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SeaWorld Claims "Blackfish" Is Misleading: Caging Orcas Okay

"Blackfish" shows clearly that killer whales are abused and suffer in captivity

In a previous essay called "Blackfish: “A Whale Has Eaten One of the Trainers” I wrote about an incredible documentary, "Blackfish", that shows clearly that orcas and other magnificent aquatic animal beings do not belong in captivity where they are trained to do stupid and unnatural tricks and used as breeding machines. "Blackfish" focuses on a notorious wild-born killer whale named Tilikum (AKA Tilly), whose name means “friend” in the Native American Chinook language, who killed three humans in captivity, including a well known whale trainer named Dawn Brancheau (his third victim) at SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida on February 24, 2010 (see also “Whales and people: Tilly is not to blame for this avoidable tragedy” and “Deaths at SeaWorld: Animals are Dying to Entertain In this SeaJail”, a review of Death at SeaWorld: Shamu and the Dark Side of Killer Whales in Captivity by David Kirby). 

Captive orcas "deeply transform" us, claims SeaWorld executive

Now, according to an essay in the New York Times titled "Seaworld’s Unusual Retort to a Critical Documentary" by Michael Cieply, it turns out that SeaWorld is fighting back and aggressively criticizing "Blackfish", calling it flawed and inaccurate, and accusing it of misrepresenting what SeaWorld is all about. People affiliated with SeaWorld claim that their captive residents are really just fine and content with their lives in tiny aquatic cages. Dr. Christopher Dold, SeaWorld’s vice president of veterinary services writing about killer whales, claims, “We’re deeply transformed by them ..." Further, "SeaWorld executives say that without access to the whales — which are now bred at the parks, rather than captured wild — humans would be denied a connection to large, intelligent animals with which many feel a bond." And after all, they note, only one trainer has been killed at their parks. One too many! And, as pointed out below, at least 43 orcas have died at SeaWorld in the past four decades. 

Gabrielle Cowperthwaite, who directed this wonderful documentary, notes, "she was very much a journalist in making 'Blackfish.' She said she initiated the project, shortly after Ms. Brancheau’s death, with an open mind. Only slowly, she said, did she conclude that orcas like Tilikum may be driven to aberrational — or, in the words of one of the film’s interviewees, 'psychotic' — behavior by their captivity". SeaWorld executives refused her attempts to interview them because 'they doubted the material would be used in good faith."

Living "the life of a pickle in a jar" in an "abusement park"

The comments that have been posted are very interesting. Here are three to whet your appetite.

From world-renowned activist and former trainer of Flipper, Ric O'Barry: "There is no record of an orca harming a human in the wild. How ironic that SeaWorld, Miami Seaquarium and the dolphin abusement park industry refer to them as 'killer whales'. Marine mammal scientists and others who know and understand these free-ranging social animals refer to them as orcas. There are many well documented incidents of 'killer whales' attacking and killing humans in captivity, but not in the wild. Why is this? I think it is because they become psychotic in captivity. 'Habitat dictates behavior' - that's a given in science. I trained the very first orca in captivity in the eastern United States. That was way back in 1968. Hugo was his name. The young orca was violently captured in Penn Cove, WA. Hugo would smash his head against the tank at the Miami Seaquarium where I was training him to become a circus clown. He died in his sub-standard tank of an aneurism. I realized back then that orcas do not belong in captivity. It was so obvious. That was a long time ago. At least 43 orcas have died at SeaWorld since then. How many more have to die before the government outlaws this failed experiment? And how many more killer whale trainers will be injured or killed before the public stops buying tickets for killer whale shows?"

From Lynne Z: "Any unbiased functional human brain can ascertain the absurdity of placing an approximately 12 thousand ton [I'm sure she means pound] marine mammal with the personal history of Tillikum in a concrete tiny prison cell. He has been forced to live the life of a pickle in a jar."

From Giveadamn: "If that what an advocate does, please remind me to avoid them at all cost. Taking the ocean's most intelligent creatures from their natural environments, putting them on display, and forcing them to do stupid pet tricks is not advocacy, it's cruel and the public should know what kind of exploitation they are supporting, when they visit these incarceration facilities of forced servitude for their enjoyment and viewing pleasure."

In my earlier essay I wrote, "SeaWorld is really a SeaJail and a whale mill and should be ashamed of how they keep highly sentient beings and for continuing to deceive an unknowing public about what they really do and why they do it. Simply put, SeaWorld heartlessly abuses amazing animals, forces them to perform stupid and unnatural tricks, forces them to breed, and doesn't allow them to retire, all in the name of money. They've been caught and fined before and let's hope that this careful scrutiny continues. Animals like Tilikum are severely mistreated and suffering, dying, and killing in the name of human greed and profit."

Please feel free to post comments to Mr. Cieply's essay and contact SeaWorld to let them know how you feel about keeping these magnificent animals in tiny cages.

 

Marc Bekoff, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

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