CNN produced and aired a documentary called "Blackfish" back in 2010. I did not see this film until this past week so I am a bit behind in responding to it. Nevertheless, I still wanted to write about it.
If you have not seen this film, it is currently available in Netflix for instant streaming or you can purchase it online.
Now, let me begin by saying that I am not that into "animal rights". I love animals. I have loved animals since I was a little kid. My first dream job was to be a vet. I used to pretend to be a dog and I would go around our house on my hands a knees and lap up my cereal on the floor. But, I'm not a member of PETA and I eat plenty of beef, pork, and poultry in my diet. I do not think I could ever be considered an animal advocate, which is why this post might seem a little strange coming from me.
In seventh grade, I attend a Sea World Adventure Camp at Sea World San Antonio. That was when I fell in love with sea lions. The orcas were cool, but sea lions were more my style. They were the dogs of the sea -- and dogs were always my favorite. For the next four years, all I wanted to be when I grew up was a sea lion trainer. I studied sea lions, participated in swim team, gave a speech in my speech/debate league about sea lions... I loved them. For my 14th birthday, my parents surprised me with a session to actually swim with a sea lion. It is quite possibly the best birthday present I have ever received. To this day, I still want to be a sea lion trainer, but a few years ago I decided to pursue other occupations.
Now, back to the documentary. The film made me feel extremely upset on behalf of the killer whales in captivity, specifically Tilikum -- the whale the film focused on. Tilikum is responsible for at least two deaths while in captivity. He's a frustrated whale and his frustration has many possible causes: he was captured from the wild and taken away from his family at two years of age, his first trainer punished him when he did not do tricks properly, the two whales Tilikum lived with in his first home would gain up on him and beat him up, his first home required him to spend more than half of his time in a small, dark habitat, even at Sea World his habitat was small and he continued to get beaten up... There were many reasons this 12,000 pound creature was frustrated.
Tilikum's not the only one. According to the documentary, there are around 300 recorded incidences of killer whales in captivity killing or injuring humans. In the wild, there are no recorded incidences of human deaths by killer whales.
The documentary tells most of Tilikum's story through the eyes of five retired Sea World trainers who had worked with Tilikum. They admitted that they were not told of Tilikum's killing past or any incidences of any orca's killing their trainers. They also believed that an orca had a life span of about 30 years because that was how long orcas live in captivity. Turns out, orcas can live more than twice that when in the wild. All five of the trainers came to the realization that whales are simply not made for captivity.
Again, I am not normally an animal rights activist. But, after watching the documentary, even if only half of it is truth, I am moved. I have been a Sea World fan for seven years and that is about how long I have wanted to be a sea lion trainer. Even after watching this film, I still want to train sea lions. But, my outlook on Sea World has changed. Is it as pure as everyone believes? Are they doing the whales a favor? Are they as environmentally friendly as they claim? Do they rescue as many animals as they say?
Sea World helps people feel more connected with marine animals. Sea World has probably helped millions of people turn anti-whale hunting and pro-conservation. But I feel that their message was built on a lie. Tilikum was captured from the wild where he would have lived a normal life with his family had he been left alone. Sea World has also separated mother whales from their babies. How is this a happy life for the family-oriented whales?
From this video, I am convinced that the whales are not satisfied in captivity and that the trainers are not safe. It pains me to think that I might not be able to go back to Sea World with a clean conscience -- or at all. I love Sea World, despite the documentary, for all of the wonderful memories I have at their park. But Blackfish is making me question Sea World's integrity and the morality of keeping killer whales -- or any marine life -- in captivity.
All images taken from the official Blackfish website: http://blackfishmovie.com/stills