Whale Frustration at SeaWorld Should Not Be Tolerated
|Animal Rights, Animal Testing, Environmental Issues
It is a crime for someone to steal a child away from his mother. That is called kidnapping. Our laws do not tolerate abuse towards people, be it a child or an adult. Humans frown upon any form of physical or mental abuse. Psychologists and psychiatrists are required to help human’s deal with these crimes bestowed upon them by other humans. Perpetrators of these offenses are punished with notable prison time to serve as a lesson to others who might be thinking of doing the same thing to others. These were the thoughts that came across my mind as I viewed the 2013 CNN documentary film “Blackfish”. By the end of the viewing, I found myself asking, “Why aren’t the humans who made Tilikum a murderer being punished for what they did to him? How can they be allowed to get away with the continued abuse of the sea creature? Why don’t they release him into the wild ocean where he can live the way he was meant to live?” It becomes more difficult to understand why the government cannot mandate the Orca’s freedom and punish SeaWorld for their active participation in animal abuse, constant violation of animal rights, and their complicit participation in the deaths of their employed trainers.
Let’s get one thing straight. SeaWorld is a zoo for marine life. They round up the whales, dolphins, sea otters, and other similar creatures in the guise of helping to keep the animal from becoming an endangered species. They are kept in captivity so that their behaviors can be studied and used to help preserve their species. At least that is what SeaWorld wants one to believe. However, the reaction of the animals caged in small pens tells us that this is not the case. The “research” is actually just for show so that they can put on a paid act, similar to that of caged wild animals in zoos. Therefore, people should not be surprised when the whales, like Tilikum, decide to act out and make pent up frustrations known to his human handlers.
In the movie, OSHA expert witness and whale researcher makes a good case for avoiding direct human contact with the whales; “That’s the crux of the OSHA case. Stay out of the proximity of the animals and you won’t get killed.” (Blackfish, 2013) Such is the similar case that animal rights advocates also make against the in their desire to shut down SeaWorld. The place is not a conducive place to hold marine life, either for research or entertainment purposes. Ken, Balcomb, founder of the Center for Whale Research explains that; “If SeaWorld didn’t exist, would our understanding of wild killer whales be significantly reduced? I think the answer to that is no, it would not…” Over the decades of existence of SeaWorld, they have not published more than a handful or research documents that hold a questionable validity in the eyes of the whale experts because of the method by which the information was collected, by observing captive whales.” Our technology has become so far advanced that keeping the whales in captivity for research is no longer an acceptable reason. These animals are best observed in their natural habitat, the wild ocean, where they are free to roam and act naturally, in the packs that the whales were born into.
If a simple lay person such as Whoopi Goldberg has the intellect to understand that as humans, we are not capable of understanding whale behavior and language because; “These are wild animals and they are unpredictable because we don’t speak whale…” (Blackfish, 2013), it should not be that difficult for the highly intelligent “marine biologists” and “researchers” as SeaWorld to understand that what they are doing is simply wrong because it endangers the life of the whale and the trainers, who cannot communicate on the same level. Just because the animal responds to the command does not mean that the animal is happy doing it. That’s why Tilly (as Tilikum is known to his freedom advocates), attacks humans in the first place. The whale is misunderstood. His signals, left unheeded because human’s don’t speak whale.
Howard Garret, an Orca researcher explained the problem with the method of SeaWorld of whale-napping, and separating the whales in cages, or forcing the various whales together in one cage, which is the foundation of the problem with “whale frustration”. The whales attack each other. They don’t understand each other. They can’t because, “They live in these big families… Adult offspring never leave their mothers side. Each community has a complex and different set of behaviors. Each has a complete set of vocalizations with no overlap. You can call them languages…” (Blackfish, 2013).
In other words, whales are social creatures just like humans. Just as humans look alike but speak different languages, understood only by people of their origin countries, the whales belong to packs, their version of countries. So throwing them together into a pen, when they cannot understand each other, is the equivalent of someone attacking a person over a language barrier / misunderstanding. This reason, is one of the most compelling reasons that one has to believe that whales should never be kept in captivity.
Whales are also highly physical creatures who can swim upwards of 100 miles a day. Swimming with their pack is what makes them happy. It completes their life. (whales.org, n.d.) Without the ability to swim, or keeping them locked in a 20 meter cage where they just float around until it is time to perform is cruel and unusual punishment. Think of it in terms of a human in a prison cell. That prisoner gets more moving space when let out for exercise, and that person is not even a fraction of the size of a killer whale. Human prisoners have prison riots just the same. I imagine that when a whale attacks a human, it is based upon the prison riot scenario. Even human’s need to get their pent-up frustrations of being captive out of their system. This is a scenario that came to mind as I read that according to John Hargrove, in an interview by Jerry Adler for his book “Beneath the Surface” the whales react to captivity in a manner that responds to their captivity. He wrote; “Confined to unnatural social groups for the convenience of their owners, bored and restless, forced to perform tricks for food that trainers withheld as punishment, they occasionally slipped, he writes, “into the dark side.””(qtd. In Adler)
In a way, it is wrong to keep whales in captivity at SeaWorld because these animals look for freedom and purpose in their lives. Just as any ordinary human would. Captivity, prevents them from living out their natural purpose for being. SeaWorld claims to be the largest rescue and rehabilitation program in the world as per information gleaned from the website Awesome Ocean. This is hard to believe because in the 1930’s SeaWorld was known for herding whales in the ocean and then taking the young ones from their mother (Blackfish, 2013). What reason did they have to rescue the young from their packs? Footage from the film indicates that if the whales needed to be rescued, it was at SeaWorld where they were viciously attacked by other whales, being scalped, sometimes during performances or, when the trainer unreasonably withheld food for a missed cue during a performance. Which was the main reason why Dawn Brancheau was attacked by Tilly during her fatal performance at SeaWorld.
Make no mistake about it, whales are highly intelligent creatures who carry grudges and remember that they were taken from their pack. Though they will submit to the human command, that is only because the poor animal is left without a choice. Either follow the command or go hungry. As a human, as yourself if you would not take a chance to get even with your abuser if a chance presented itself. While Tilly may have been at fault for the death of multiple trainers and could be considered wild and untrainable, one should first consider the circumstances of his life before SeaWorld, at SeaWorld, and then, as a trained whale for human entertainment. That is no kind of life to live.
It is difficult to defend the stand that SeaWorld is doing what they are doing for scientific purposes and it is even more difficult to swallow that the whales were at fault for what happened to the SeaWorld trainers over time. When captivity is present, psychological effects are numerous and hard to overcome. The rage of the animal is understandable, just as it is in a human. That is why it is hard to buy the story of SeaWorld that they are doing the whales a favor by keeping them in captivity. As famed whale researcher Howard Garret said, in reference to the Steven Spielberg movie “Orca”; “There has been no record of a whale killing a human in the wild.” (Blackfish 2013). In fact, the whales in the wild are described by those who have seen them as friendly and happy. Not threatening at all. It is humans and their treatment of the whales that make them murderous, grudge holding creatures. It is for these reasons that whales should not be kept in captivity. Not in SeaWorld or any other place. Not for research or entertainment. The animals should be allowed to live their lives in wild and free abandon, just as nature intended for them to do so.
- Adler, Jerry. “Why Killer Whales Belong in the Ocean, Not SeaWorld”. Smithsonian.com. ocean-not-seaworld-180954333. Accessed 19 April 2017.
- Blackfish. Directed By Gabriela Cowperthwaite. Performances By Tilikum, Dave Duffus. Manny O Productions. 2013.
- Raja, Tasneem. “SeaWorld Says It Has To Keep Orcas in Captivity to Save Them”. motherjones.com, http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2014/12/seaworld-killer-whale-orca-science-blackfish. Accessed 16 April 2017.
- N.A. “End Captivity”. WDC. Accessed 17 April 2017.
- N.A. “Why Condemning SeaWorld Is A Really Bad Idea”. Awesome Ocean. http://awesomeocean.com/2014/12/04/four-reasons-condemning-seaworld-really-bad-idea. Accessed 18 April 2017.