, the profit they would receive because of the change would be greater.  TakePart editor Taylor Hill reports that “SeaWorld, pummeled by a plummeting stock price and declining attendance, is pushing hard to get moving on a new tank plan for its San Diego Park that would change the way we see, and the way it treats, killer whales”.[iii]  This plan will create more space for the orcas and Sea World hopes it will help solve the controversial issue which surfaced three years ago.

This example of Sea World is a perfect representative of the fact that everybody acts in a way that will make them better off.  Although this may not always be the case for everyone, Sea World was able to maximize their own utility as well as fixing the problem that initially decreased their utility.  The ways in which society maximizes their utility may differ, but society shares a common goal: do whatever it takes to become as well off as possible.

[i] Charles Wheelan, Naked Economics Undressing The Dismal Science (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc, 2010, 6.

[ii] “8 Reasons Orcas Don’t Belong at SeaWorld,” PETA. June 15, 2016.

[iii] Taylor Hill, “SeaWorld’s New Killer Whale Plan: Bigger Tanks but the Shows Go On,” TakePart, June 15, 2016.


Image Citation:

Whitham, David G.  Sea World – Tilly. April 16, 2008.


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