CNN’s documentary exposes the heartbreaking side of aquatic amusement parks.
By Brittany Hale
When I was young, about five or six, my parents took me to SeaWorld. I remember gawking at the amazing creatures and even having an opportunity to hop on an orca’s back. It was an awesome experience, one that my mom remembers fondly. But, knowing what I know now, I can say with certainty that I’ll never return to SeaWorld, and you can bet I’ll never take my kids there.
Over the past several weeks, CNN has been airing a documentary called “Blackfish,” which focuses on SeaWorld’s practice of using captive killer whales for entertainment. The documentary recounts the death of whale trainer Dawn Brancheau, who was dragged underwater while performing with killer whale Tilikum at SeaWorld Orlando in 2010. This wasn’t the first time Tilikum drowned a trainer – at Sealand of the Pacific in British Columbia, a woman named Keltie Byrne was also dragged underwater and drowned.
These violent, tragic deaths aside, “Blackfish” sends a powerful message to anyone willing to listen: whales do not belong in captivity. The practices of SeaWorld and other aquatic amusement parks will make anyone with a heart cringe – calves are separated from their mothers who grieve and cry out for days, whales are kept in enclosures with the size equivalency of bathtubs, and when conflict between captive whales arise, they aren’t able to flee as they would in the wild.
Scientific research reveals the huge disparity between life in the wild and life in SeaWorld’s tanks. John S. Jett and Jeffrey M. Ventre, researchers and former SeaWorld trainers, write, “Typically spending their entire lives within tight family groupings, orcas captured from the wild, including Tilikum, have been traumatically extracted from the security, comfort and mentoring which these groupings provide.“ In extreme cases, whales fight for dominance within their enclosures and become severely injured. Female whale Kandu, also featured in “Blackfish,” bled out for forty-five minutes and died after having a violent confrontation with another whale.
Fred Jacobs, Vice President of Communications at SeaWorld, recently responded to some questions regarding whale captivity posed by CNN. When asked about the benefits of orca captivity, Jacobs responded: “The primary benefits are identical for any species in any accredited zoological institution: education and science.” Jacobs maintained that “every person who has visited SeaWorld leaves with a greater understanding of an appreciation for all the animals we display, including killer whales.”
SeaWorld’s assertion is that capturing killer whales and putting them on display is a viable way for humans to appreciate their existence. However, most individuals are more than capable of appreciating nature without looking at animals in concrete enclosures. Their statement is also disingenuous and misleading. Last year, SeaWorld earned $77.4 million in profits. They’re doing everything they can to protect their profits – even fighting an OSHA ruling (spurred by the deaths of Brancheau and Byrne) that requires trainers to stay behind barriers while interacting with these extremely stressed animals.
All things considered, most who watch “Blackfish” will agree that whales don’t belong in captivity. When you hear the anguished cries of a mother as her calf is taken away, you can’t help but feel heartbroken for her. It’s terrible to watch animals treated so carelessly, all for the almighty dollar. What’s worse, SeaWorld is disregarding the safety of their employees to protect their profits. That’s why I refuse to take my children to SeaWorld. I’ll teach them that appreciating whales and other animals requires us to respect their space and view them where they’re meant to be: the wild.