Well... Just a few short days ago the highly controversial documentary known as Blackfish aired on CNN. Of course the show drew incredible ratings for CNN and could wind up to be a nightmare for Sea World. I watched the documentary and after thinking of an opinion on it for a while I finally came to a conclusion that I can actually type up. First the show itself though.
Blackfish is a documentary that largely focuses on the death of Sea World trainer Dawn Brancheau by an orca named Tilikum in 2010. The film also gave a history of attacks committed by orcas on humans in captivity while mentioning multiple times that there are no known attacks by orcas on humans in the wild. There was also the sad history of Tilikum. From being separated from his family, to being abused by tank mates, to being forced into a dark shed with those same tank mates that was too small for one orca let alone three. The sadness of Tilikum's story continued as he was moved to Sea World and sustained even more abuse by tank mates and has been isolated for the majority of his life. It's easy to see how that situation would probably drive a human insane. In fact, history has shown us what isolating and abusing people can do to their mentality. Well look at an orca whose brain is larger than ours. These animals have intelligence that we cannot even begin to truly understand, but that is for another day.
Overall I found the documentary to be pretty stunning and really used emotion to get to viewers. However, the first thing I'd like to point out is just how little was said as to what Sea World actually does for wild animals. Believe it or not, Sea World is responsible for a large number of animals who are rehabbed and released back into the wild every year. There was no mention of this though. That's about as far as I'm going to go as far as standing up for Sea World in this particular story. After all, Sea World's side of the story was not presented in Blackfish which lead to a very one sided documentary. It doesn't help Sea World's case though that employees were filmed blatantly giving out wrong information regarding orcas. From personal experience I can say that misinformation coming from employees regarding animals can really make a place look like they don't know what they're doing. Anyway I digress. Sea World was apparently asked to be a part of the film, but they rejected the offer. I don't know how valid that is or how much the blackfish team tried to get Sea World to work on the film.
So we come to the grand question. Do orcas belong in captivity? In my honest opinion, and that's all it is, my opinion, orcas no longer need to be in captivity. We are not able to replicate their natural habitat. They are smart enough to know the difference between being in the ocean and being in a tank (those who were caught from the wild at least). The social capacity of these animals are also a big reason that these animals shouldn't be kept in captivity. The proof of this can be found in Tilikum's story. Right from the beginning he was beaten by his tank mates. Much like many other animals, even some primates, a group of orcas are not all that keen on a new orca being added to the group. Especially in groups where there is an established social hierarchy. To this day, Tilikum is largely isolated from his tank mates, but sadly this is wrongly due to the fact that he is an aggressive animal. Another rather concerning fact is that orcas are breeding in captivity. At first it looks like a good thing because that means less orcas being taken out of the wild, but many orcas all have the same father... Tilikum. The genetic variations in these young orcas is not going to be healthy enough to sustain orcas in captivity for an extended period of time. There are species survival programs (such as the one for African Penguins) that are actually doing exactly what they are supposed to do. Keep the gene pool diverse enough to replace a wild population should something catastrophic happen to it. The final fact that I want to point out is that films like Free Willy have infatuated the world with orcas. People know of them, think they're cute, and care about them. The interest is there for them, but sadly places that have these animals (not just Sea World) tend to not really say much in the way of their natural histories at all during their shows. So in my opinion they're not even there for educational reasons, which to me is a big issue.
So should we stick them all on a boat and dump them all in the ocean? As nice as that sounds, I just don't think it is a feasible option. There are a few reasons I feel this way. First of all, many of the orcas in captivity now are children to Tilikum, which means they've never seen the ocean and would not have a pod to call their own. All these animals have ever known is humans and their tanks. They don't know what is in the ocean. That's not to say they couldn't survive in the wild though. These animals are smart enough to get the job done, but I feel like dumping them into the ocean would be the equivalent of dropping a millionaire into a forest with absolutely nothing. Chances are that one be one lost human who would have to go through an incredible Hell to survive. Then there is the bonds that these animals may have with their trainers. There is a possibility that these animals create bonds with their trainers. There is no proof of it, but they are smart enough to bond with their trainers as we are smart enough to bond with them. For an animal like Tilikum, being taken away from family had to be totally devastating. The bonds he had since birth severed. If he were to be released again, there is that chance that he would once again have to go through having bonds severed. That'd be like a child being kidnapped into a family and then later in life being put out on the street.
It's a really touchy subject that I just don't see an easy way of solving. In my opinion the easiest way to go about eliminating orcas from captivity is actually simple. Stop breeding them. Stop catching them from the wild. If a slow reintroduction to the wild is feasible somehow than that could be done with the younger ones or entire groups that could form a pod, do it. I don't know if there is a feasible way of doing that though as I don't know anything about that stuff, so I'm not going to propose anything and stick with the idea that there is no way to do it until it's proven otherwise. Basically, the population would die out over time, effectively ending orcas in captivity. This would also give Sea World and other facilities enough time educate people about these animals and possibly become advocates for these animals in the wild, moreso than they are now.
Well that's how I feel about the issue. I'd love to see an end to orcas in captivity, but sadly I don't see a way of doing it that wouldn't put the animals mental health at risk. That is my greatest concern. If there is a way of doing it, then I am all for it, but it has to be foolproof. It wouldn't be fair to the animal to be released and literally stress to death. Now for some notes!
I do not hate Sea World as a result of Blackfish.
I do not think Sea World is evil.
I do not think all animals in captivity should be freed for reasons that I am not going into right now.
I do think Sea World does a lot of good for marine mammals through rehabilitation.
Due to their mental capacity, I do not support any form of dolphin or whale being brought into captivity by taking them out of the wild.
Now that Blackfish has aired, it will be interesting to see what, if anything, will come out on Sea World's end other than the statements that have already come out which can be found easily on google by simply typing Sea World response to Blackfish. Actually I'll do it for you...http://lmgtfy.com/?q=Sea+World+response+to+Blackfish
This is the last I'm going to be saying about the film. Barring any comments of course, but this will be the only blog to focus on Blackfish. My next blog will most likely be back to sharks. For now though... Sea Shepherd's Operation Relentless (10th Antarctic Whale Campaign) is getting ready to launch...