For the Conservation Curious

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Captivity a Cause for Concern? December 30, 2013

Filed under: Science — newdomino @ 1:10 PM
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I watched the documentary Black Fish over the weekend. It covers the story of Tillicum, an orca at Sea World, who has killed and maimed several of his trainers over the years. There are numerous former trainers interviewed in the film, showcasing the ignorance their supervisors/Sea World management kept them in by lying and hiding evidence, as well as putting the blame on the trainers, not the whale.

I went to Sea World Ohio once as a child. I remember enjoying the experience. After all, I love animals and majored in zoology in college. I volunteered at a zoo and wanted to be a zoo veterinarian. But after watching this movie I want Sea World and other water parks like it to go out of business. When you see how they capture orcas like Tillicum, separating them from their mother and family group at a very young age, you may feel sick to your stomach or cry. I certainly did. You may feel outrage particularly when you learn from an orca expert how closely bonded these family groups are and how the mothers will call out with long-range sonar to try and find these stolen calves.

It is upsetting to know that Tillicum is not an isolated case. Orcas are placed in small tanks with non-family members, who then may attack and harass them. They are traumatized and scarred; no wonder they may lash out at their trainers from frustration or boredom. It is a shame that people have lost limbs and lives from these majestic creatures all for the sake of entertainment. When will enough be enough?

I urge you to watch this film and think about the pros and cons of putting such intelligent and social creatures into captivity. While having orcas at these parks may increase public awareness and appreciation for the whales, as Sea World and others have argued, is it worth the trauma inflicted on the animals and the possible injuries and fatalities that can ensue? Can’t we instill that appreciation for orcas and other marine mammals by showing people films and tv programs that feature them in the wild where they belong? I think that can be as effective or even more so, as they show the animals how they should be (dorsal fins standing strongly upright, living harmoniously in large pods), rather than how they appear in captivity (floppy dorsal fins, scars from teeth rakes). It isn’t always a pleasant film to watch, but without a little discomfort, how can we be motivated to act?

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