Before I get into it I want to say this; if you read one Blackfish related blog post or article in order to decide for yourself if captivity is cruel or not make sure it’s this brilliantly written response to a letter SeaWorld addressed to film critics in it’s defense. It’s written by David Kirby and it’s done so, so well and I know I won’t be able to do as good a job. Also, obviously; watch Blackfish.
My mom and I finally watched Blackfish tonight on CNN. And I can tell you that it was everything I expected and more. It was heartbreaking, sickening and often infuriating but first and foremost eye opening to a cruel, deceptive, and dangerous industry that cashes in on the enslavement of one of the most intelligent creatures on our planet. You may remember me blogging about this a little while ago, I think it was around the time that Blackfish was hitting theaters. I’ve always been very passionate about this issue and I’m so, so happy and thankful that this movie has been made and that it’s getting so much attention – it deserves it.
After watching I briefly tuned into the debate about it on Crossfire but came so close to exploding with disbelief and disgust at one of the former SeaWorld trainers speaking out in defense of their methods and Seaworld itself, that I had to turn it off. He very quickly shattered my naive hope that anyone who watched Blackfish could in no possible way deny that it’s wrong and cruel to keep orcas captive and force them to perform. There went that silly hope out the window, only a few minutes after it sprouted.
It got infuriating to the point of being un-watchable when he was confronted about the capture of wild baby orcas for captivity (they’re smaller and therefore easier and cheaper to transport), devastatingly separating them from their mothers in the process (who they naturally spend their entire lives with and share a bond possibly even closer than the ones between human mother and child). Grey Stafford responded by saying that virtually all of the whales in captivity now were born there, therefore not taken from their families in the wild, eliminating the need for continuing that cruel practice.
While it may be true that more than 80% of SeaWorld’s whales were born in captivity, it’s common place to force-ably separate baby orcas born in captivity from their mothers and send them to other marine parks – leaving both mother and baby in despair and heart shattering grief. They haven’t ended that cruel practice, they’ve only shifted it. Perhaps, when you actually consider the reality of things, it’s even worse this way because the heartbroken mother is not only already in the psychologically stressful and damaging, unnatural aquarium environment but she’s also lacking the rest of her family and pod to help and support her through her grief. Instead, at best, she has a few orcas she’s been thrown together into a concrete pool with, who she may not even genuinely get along with. And there she sits, screaming and calling out for her child, who she’ll never see again, not knowing where he’s gone, if he’s still alive, if he’s being hurt.
Grey Stafford never mentions any of that in his answer on the topic. Of course he doesn’t, it’s an inconvenient truth and it shines too much light on the horror of captivity in it’s entirety. Not only that but it’s a prime example of the lack of care and thought given to the well-being of these creatures, that we can’t even be bothered to keep them with their parents/children despite the enormous grief we know it’ll cause them if we don’t. We come first, our greed, our convenience, whatever the excuse may be.
And, what makes it worse about this man in my opinion, who said himself multiple times that he’d worked personally with whales for years and years, is just that; he worked with them firsthand in their tiny concrete prisons, teaching them unnatural circus type tricks, and still he doesn’t think they deserve to be free, seeing what he’s seen he would instead publicly speak out in favor of their confinement. How can that be possible?
Blackfish features many former Seaworld trainers speaking out against keeping orcas captive. I want to make sure that I say this about them: I don’t think they’re bad people because they worked for Seaworld, not at all. In fact when it comes to these particular people I feel quite the opposite – you can see the soul and the compassion in their eyes, you know they’ve been affected by what they’ve seen. They very genuinely seem to care for the orcas, and I commend them for appearing in the documentary because they offer an important insight into Seaworld’s practices and the daily lives of captive whales. They didn’t know what they were getting into and when they found out they had the conscience and the heart to realize it was wrong. And what a situation to be in for someone who empathizes and has grown close to and cared for these whales. What do you do? If you leave you’re no longer a part of caring for the creature and doing what you can to try to improve it’s life, but the whale is still there in it’s miserable reality, day after day.
I remember when I was little and I fell in love with the beauty and majesty of the killer whales. I dreamed of being a SeaWorld trainer too, of working with and being close to them, of even just visiting SeaWorld to see them. I, like millions of others didn’t know the sad, devastating reality and that’s because it’s always been so desperately covered up. It’s not malintent for the most part, it’s ignorance. Thank goodness they’re too far away and I never bought a ticket, and now I know better.
All the supposed (I say “supposed” because I’m taking their word for it) rehabilitation work Seaworld does and the money that they put towards animal welfare is constantly cited in order to defend them as an organization invested in marine life and it’s preservation above all else. But to me it’s like saying that it’s okay to go around handing out cancer and ruining lives if you also give vaguely educational speeches in high-schools about it and donate a tiny portion of your income to cancer relate charities and treatments. No, that’s not okay and it doesn’t make up for the awful things you’re doing.
The last point I want to make is this: arguments in defense of Seaworld often say that their shows create empathy and interest in the welfare of whales in it’s audience members that they never had before they came, and that Seaworld isn’t just about entertainment, they provide invaluable education about these animals as well. SeaWorld does very little to educate it’s audiences about the history of orcas or their natural lives and behaviors outside of captivity. They’re more interested in showcasing loud music, fire works and fancy tricks (despite the psychological stress it causes the whales and their inability to retreat from it, should it be too much for them to handle).
The “education” SeaWorld shows do provide is often spun or twisted in order to make captivity seem like this harmless thing that it most certainly isn’t. And, all those things aside, when did it become the whale’s job to sacrifice their lives, families, happiness and freedom for our sake? Even if it was to teach us about them, why should they have to be used by us in order to do it? What could possibly make us think we’re owed such a sacrifice by a creature that we’ve wronged so many times over?
And, though audiences may walk away feeling inspired and passionate about the whales or interested in them based on what they’ve seen, it’s been achieved under false, misguided pretenses and most importantly; it’s not doing the whales any good. If you want to see, learn about or feel connected to these magical creatures then go whale watching, read a book about them, or watch an interview with Ingrid Visser. Not only will you learn a lot more, you and the whales will be better for it.
I hope that very soon we’ll be able to look back on “that time when we kept orcas, dolphins and the like in captivity for entertainment” and shake our heads at the barbarity of it, but be grateful we’ve evolved past it.