“Blackfish” and why “Killer Whales” are not meant for captivity.

I know that this is a step away from my usual blog topic, but it’s about an issue that’s important to me, so I decided to write about it anyways.

Seaworld seems to be trying really hard to discredit Blackfish, (unsuccessfully, in my opinion) but for me, even if the documentary was made to falsely portray Seaworld in a harsher light (which I do not believe it does—there is no need to exaggerate what is already blatantly obvious), it still boils down to the fact that no matter your argument to the contrary: these amazing, intelligent, family-oriented creatures do not belong in captivity—performing tricks in pools not even a fraction of the size that they should be—for our amusement. It’s deplorable and shameful, and we should be able to evolve past it without kicking and screaming every step of the way.

I’ve even seen some people make the argument that an orca’s life expectancy increases in captivity (which is actually false), but even if it were true, what does that matter, when their quality of life is so poor? That’s like saying if you were held isolated in captivity, without a whole lot of room to move,—taken from everything you naturally need and want—yet measures were taken to keep you alive longer than the average person, that it would all be okay and you’d be better off. To me that’s a fate far worse than death. Plus, I should mention that in captivity an orca’s life expectancy has been shown to be, on average, less than half of what it would be in the wild, so that argument is invalid anyway.

Orcas are meant to travel huge distances (160 kilometers/100 miles each day) through an open ocean, with their families; hunting, playing, foraging, and socializing. They spend up to 90% of their time underwater. They aren’t mean to be kept in a shallow, concrete aquarium and forced to perform tricks. That should be all the truth that we need to decide not to support their enslavement. And it certainly isn’t just Seaworld, though, one could argue that they’re the most notorious.

The Miami Seaquarium have the orca Lolita all alone in a tank (since 1980) that’s been said to be so small it’s considered illegal (though the actual size is still disputed, it is the smallest whale tank in North America), still, nothing’s been done about it. She’s been there for over 40 years, after being taken from her family when she was only 4. She still remembers her family, and her family (including her mother) to this day is said to remember her. There are currently efforts being made to reunite Lolita with her family and free her from her concrete prison (under the Endangered Species Act). It’s a feasible option despite her long years in captivity. At best she could be fully reintegrated with them, but even if not she could live the rest of her life in retirement from isolation and forced performances, in an open sea-pen. I deeply hope this happens one day, and sooner rather than later. After all that’s been done to her at the hands of us humans I feel like it’s the very least that we could do for her.

I will never buy a ticket to any of these establishments. I hope, that after reading this neither will you. And, it’s not that I believe those that do or have are bad people. I think that more often than not it’s a lack of awareness and misinformation, not malice or ill intent. That’s why it’s so important to spread the word, and why I’m so grateful for the documentary Blackfish.

[1] Jeff Ventre, former senior trainer at SeaWorld in Orlando checks off the signs that captive orcas endure pain and hardship.

1. orca tooth decay and breakage (on steel gates)
2. retinal UV-damage from looking up at the sun (unclear impact)
3. forced social reorganization (wild orcas live in culturally distinct groups that stay together for life) leading to aggression and social strife in captivity
4. increased mortality and morbidity (decreased lifespan)
5. death of 4 humans from captive orcas
6. crippling of John Sillick (crushed), SW San Diego
7. death of Kanduke (1990) from possible mosquito (vector) transmitted viral encephalopathy (only possible from long hours of surface floating)
8. overuse of Tagamet (cimetidine) to decrease ulcers (from stress associated with captivity)
9. overuse of antibiotics leading to opportunistic (fungal) infections
10. collapsed dorsal fins from long hours of surface resting (boredom)
11. degrading and regular manual stimulation of Tilikum to extract sperm
12. the relative social isolation of Tilikum leading to pathological behaviors, including the most recent event
13. exploitation of trainers, who are injured, killed, and grossly underpaid
14. Confinement: Most of the Shamu Stadium pools are not as deep as Tilikum is long

Orcinus orca has suffered much to fulfill the whims of human entertainment. Learning how self-aware and intelligent they are is precisely why their confinement needs to end. Let’s evolve.

Source [1] http://www.orcanetwork.org/captivity/captivity.html

Tilikum (referenced above and the subject of Blackfish) is a long-captive orca (since ’83), mainly known by the public for his involvement in the deaths of three people in three separate incidents dating back to 1991. Tilikum was “trained” at SeaLand of the Pacific with the method of withholding food until he would comply with the unnatural requests to perform tricks. He was held in deplorable conditions with two female orcas who would regularly chase and harass him – being captive he could not escape as orcas in the open ocean do in such situations, forcing him to endure it (similar incidents have lead to the deaths of several orcas by their tank mates). This is how and where Tilikum spent his first 8 years of captivity.

I find it so sad that we’ve done this to such amazing, intelligent, sensitive creatures, and all for the sake of entertainment (of which we already have more than enough, that does not involve enslaving other animals). Circuses are no better. It all makes me sad and ashamed to be a human.

I really hope everyone watches Blackfish. It will open your eyes to something we all need to see.

2 thoughts on ““Blackfish” and why “Killer Whales” are not meant for captivity.

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