From a young age, I loved the ocean, I loved the way the waves carelessly tossed about licking the shoreline, the way the wind sang with the sound of gulls beckoning me toward its salty depths, I loved the deep rolling water and all the magic yet undiscovered beauty that lies beneath a surface we cannot break.
From a young age, I knew living things were meant to be free. Nothing that lives and breathes should be deprived of such a soul devouring delight that is the ocean or their natural habitat. I knew that orcas and dolphins should be able to swim for miles into the warm tangerine horizon, hunt the silver delicacies of the sea, and be as free and carefree as the waves and wind.
But this isn’t reality for most sea mammals. This is what I couldn’t understand.
When you look into an animal’s eyes you know someone is home. Someone is looking back at you, feeling, thinking. They understand things that we as humans cannot. They speak a language so foreign to us, that most consider them to not have a voice at all because it’s not like our own. Maybe that’s why humans think they can dominate everything. We try to enslave and control anything that is different than us. But the ocean cannot be tamed. We should not continue to dominate nature.
The Orca is Earth’s most intelligent mammal and the ocean’s top predator; these beautiful creatures seem to capture the hearts of all and are beloved by the world. There’s something about how they gracefully fly through the depths of a world so foreign, about how they jump high enough to touch the heavens, about how they break the water’s surface like the breaking of a mirror, thousands of crystalline shards filling the air. Something about how they captivate the hearts of all, filling us with such awe we can’t help but watch, something about how they swim so free into the cool inky blue of the water that we so desperately wish we were with them. “We still have a long way to go, before we reach a deep understanding of these creatures”- says author and journalist David Neiwer. But maybe it’s not our right to understand.
We can begin by doing what’s right and educate ourselves. Whales and dolphins are incredibly social animals; they live-in close-knit pods, or groups, from 35 to 1000 and communicate through a complex language of clicks and whistles. They feed off the rich fish of the ocean like salmon and sometimes other mammals like dolphins and sea lions. Orcas and dolphins have a very close parental bond with their calves. Male killer whales spend a huge majority of their lives at their mothers’ side, while females remain close by in the same pod. The bond between a mother and calf is unbreakable.
Some speculate that killer whales are smarter than humans. They have a part of the brain that no other mammal has, which allows them to process emotion, memories and behaviour deeper than we ever thought possible. Their enlarged limbic lobe is three times the size of a humans. Putting these intelligent mammals into a concrete prison is a form of mental torture. Captivity often leads to stages of psychosis, self-mutilation, and depression all caused from socially deprived and disturbed situations.
Behind all the glitz and glamor and what marine parks such as SeaWorld preach to be, lies a dark side. Behind the curtains, in the shallow pools of the chlorine filled bathtubs, lays the Orca.
With every miserable blow of the whistle, we are left to see not a killer whale, but a circus act meant to convince on-lookers that this is a life they enjoy. With every dollar counted, piled and thrown under the “golden throne” of greed, another animal is made to suffer.
In 1970, the killer whale entertainment industry began. Fisherman where hired to capture whales and dolphins from the wild and sell them to marine parks across the world to perform in shows. The whales were sold to places like SeaWorld and the Vancouver Aquarium. This practice has since ended in Canada and most of the U.S but still happens illegally around the rest of the world. Every last killer whale and dolphin SeaWorld posesses is a descendant of a wild animal. They claim that their captive bread killer whales are not fit to go back into the wild because they would be lacking the skills to survive. This theory has in fact been proven wrong several times, proving that captive orcas can be rehabilitated and released back into the wild. But SeaWorld dismisses all evidence and science supporting this view, only to fuel their growing wallets. In total, over 166 orcas have died in captivity, not including 30 or more miscarried and still born calves.
“SeaWorld’s primary motto always is ‘entertainment, education, conservation. And entertainment was always first”, says John Hall, former SeaWorld biologist in David Neiwer’s Of Orcas and Men. No matter how much glamor is hyped for the “exciting shows,” SeaWorld desperately tries to bury the truth like trying to hide a wrongful murder in the dead of night.
SeaWorld and other marine parks claim the reason they possess these animals is for research towards conservation and protection of orcas, and the education of the public. But there is little education. “Nothing from the glitz of SeaWorld shows will teach children about understanding the conservation of orcas in the wild,” wrote Neiwer. In fact, an orca’s behaviour in captivity is considered extremely unnatural compared to those in the wild.
Killer whales in captivity have injured and killed a large number of trainers. This behaviour is considered extremely abnormal and thought to be due to “socially deprived or disturbed conditions in captivity”. There has never been one account of a wild orca attacking or killing a human in the wild. “Despite the fact there has been hundreds of attacks in captivity and three fatalities, in the wild there has never ever been a verified attack of orca having a go at humans”, said orca biologist Dr. Ingrid Visser. Visser studies the behaviour and conservation of wild killer whales, while educating the public about how to protect and conserve them. Often Visser is in the water with the wild whales, visually documenting her research. Visser states that, “People often think I’m crazy to swim with wild orcas, but they are incredibly gentle creatures”. Killer whales in captivity have not only injured humans, but they are also a danger to each other. They often display signs of aggression like raking their teeth against another whale and biting down on the metal gates in their tank. So why is their behaviour in captivity so different? And how are we teaching the world about properly protecting these animals?
Life for an orca or dolphin in captivity isn’t as “great” as it made out to be. Killer whales and dolphins are made to stay in pools no deeper than 36ft. To give you some perspective, orcas can dive up to depths of 328ft in the wild and swim up to 100miles per day! That makes an aquarium tank the equivalent of a bathtub.
Killer whales spend most of their time underwater and constantly in motion. In captivity, when they are not performing for paying customers, they often float lifelessly at the surface of their tanks and swim very little. SeaWorld claims their killer whale’s health and wellbeing is extremely important and their first priority. So, why is their parking lot 30 times the size of the whale tanks? Maybe because they don’t want to give up the spot of a paying customer eagerly awaiting the salty circus. In fact, killer whales in captivity only live to about 10 to 20 years on average. When one compares this lifespan to a killer whale in the wild, where they live a full human life span of 80 years, the difference becomes apparent.
In captivity, an animal does not belong to itself or have any rights. Every last whale and dolphin is a pawn in a rich person’s game and the shows are the epitome of human greed. In Canada, keeping cetaceans in captivity is no longer legal, but in the U.S and other places, such as China and Japan, this still happens. In Taiji, Japan dolphins and orcas are herded like cattle into shallow coves where they are killed with spears for their meat, while the “pretty” ones are separated and sold off to marine parks across the world. And yet they still call this “education and conservation.” If SeaWorld really wanted to educate the public and conduct research on these cetaceans, why are they called a “theme park” instead of an education and conservation centre? “This is something that should be part of our history not our future” – Dr. Ingrid Visser
Educational mini documentaries on this issue:
Dr. Ingrid N. Visser on wild killer whales: https://binged.it/2soTpXQ
Inside the tanks: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hy9gt-f3I6Q
Kieko’s journey home: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p6Ipm4zKo2
The cove (Taiji dolphin drive hunt): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jSNNeu3ffzk