The Consequences of a Life Spent in Captivity Exposed by Blackfish
America’s love of entertainment has led us to controversial business practices in the name of profit, as shown in the documentary, Blackfish, which explores the life of Tillikum and considers the consequences of a life spent in captivity. To gain insight about the raw state of affairs, as touched upon in Part I of this series, let’s consider the family life of our mammalian cousin.
Throughout our adolescent years we look to our parents for guidance and our minds are full of happy daydreams and constant learning. Being mammals, we possess a desire for nurture and require an extended childhood where our elders and peers teach us how to succeed in the world. Like humans, killer whales are highly intelligent, long-lived mammals requiring an extensive upbringing. Their lengthy gestation period of sixteen to eighteen months is evidence to their intelligence as they possess the second largest brain out of any mammal in the world. This large brain develops their advanced capability for language, culture and complex relationships according to Orca Spirit.
The correlation between orca culture and our own human familial culture is undeniable so can we deny that they feel pain when their young are stolen from them? Diver, John Crowe, took part in the capture of Tilikum in 1976 and details his experience with Blackfish producers. His crew cornered the pod and as they “picked out the little ones”, the distressed pod remained close. That is when Crowe said he realized what he was really doing. He began crying and as he continued to work, he knew he was kidnapping a little kid from his family. How do you think baby Tilikum felt after being taken from his family? Treading water alone in a bathtub at night and performing as a spectacle for peering faces day after day doesn’t seem ideal. Should we blame Tilikum for his psychosis?
To understand how orcas in captivity fare compared to those in the wild, let’s turn to an article by Natural World News. Recently, a healthy 103 year old whale was spotted off the coast of British Columbia swimming with a pod of her children, grandchildren and great children. This gives evidence to orcas’ ability to thrive in the wild and is a direct objection to the statistics offered at Seaworld. Marine park officials claim that female whales live to 30 years and males to a mere 17 years which is a disparity with most scientific journals who estimate that life expectancy is between 60 and 80 years. When considering that the whales in captivity live an average of 8 years, we must question whether there is an aspect in their quality of life that is not being met. The 103 year old female, born in 1911 and fondly dubbed, “Granny” shows that in the wild, whales can live much longer lives. What about life in captivity is promoting such premature death?
Granny and her pod have been seen off the coast of both the Pacific and Mid-Atlantic Oceans with only weeks between sightings. Extensive travel patterns seem to be an essential part of an orcas lifestyle. Thinking back to the small living space orcas are given at marine parks, what about that man-made environment resembles their natural habitat? The director of Blackfish, Gabriela Cowperthwaite, notes “Making this film changed me, but I didn’t make it with the intention that it would change you. I simply told the story. And I can’t say I am trying to make you take a stand. I can only hope that after seeing Blackfish, if you go to these parks, you’re no longer making a passive decision. You’re not being lured by the iconic symbol of a happy Shamu. You’re now an actively thinking consumer. You now know the truth.”
INSPIRE others to save the oceans and ocean inhabitants through activist groups such as the Oceanic Preservation Society.
GET INVOLVED by visiting BornFree.org to help wild born captive animals like Tillikum.
ADOPT a whale or dolphin to support research and help fund protection efforts.
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