Born to be a Prisoner

Table of Contents

Imagine how a parent feels when his or her child is snatched away from them unexpectedly to put on a show in front of millions of people. Imagine that kid being forced to live in a small cage where they cannot even move around much. This depressing and scary scenario is the story of killer whales being held in captivity. Blackfish directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite in 2013 is a documentary regarding a specific killer whale, Tilikum, at SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida. The documentary mentions many points against SeaWorld, including the accidents caused by Tilikum and other killer whales at amusement parks. Blackfish is able to show the underlying problems of the sea- park industry through Tilikum’s mishaps. Animals held are a harm to themselves and the people around them. Not only does Blackfish focus on Tilikum, but it also focuses on other animals and brings awareness for those animals held in captivity. Blackfish goes in depth discussing how the whales are captured and torn away from their families, for the entertainment of people. Moreover, Blackfish interviews many employees and important voices such as family members of the victims of the killer whales. Throughout the film, the intelligence of the whales is discussed and the voices argue on whether whales should be held captive or not. Many sources claimed killer whales, like Tilikum, should not be trapped in small living spaces due to the fact they are far too intelligent to be trapped in tanks. Furthermore, killer whales belong in the limitless ocean where they were found. Tilikum, the main whale discussed in Blackfish, was caught in Iceland in about 1983 and then later transferred to other parks until he made his way to SeaWorld, Florida where he passed away on January 6th, 2018. Tilikum has passed away but his stories have not. He left a mark at SeaWorld as the whale who killed three people. Tilikum was responsible for the deaths of three adults: one killed at Sealand of the Pacific, and the other two at SeaWorld at Orlando, Florida. The first victim of Tilikum was at Sealand of the Pacific; a 21-year-old trainer fell into the pool that contained Tilikum and two other killer whales. The three whales submerged the young female trainer and dragged her around in the pool, killing her (Batt, 2017). After the first attack, Tilikum was transferred to SeaWorld, where the other two victims of Tilikum were found. Tilikum’s second victim was a 27-year-old man named Daniel Dukes who was found dead on Tilikum’s back before opening hours. The last and most talked about a victim of Tilikum was Dawn Brancheau his highly experienced trainer. Sources claim that Tilikum had attacked Brancheau by pulling her into the tank by her ponytail after the show when she was rubbing him as a post-show routine (Mooney, 2010). The public was widely affected and shocked Tilikum killed Brancheau. Brancheau’s death brought up many voices on who should be blamed for the death. There were many potential people to blame for her death. However, in the documentary, sources claimed that Tilikum was the one who made the harassment towards the people that died. In the documentary, a SeaWorld employer who has been working with the whales for multiple years said, “[we] really do not know what goes on in their mind because we don’t speak whale” (Cowperwaithe, Blackfish). Some of the trainers and other staff members claimed that the whales were to be blamed for the mishaps because humans do not know what goes on in the heads of the whales. Blackfish, the documentary, helped people change their perspective about animals and help them reconsider their thoughts about going to SeaWorld or animals in captivity. Being held captive causes a lot of harm to the whales, one of it being a shorter life span. Tilikum, the subject whale of Blackfish and SeaWorld, had 21 offsprings but only 11 of which were alive as of November 2013 because of the short life expectancy of killer whales in captivity. The average age of death of killer whales in captivity is around 14 years old; whereas, the expected lifespan of killer whales in the ocean is around 90- 100 years old (Cowperwaithe, Blackfish). The lifespan of killer whales is not only affected by them being raised in captivity but also is affected by how long calves have been nursed. The newborn or young killer whales which are “nursed for at least one year (…) Lifespan up to 90 years” (Jarrett & Shirihai, 2006). Essentially, killer whales in captivity live a less long life in captivity because they are not in their natural habitat, and they may have been taken into captivity before being nursed for a year. Therefore, many sea- parks are responsible for the premature deaths of orcas or killer whales. Furthermore, killer whales are not able to maintain their health while held captive. Some sources and people believe that killer whales are safer in captivity because they are provided with the essentials to stay healthy which would be food, shelter and medical aid. However, killer whales in captivity are not provided with all the essentials to be healthy. According to Naomi Rose, a marine mammal scientist for the Animal Welfare Institute, killer whales need to travel 160 kilometers or around 100 miles a day to stay healthy. However, the tanks at SeaWorld were not big enough to allow the whales to swim continuously forward for 160 kilometers (“Can Orcas ever be…”, 2016). Essentially, captive whales are not provided their essentials in order to stay or get healthy; therefore, being held captive is not beneficial for whales. Throughout the documentary, those who were interviewed were given the option to either agree with captivity or disagree. Many of those who had agreed that the whales should remain in captivity claimed that the whales were active and happy while performing. Even though the killer whales at sea- parks are jumping around and doing tricks like happy children, the whales held captive are not as happy or active as those in the wild. A study showed that the dorsal fins of whales in captive are bent over and loopy unlike the straight, pointed fins of the whales in the wild (Henn, 2016). Essentially, the dorsal fins on the backs of the whales can help determine if the whale is happy and active. The whales with the straight, pointed fins were happy, active and healthy, but the whales in the sea-parks had flopped and loopy dorsal fins. Killer whales at sea- parks are not happy or active and should not be held in a cage their whole life. Not only does captivity decrease the life span of whales and their happiness, captivity also causes whales to suffer psychologically. The whales in captivity are affected psychologically which causes them to attack their trainers; they are attacked when the whales become extremely frustrated and want to cause damage. John Hargrove, an orca trainer for 20 years who worked with 12 out of the 30 whales at SeaWorld, shared his experience of being attacked by a whale through his book “Beneath the Surface”. Throughout the book, Hargrove was able to share his experience and how at the moment he was being attacked he was feeling as helpless and boxed as the whale (Hargrove). Hargrove discusses how whales at SeaWorld feel trapped in their cages because they are on a strict schedule with nowhere to go; the whales have nothing to do but swim in circles and practice for their shows. Due to the fact that the whales are on the same schedule every day without getting to get outside, they become frustrated and tensed and are unable to release their frustration, so they are more likely to attack their trainers. Essentially, the documentary, Blackfish, was able to raise awareness of the importance of wild animals living in the wild. The film discusses that there were many aggressive signs shown by the killer whales before or during the show which showed the whales were not obeying with the trainers; however, the signs shown by the whales were ignored and the show kept going on which caused the whales to act up and take the lives of many victims. Moreover, the film also claims that many violations were made by SeaWorld and their employees, therefore, Tilikum should not be blamed for the deaths of the victims. SeaWorld had prioritized the income it was making by the shows put on by the whales, rather than focusing on the well being of the whales and the trainers. In order to avoid future mishaps that cost an innocent human life, wild animals should no longer be held in captive. To safely remove the whales back into the ocean, they need to be trained on how to live in the wild. The first step SeaWorld can take to prevent future deaths and promote a better life to the wild animals is to prevent animals from breeding. The second step would be to slowly expand the pool sizes of the whales so that they have more room to swim around in. Then, Seaworld trainers should start the process of whales being treated more like whales in the ocean. The third step would be to gradually train the whales to be more like wild whales in the ocean rather than whales from captivity. SeaWorld can do this by introducing the whales to a new obstacle each day. Moreover, the trainers should limit how many times a week the whales are visited to decrease whale to human contact. Then finally, the whales should be put in the ocean alone for a little bit, but the whales would be followed by the appropriate staff to determine if the whales are not in harm This process or training should continue until the SeaWorld members feel the whales are safe to be on their own in the ocean. It is a well-known fact that there are major differences between animals in the wild and animals in captive. Also, animals live a better and healthier lives when they are born and raised where they belong, in the wild. Killer whales in captive are limited to many sources such as the freedom of swimming however much they want, being in contact with their family members, et cetera. Moreover, whales in captive are forced to take upon tasks in order to get some food. Whereas, the whales in the wild have the freedom to do what they want and are not forced to put on shows for food. In addition, animals in the wild are prone to live longer because they are happier and healthier than those in aquariums and zoos. Even though some may find it entertaining to see whales up close and perform, it is not their job to entertain us. Therefore, animals should not be held captive for the sake of the happiness and longevity of the animals.