My blog has been a bit neglected lately, because I have been busy with a new job and studying for my impending exams. However, last night, I watched a documentary that I am very compelled to share. It is called Blackfish. It recently aired in the United States on CNN and it has drawn a lot of attention, because it highlights the horrific treatment of the killer whales that are kept captive in SeaWorld parks. On the outset, I want to admit that I have actually visited SeaWorld in Orlando as a young child and seen the killer whales – so, it could be argued that I have personally supported this atrocity. But I did not know any better at the time. I sat in the ‘Splash Zone’. I bought the biggest Shamu stuffed toy in the store. As I have grown older, I have become more aware of the mistreatment of animals for entertainment around the world. And, having now seen Blackfish, there is no way I will ever set foot in a SeaWorld park again. I urge everyone to watch it. Here is the trailer.
If Year 11 English taught me anything, it was to be sceptical about documentaries and to be aware of their biases. Admittedly, Blackfish does little to present the ‘pro-capture’ side of the story (which was not helped by the fact that SeaWorld declined to be interviewed). But the facts are the facts – and Blackfish presents them clearly. Killer whales are incredibly beautiful, intelligent and emotional animals. They simply do not deserve to be ripped away from their families and kept in restrictive concrete pools for the entertainment of humans. Learning of the horrific manner in which the initial killer whales were captured from the wild in the 1970s was particularly disturbing for me. This involved using aircraft to bomb the water and herd the whales into an area from which the smallest whales could be captured. More can be read about this here.
Since Blackfish aired, SeaWorld has since released a statement and interview to CNN, with its main defence appearing to be the fact that it contributes to conservation. I decided to have a look into this more for myself. SeaWorld Entertainment (which owns the three SeaWorld parks in the United States and nine other parks) raked in $1.4 billion in revenue last year, with $77 million in net profit. It started trading on the New York Stock Exchange earlier this year, so the push for profit is presumably stronger than ever. In a press release earlier this month, the company stated that its non-profit fund, the SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund, gave away a total of $1.2 million in grants to ninety-three different wildlife projects this year. This is SeaWorld’s primary conservation initiative. I know that anything is better than nothing, but this amount (which averages out to only around $13,000 per project) just does not seem anywhere near adequate to compensate for the fact that this company exploits the well-being of its animals as a money-making machine. To be fair, SeaWorld does engage itself directly in wildlife rescues, but it does very little to assist whales. In fact, SeaWorld noted on its site that, in 2011, it rescued and cared for beached pilot whales in Florida and provided ‘a permanent home’ for two survivors – clearly indicating that SeaWorld is still interested in capturing whales from the wild.
Furthermore, in its statement to CNN, SeaWorld claims that one of its main aims in keeping captive killer whales is education, as its visitors are provided with a ‘personal, enriching and inspirational’ experience. Sure, seeing the killer whales in real life was very awe-inspiring for me, but at what cost? In Blackfish, former SeaWorld trainers said that they had to tell inaccurate information to park guests to downplay the negative effect captivity has on the animals – such as their much shorter lifespan. I also question how much patrons can truly learn about a wild animal when it is performing unnatural tricks in a highly artificial environment. It just seems so superficial.
Regardless of how valuable SeaWorld’s education, research and conservation efforts may be deemed to be, I truly do not understand how anyone can use this as a defence to counteract the way in which it mistreats its animals. Under what logic does doing a little bit of good outweigh a whole lot of evil? What makes it worse is that the public relations nonsense is constantly fed to the public to keep them coming through the turnstiles. You do not have to be a biologist or neuroscientist to know that keeping animals in captivity is bad, but the depth to which it damages and arguably destroys them is so often covered up. SeaWorld is certainly not alone in doing this. This is something that occurs worldwide at zoos, marine parks, circuses and other such venues.
I am just so glad that Blackfish is bringing this issue to the forefront of many people’s minds, including my own, because this is something that has to stop. It is disgusting and cruel behaviour on the part of corporations like SeaWorld – something of which I never want to inadvertently support again.