This was a hard film to watch. I came away with the thought that this is what happened years ago to the slaves. As a society we saw how wrong this was and stopped it. These Orcas are nothing more than SeaWorlds slaves. I always wanted to see these animals perform, however, no, I will never go see them perform. SeaWorld is most interested in revenue then human lives and orcas lives. This needs to stop.
Photograph by Sandy Huffaker, New York Times/Redux
Published August 3, 2013
Watch the television premiere of "Blackfish," Thursday, October 24, at 9 p.m. EST on CNN.
The documentary Blackfish opened around the country on July 26, with more splash than usual for a small-budget production, thanks to a preemptive attack on the film by SeaWorld, the marine-park franchise, and the free publicity of the tempest that followed.
Blackfish tells the story of Tilikum, the homicidal killer whale, and his most recent victim, Dawn Brancheau, the SeaWorld trainer he crushed, dismembered, and partially swallowed in 2010. The film is an indictment of SeaWorld, its safety practices, its animal husbandry, its mendacity, and its whole reason for being.
In the week before advance screenings in Los Angeles and New York, SeaWorld sent out a "Dear Film Critic" letter that castigated the documentary as "shamefully dishonest, deliberately misleading, and scientifically inaccurate." Journalists and bloggers around the world, never averse to controversy, pricked up their ears. If the film's producers ever worried about insufficient funds for advertising, they can lay that fear to rest.
In a theater a month ago, toward the end of a long series of trailers for movies my girlfriend and I resolved not to see, the Blackfish trailer began. I sat up in my seat. Within the first few frames, well before the identity of this particular "blackfish" came up on the screen, I knew which orca he would be. Tilikum is a whale whose career I have followed for 13 years. Like many familiar with his history, I had not been surprised by Dawn Brancheau's death. We all had wondered when Tilikum would kill again.
Good Twin, Evil Twin
Blackfish and its themes set me to thinking again about Orcinus orca, the killer whale, the sea's supreme predator, and our strange, ambivalent view of this animal and the narratives we impose on it.
Here's one: Tilikum had a sort of twin, Keiko, the killer whale who played "Willy" in the movies. Both were captured as two-year-old calves off Iceland, Keiko in 1979 and Tilikum in 1983; both were motherless males abused by other whales in Canadian marine parks; both were moved to facilities farther south; both, on maturing, suffered the collapse of the dorsal fin, the floppy trademark of all captive bull orcas.
One twin grew up to be the most famous whale in history, if you rule out Moby Dick and the whale that swallowed Jonah. This twin gave daily audiences to thousands of human pilgrims, played himself in his own documentary films, and was a regular on the television news. He was beloved by children all over the world, who sent him great stacks of misspelled mash notes, get-well cards, valentines, confidential personal updates, and whimsical, anatomically incorrect killer whale illustrations in crayon and poster paint.
Through intermediaries on his staff of 22 humans, this whale franchised "Free Willy" dolls, trading cards, music tapes, storybooks, and vinyl magnetic products. For sale in the gift shop of his $7.5 million Oregon facility—a palatial tank with adjoining offices, all built just for him—were Keiko toys, Keiko games, Keiko postcards, and Keiko clothing. A pilgrim, after shuffling in long lines up to the tank window for 10 or 12 minutes in the whale's presence, could buy Keiko Blend Coffee and Keiko clothing. The pilgrim's four-year-old, if she insisted, could finagle a "beautifully illustrated 100% cotton T-shirt with special ocean habitat pocket and an adorable, realistic, soft toy Keiko that lives in the pocket habitat or comes out to play!"
The other twin grew up to be the protagonist in a saltwater Othello, a tragedy in which the Moor weighs 12,000 pounds and Desdemona gets eaten.
I first encountered Tilikum, the evil twin, while doing fieldwork on the good one. I am Keiko's biographer. My 2005 book, Freeing Keiko: The Journey of a Killer Whale from Free Willy to the Wild, is an account of Keiko's life from his capture as a two-year-old through his Hollywood triumph to his semi-successful release to the wild. In the book I touch briefly on Tilikum.
Signs of Trouble
"Only once in history has a killer whale killed a human," I wrote. "That incident, in which Tilikum, a captive whale in British Columbia, pinned his trainer to the pool bottom, drowning her, is generally deemed to have been horseplay, just a misunderstanding, a simple failure of the whale to appreciate the difference between human breath-hold capacity and his own."
This was the explanation put forth by SeaWorld, which had bought Tilikum from Sealand of the Pacific after he killed that first trainer, 20-year-old Keltie Byrne. (Sealand, which immediately went out of business as a consequence of Keltie's death, needed to liquidate its assets. Its orcas Haida II and her baby Kyuquot went to SeaWorld San Antonio. Nootka IV and Tilikum went to SeaWorld Orlando.) I had sense enough to question the horseplay theory. SeaWorld is a multibillion-dollar enterprise entirely dependent on the draw of its killer whales—orcas with reputations as playful and lovable, not murderous. I had little doubt the story had heavy spin.
"There is strong circumstantial evidence that Tilikum may have killed again," I went on. "He was moved to SeaWorld Orlando, where a drunk climbed in over the wall one night and was found drowned in the whale's pool the next morning."
This second case, the 1999 death of Daniel Dukes, was more ambiguous, because there were no witnesses. The facility had cameras above and below water, but SeaWorld claims none captured the event. The SeaWorld theory was drowning and hypothermia. More details have come out since. This was a case of hypothermia in which the deceased was found the next morning draped over the back of Tilikum with his genitals bitten off.
The Veterinarian's Role
Most of what I know about the care of killer whales in captivity, and many of my insights into the culture at SeaWorld, I learned in interviews with Dr. Lanny Cornell, Keiko's physician. Back then, at the turn of the millennium, Cornell was in his mid-50s. For 14 years he had worked at SeaWorld, beginning as a veterinarian and rising through the ranks to senior vice president and zoological director, with responsibility for the entire animal collection in all of SeaWorld's parks. At the time, SeaWorld owned half the captive killer whales on the planet, and Cornell, until his departure in 1987, ministered to that flock. It was Cornell who, by intuition and experiment, had discovered the conditions and circumstances that would persuade orcas to breed in captivity, and he was obstetrician for the first birth. It was Cornell who had supervised SeaWorld's capture of orcas in Iceland.
Cornell had no love for the press, which swarmed all big Keiko events. No reporter's question irritated him more than a recurrent one: the suggestion that Cornell, as veterinarian, in restoring Keiko's health and fitness for a return to the wild, was doing some kind of penance. Was he making up, the reporter would ask, for all the orcas he had captured, all the orca families he had broken up? Cornell's features would freeze, and he would curtly dismiss this penance possibility and call for the next question.
But I wonder if it wasn't true. I can testify from listening to the deliberations of the Free Willy-Keiko Foundation that no one was more dedicated to the goal of returning Keiko to the wild than Dr. Lanny Cornell. The vet, who began as a horse doctor, is a strong, stocky man, handsome in an aquiline, weathered, Marlboro-cowboy sort of way, tough and gruff and sardonic and opinionated.
His opinion of public relations at SeaWorld was low. He was baffled by how poorly his former company—under siege, even then, by a large segment of the press and public—went about representing itself to the world. SeaWorld, Cornell pointed out, did good, altruistic work in sea-mammal rescue and rehabilitation. But nobody knew. Somehow the PR people never got the word out.
SeaWorld had helped Cornell save Keiko's life. In the Mexico City theme park where Keiko lived and Free Willy was filmed, the whale was confined to a tank too cramped and warm. He was in terrible health, scarcely moving so as not to overheat, his pectoral fins warty with papilloma virus. SeaWorld experts advised that chillers would help solve the problem, and they sent those down. From SeaWorld San Diego, on hearing Cornell's report that Keiko's diet was poor, they trucked down high-quality fish. "He was eating fish that were not really stored properly," Cornell told me. "They would cut the heads off and gut the fish and feed him the fillets. What he was missing was bone and all the vitamins and minerals that come from the liver and the organs of an animal. It's very important for a wild predator to eat everything."
Keiko was not SeaWorld's whale; there was no profit for them in their good deed—not even as a public-relations coup.
SeaWorld's Letter of Denial
Public relations at SeaWorld remain dismal. In the case of Blackfish, the PR sin has been not been omission, but commission. SeaWorld must have known the content of Blackfish since at least January, when the film screened at the Sundance Festival, but for months the company simply kept quiet—the smart thing to do, obviously. Why risk the "banned in Boston" effect? Why publicize the efforts of the enemy? Then at the last moment the company changed course, sending out its letter to film critics ("In the event you are planning to review this film, we thought you should be apprised of the following.").
This letter, SeaWorld's defense of itself and its attack on the integrity of the Magnolia Films documentary, is a tissue of obvious lies, detailed below.
Bullying: In its letter to film critics about Blackfish, SeaWorld challenges the implication that unlike killer whales in the wild, killer whales in zoos or parks—and specifically Tilikum, the whale involved in Dawn Brancheau's death—are routinely bullied by other whales. The word "bullying" is meaningless when applied to the behavior of an animal like a killer whale. Whales live in a social setting with a dominance hierarchy, both at SeaWorld and in the wild. They express dominance in a variety of ways, including using their teeth to "rake" other whales, in the open ocean as well as in parks.
Tilikum, for starters, was not just a whale involved in Dawn Brancheau's death. Tilikum was the whale that killed her. "Bullying" is not meaningless when applied to the behavior of killer whales. "Bullying" is the correct term to use whenever one animal "in a social setting with a dominance hierarchy" (whether that hierarchy is orca, wolf, chimp, or human) asserts dominance over another. The term, indeed, is used only in those circumstances. And there is an obvious difference between the bullying and tooth-raking by wild whales in the ocean and tooth-raking by captive whales in a tank. Every killer whale expert I consulted, when I recited this SeaWorld claim, laughed sourly and pointed out the obvious: In the ocean a whale can get away.
Social structures: The letter also challenges the accusation that SeaWorld callously breaks up killer whale families. SeaWorld does everything possible to support the social structures of all marine mammals, including killer whales, it says.
However, SeaWorld was built by breaking up killer whale families. Every orca colony in every SeaWorld facility began as a kind of orphanage. The founding fathers and mothers in each facility were plucked as calves from their pods, after long chases by aircraft and speedboats tossing bombs, with collateral deaths in nets of siblings and cousins. When Washington State banned SeaWorld from state waters for these practices, SeaWorld moved its collecting operation to Iceland.
Two of the Iceland captures, Tilikum and Keiko, on arriving as calves at their British Columbia and Ontario marine parks, were thrown in with orcas from the Pacific Northwest. The various tribes of orcas vocalize in very different patterns. The North Atlantic vocalizations of Tilikum and Keiko were as different from those of their Pacific tank-mates as Old Norse of Iceland is different from Haida or Tlingit or Kwakiutl. SeaWorld, says SeaWorld, "does everything possible to support social structures." What social structures? SeaWorld facilities hold scrambled nations and cultures of whales. The societies in these tanks are less like the intricate societies of wild orca clans than like the accidental assemblies you find in any drunk tank on Saturday night.
Training: The letter claims that SeaWorld has never used punishment-based training on any of its animals, including Tilikum, only positive reinforcement. And the behaviors it reinforces are always within the killer whale's natural range of behaviors.
SeaWorld, it's true, does primarily rely on positive reinforcement, though occasionally it resorts to punishment as a fallback, as former SeaWorld trainers testify in Blackfish, and as ex-trainers of my acquaintance have told me. Positive reinforcement works much better than negative, as the psychologist B.F. Skinner demonstrated long ago.
But the claim that the behaviors reinforced are "always within the killer whale's natural range of behaviors" is much more of a stretch. How is the "pec wave" within the natural range of orca behaviors? (The killer whale circles the tank on its side, waving its pectoral fin at the crowd.) How is the "bow" in any way natural? (The killer whale humps out of the pool onto the "slide-out" and curtsies by arching its back, the head flexed upward at one end, tailfin at the other.) Do orcas, somewhere along the spectrum of natural behavior, sometimes slide ashore and flex like Arnold Schwarzenegger to intimidate their victims?
And what is this all about, anyway, the Jungian meaning, this enormous, toothy predator trained to haul out and genuflect to an amphitheater full of Lilliputians? It's like a scene from Spartacus.
One behavior reinforced at SeaWorld is X-rated and never seen by the crowd, but Blackfish includes a somewhat expurgated version. It is video of Tilikum. He has been trained to lie on his back at the edge of the pool, extrude his penis, and donate sperm. Tilikum, the biggest orca in captivity, is also enormous in his equipment. The orca penis is not just big—it narrows to a tip that is prehensile and active. Aroused, the tip casts about, as if sniffing the water for clues. In the Tilikum video, the two female trainers struggling to manage the sperm donation seem to be losing a wrestling match with an anaconda.
How this scene could possibly play out under the ocean and in the killer whale's natural range of behaviors is hard to imagine.
There is something disheartening about this video, something degrading to the majesty of the killer whale, whether Tilikum feels it or not. And something deeply disquieting. Why, the viewer wonders, is this animal a sperm donor? Samantha Berg, one of the former SeaWorld trainers interviewed in Blackfish, expresses this well. She points out that any pit bull with tendencies like Tilikum's would have been euthanized long before his third homicide, and certainly never would have become the star of a breeding program. Tilikum is the most prolific sperm donor in the history of orca captivity. Today more than half of SeaWorld's orcas have Tilikum genes. It is truly beyond comprehension. What sort of short-sighted greed and recklessness is this?
The ponytail defense: The letter disputes the documentary's assertion that Tilikum attacked and killed Dawn Brancheau because the whale was driven crazy by his years in captivity. SeaWorld claims that Tilikum did not attack Dawn. It says that all evidence indicates that Tilikum became interested in the novelty of Dawn's ponytail in his environment and, as a result, he grabbed it and pulled her into the water.
SeaWorld's contention that Tilikum did not attack Dawn Brancheau is their most craven and unforgivable claim of the "Dear Film Critic" letter. Nothing SeaWorld says in explanation of the attack is true. Dawn's ponytail was not a novelty. Ponytails are commonplace on orca trainers, both women and men—a convenient style for people always in and out of the water. Footage from Blackfish shows Dawn on other days with her hair in a ponytail, happily working with Tilikum and other orcas. The whale did not pull her in by the ponytail, anyway. Video from Blackfish shows Tilikum grabbing her left arm. In court proceedings in the aftermath of her death, as Blackfish makes clear, the "spotter" who thought he had seen Tilikum seize the ponytail retracted that impression. That SeaWorld continues to suggest, three years later, that "all evidence" points to the ponytail is astounding.
The whale did not see the ponytail, or any other part of Dawn, "in his environment." Tilikum's environment is not Florida. Tilikum's environment is the cold, windy, herring-filled seas of Iceland from which he was yanked as a calf. There is no record, in all history, of an orca ever having harmed a human being in that environment, or anywhere else in the ocean. That world, the ocean, is where all killer whales belong and should be. Where Tilikum saw Dawn's ponytail, if he noticed it at all, was in the tank at SeaWorld. The only place killer whales ever kill and injure humans is here, in the confines of tanks like these.
Tilikum became so interested in the novelty of Dawn's ponytail, SeaWorld would have us believe, that he scalped and killed her. The autopsy report points to some impulse rougher than curiosity. In the words of Dr. Joshua Stephany, associate medical examiner for Orlando, Florida:
"Blunt force injuries of the head and neck: Avulsion of the scalp and associated galeal and subgaleal hemorrhage. Lacerations of the right ear. Abrasions of the left cheek. Fracture of the mandible, with associated laceration and hemorrhage of the oral mucosa. Fracture of the 7th cervical vertebra, with associated hemorrhage of the paravertebral musculature, epidural hemorrhage, and softening of the underlying spinal cord. Blunt force injuries of the torso: Abrasions of the upper left back. Fractures of the posterior aspects of the 9th through 11th left ribs. Fracture of the sternum at the level of the 2nd rib insertion. Liver lacerations. Hemoperitoneum (500 ml). Blunt force injuries of the extremities: Abrasions, lacerations, and contusions of the extremities. Complete avulsion of the upper left extremity with associated fracture of the proximal left humerus. Dislocation of the elbow. Dislocation of the left knee."
By "complete avulsion of the upper left extremity," Stephany means that Tilikum tore off Dawn's left arm. What he does not say is that the whale then swallowed it.
The Sea's Most Powerful Predator
Reading the autopsy report, I suddenly remembered—and then could not forget—several seconds of chilling documentary footage shot at Punta Valdez in Argentina: A bull orca materializes in a wave just off the beach, coming in fast, a transparent curl of water planing off his head. He lunges entirely out of the water, slides high up on the sand, seizes the hindquarters of a terrified bull sea lion galloping inland—a desperate rocking galumph, just a little too slow—and yanks the lion back into the sea.
For a moment the sea's surface is calm, both predator and prey vanished. Then, as punctuation, the killer whale breaks the surface and hurls the 700-pound sea lion 30 feet in the air.
There is no carnivore on the planet half so powerful as this one.
Killer whale people, in pondering Tilikum and where he went wrong, seem to center their suspicions on a 20- by 30-foot steel box at Sealand of the Pacific. In this cell, through his nights and a good portion of his days, Tilikum was confined with the facility's other orcas, emerging sometimes with rake marks in the morning. (Sealand was just a floating net pen. The owner, worried that animal-rights activists in scuba gear would cut the mesh and free the whales, installed this night box, in a pen that was small to begin with.)
"Psychotic," orca researcher Ken Balcomb, of Washington State, says in a Blackfish interview, searching for a word to describe how Tilikum came out of this experience. Balcomb's colleague to the north, Paul Spong, was uneasy with that word when I ran it by him. For 43 years, Spong has run OrcaLab, on Hanson Island in British Columbia. A psychologist at the start of his career, he is leery of applying terms from that lexicon to creatures that diverged from us 60 million years ago.
Almost all students of orca believe that they are deranged by captivity, some more than others. Tilikum's record puts him at one end of a continuum. There have been dozens of attacks on trainers by an assortment of orcas in the marine parks around the world. Blackfish shows video from several of these episodes at SeaWorld.
The scariest is the ordeal of a trainer, Ken Peters, in the jaws of Kasatka, a female born off Iceland in 1977, the same year as Keiko. Cameras above and below water show Kasatka taking Peters down to the bottom of the pool, again and again, by the foot. With each brief respite at the surface, Peters hyperventilates, knowing he is going down again. Kasatka finally releases his foot. Peters slides back along her body. On reaching her flukes, he swims sprinting to poolside. She turns back to catch him, but too late.
These are not bad whales. They just come with all the instincts of predators. My good twin, bad twin story is just a fable, and I probably should never have invented it. Tilikum, his trainers agree, was a joy to work with for most of his career. And Keiko, the good twin: I remember one training session in his Oregon facility, and the fear and tension on the trainer's face when he came out of the water. "Kake" (as the trainers nicknamed the whale) was just in a weird mood today, the man said, and the afternoon session was canceled.
What is remarkable about Orcinus orca in marine parks is not these rare episodes. What is remarkable is their monumental forbearance.
Ken Brower writes about the environment and the natural world. He is a longtime contributor to National Geographic magazine and has written three books for the National Geographic Society, among them "Realms of the Sea." He lives in Berkeley, California.
I'm apposed to cruel treatment of animals as anyone should be, however, to those apposed to animals in captivity, I do have a question. Does this also extend to our pets as well? Are they not kept in captivity? And do we not keep them for our amusement? Explain the difference. I hear all this talk about keeping animals in captivity, and how wrong it is, then one must assume that means Rover, or what ever the name of your dog is, cats, fish, your pet turtle, parakeet, and any other domesticated animal you keep around for your amusement. Can't have double standards here can we? Nope.... My condolences to Dawn's family. May Dawn's soul rest in peace and have eternal joy in heaven with our Lord Jesus Christ.
Wanted to point out a slight inconsistency. I've read the detail about Tilikum swallowing Dawn's left arm, however, I just read the official autopsy report and it clearly details specific injuries to her left forearm and wrist and notes a ring on her pinky finger. It doesn't really mention the upper left extremity in great detail, only that it is avulsed (torn away). Given this, I'm not sure one can say that Tilikum swallowed her left arm or partially "ate" her as I've seen stated elsewhere.
Sea World profits from slavery, like all circuses and zoos.
Human beings haven't evolved enough to recognize it as such when it involves other species, that's all.
Think about the movie Roots - those of you from that era - and then think about Blackfish. The parallels will not escape you.
It's shameful and no amount of rationalizing about why it's okay will make it so.
If Tilikum was bulling Dawn, maybe he thought she was bulling HIM! maybe.... day after day after day after day after day after day after day after day
An excellent piece by Kenneth Brower. I learned more about Tilikum & the abuse he's enduring at the hands of SeaWorld. Tommy Lee wasn't wrong when he wrote SeaWorld an open letter asking that they cease sexually abusing Tilikum. Tilikum is nothing but a sperm donor to SeaWorld & living his life in solitary confinement. It is time for all of this to end & for SeaWorld & other marine parks, including the one in my own backyard (Six Flags Discovery Kingdom), to release captive orcas & dolphins into sea pens so they can live out their lives in as natural an environment as possible.
Sea world needs to be shutdown! there keeping the whales in a bad environment and same with the dolphins. they need to be set free! Every time a trainer gets killed its Sea worlds fault not the whales. I cant wait till the owners of sea world loose everything
Every element in this world has been designated and strategically placed where they belong, once it has been altered consequences will certainly arises. That's all my bare knowledge can tell.
I'm a marine biology student and I've worked within the Canadian accredited aquarium and zoo system (for herpetology and mammology), so I know from person al experience that some animals do really well in captivity. KILLER WHALES DO NOT. Which is obvious to everyone here and should be obvious to SeaWorld, but since orca generally rake in good money, SeaWorld will never admit that.
From working in a more responsible zoo, I somewhat know the understanding behind captive breeding of endangered animals. The hope is that charismatic animals like pandas and polar bears (and killer whales) will bring in the big bucks which go toward nutrition and healthcare for less popular but more ecologically significant animals. In fact responsible aquariums and zoos do great work raising and caring for endangered animals that are never seen by the public. Once the numbers get to a certain point, the animals are then released into their native habitats or protected areas. It does work...to a degree. The problem is habitat loss and pollution might render the captive breeding program moot. Curators, vets and everyone else in the conservation programs know this, but by being in zoos and aquariums they are in the best position to do something about it. It sucks, but working for zoos is sometimes the only way to get money for conservation and animal rescue/rehabilitation.
Since habitat loss, pollution, over-exploitation, etc are all the fault of us crappy humans, we really are responsible for cleaning up the entire mess. I'm looking forward to watching Blackfish, but I imagine I'll be watching it through my fingers. That's how I watched Earthling, an excellent film which was, at its core, vegetarian-inducing trauma.
I just watched the Blackfish documentary and cried my eyes out the whole time. I am so grateful to the people who had the courage to come forward to reveal the truth about this disheartening business of animal entertainment. It is so obvious to me that these animals need to remain in the wild. We can learn so much more from them in their natural environment. I recently went to a Six Flags theme park in Vallejo. I went for the roller coasters. The park was once called Marine World and so you can see how the park is currently divided into two main attractions. Animals and rides. I went to the "dolphin show" with the understanding that this performance shouldn't be going on. I wanted to see it for my own eyes, the tank size these creatures were in. The "tricks" they were being made to do. And also to see the audience members around me and how they responded to this. I cried the whole show. It is WRONG! My heart sunk into disbelief that, we as humans think this display is okay. The show starts out with this blaring speaker playing some stupid hip hop jam which was so loud. (Im not an old lady, 31 years old and I can handle loud music) but this was just too much. And then I got to thinking, I'm sure the dolphins can sense this sound or at least it's vibration under water.
At the end of the show I waited until all the audience had left, and went down to see if I could pick the brain of one of the trainers. I wanted to see what her point of view was on this whole display. She was very sweet and answered all the questions I had. But it was very apparent to me that she was being fed a script from the higher ups. About how the dolphins are there for mainly research and education and that the show they perform is just a side thing. Ya right. I wanted to get the most out of our time so I knew it was in my best interest to not attack her but rather pose questions. So I asked her if she has seen The Cove or even Blackfish that has recently come out. She said no and that she is choosing to not see The Cove because she has heard a lot of it isn't true. She was open to seeing Blackfish and she said she knew Dawn when she worked at SeaWorld. I was glad she was willing to see this documentary because I'm sure she's gonna have to rethink what she's doing by the end of it.
I left the show feeling still so sad. And then I got to thinking about all the things she said. How the animals are there for research. Well all the research they are doing is only going to reflect their behaviors in captivity which have no relevance to the wild. So it sort of seems pointless. But maybe I am wrong? I also asked several teenage workers at Six Flags about the tanks these dolphins were in. Is this their only tank? I got 3 different responses. One person said they move the dolphins every week. One person said every 2 months and another said every 6 months. WOW really? How sad, no one even really knows?
This entire business needs to STOP! We need to place new laws that make this illegal. Breeding in captivity NEEDS to end!!!
These animals need to stay in the wild. That is where they belong! And I also just want to point out that some may say, well they are in danger of going extinct if we keep them in the wild, and what I say to that is this: that is the natural way if it is meant to be that the species has to die out. Look at dinosaurs. If they hadn't become extinct, humans probably wouldn't have evolved the way they have. Everything is in divine order. We can't mess with mother nature. She is more powerful than us. We need to leave what is naturally to occur to her. And not mess with that. If I was an Orca, a dolphin, a whale, or any other animal for that matter, I would be much happier living my life in freedom but maybe dying an early age, than to be locked up in a pen without getting to use my natural instincts to hunt and gather and live to be an old age, with disease and to be jailed.
Which would you choose?
Blackfish was a great documentary and I feel super inspired to take action and help this movement of stopping captive breeding. I hope we can all jump on this wagon instead of defending such cruel intentions for the sake of profit and gain at the expense of an animals life.
(part 2 of my comments below - couldn't post as one)
Second, I no longer wish to visit Sea World. This has, until now, been a long-time wish of mine, and I was planning a trip with my husband and four children to Sea World Orlando to see the beautiful orcas and to Discovery Cove to interact with the happy dolphins. We have been to many aquariums to see sea life, but wanted to see the bigger animals. However, now I see that viewing these animals in captivity is NOT what I want to do. Having them perform silly tricks for me is purely self-serving entertainment, and does very little to inform me of their true beings in the wild. So instead, we will plan a trip to view orcas in the Pacific Northwest - not nearly so up-close, but surely more personally satisfiying.
(part 3 of my comment below - couldn't post as one)
Third, I would love to see Sea World and its fellows in the industry use their vast resources to re-focus their efforts to promote ways to learn about these creatures in their natural habitat. We could just as easily flock to new seaside locations where these animals could be viewed in their natural habitats (not all in the same place, obviously!). This would take quite an effort if it were to be done with the animals' health and safety in mind, so as not to destroy their homes, and hopefully even to improve it with environmental awareness programs and boosting of natural food sources (e.g. working on phasing out destructive salmon farming practices in the Pacific Northwest). One would think that the Blackstone Group's PR people would see the light. Meanwhile, the (in)breeding programs should be stopped immmediately, so that the captive animals could be "phased out." It would be a huge undertaking to rehabilitate all the animals already in captivity (a la Keiko) for freedom, but that could possibly be part of the shift to the seaside habitat viewing areas. Their "trainers" could become stewards instead.
In a nutshell, Sea World should "grow up" and bring its marine mammal (and other sea animal) program into the 21st century - the time is now!
I have read David Kirby's book, and it (along with learning about Luna the lonely killer whale) has totally changed my thinking in several ways.
First, it has finally clicked (duh - what took me so long?...) that orcas are supremely intelligent, probably more so than humans, so who are we to capture these animals and put them in "jail"? Is it just because we can?
i'm not a big fan of orcas, but i'm amazed at their predatory skills in the wild, i've seen one documentary where a pack of them strategically isolated a young whale from its mother and feasted with it. I'd say that's pretty smart, like wolves of the sea.
Ohh and by the way... http://www.freetillynow.org/ sign!
We are a really sad species. We capture animals, take them away from their family and loved ones. Treat them like shit over a lifetime just to make money. We are the most evil thing that walk on this planet. At least some off us. Imagine someone doing this to us. Would we be happy with that life. A life that we couldnt choose for ourselves. That was forced upon us. We humans suck!
The Cetaceans are not the problem. It is how they have been treated and the cramped captive conditions that is the problem. SeaWorld had two of what they now refer to in the animals file as "Problem Orcas" in an open public access pool for over a year in the early 1980's when these individuals were new to captivity and no one was ever hurt. I was there myself regularly during this period and interacted with them on numerous occasions and I am alive and whole. I got to know the four of them, Kasatka, Katina, Kotar and Canuck II, quite well during that time. All without having to be a trainer or have Sea World's "special training for staff who works with Orcas"
Now, over three decades later, staff is being hurt. It would seem clear as to the cause.
The actual film is even more powerful, and I felt tears several times. I remember feeling very disturbed when I visited SeaWorld in San Diego, and the film - and David Kirby's book, "Death at SeaWorld" - perfectly crystallized why. It is cruel to confine and abuse these majestic and empathetic animals for our amusement and profit. We should know better now.
Shouldn't the killer whale shows be cancelled then? I use to enjoy going to seaworld as a kid but I don't want to go knowing how these poor animals are treated. Even if the shows were cancelled would they release the whales into the wild? Would they be alright in the wild? I haven't seen the film Blackfish, but what they're saying makes sense. I would go crazy too if I was that big being contained in a little area like that. It's never the trainers fault. Seaworld fails to understand these creatures and puts the trainers at risk. I know they breed the animals but how seaworld originally obtained these animals is disturbing. Taking the young away from their mother. It's almost like watching someone taking your own child and you couldn't protect them. The story about Tilikum is very sad. I'm also very sorry for the trainers who lost their lives from this. It makes me very angry at seaworld for denying everything. It goes for every wild animal that's in captivity. I know these animals are suffering being kept in a small pool and I wish Seaworld would do something about it. Keeping trainers out of the water isn't helping the animals. What can I do as an individual to help the problem??
No attacks on humans? Watch this!
1) Tilikum is a "stud" male. Males in the wild are more aggressive and unpredictable. Even stallion horses in captivity can become dangerous as with any animal in captivity. The fact is wild animals are in catptivity. And always have been. If this is so personal then the same goes for all the animals at the zoo.
2) The ponytail floated in his mouth from a wave and set off a sensor in him.
3) If humans played with killer whales in the wild they would be killed as well. How often are humans playing with killer whales in the wild vs how often in captivity. Have a human come in contact with the same killer whale in the wild day after day and I guarantee you they will get killed.
4) Killer whales are possessive and play with sea lions in this same manner before they eat them.
5) The first trainer was 20 and definitely inexperienced and that event was probably the reason he could not be trusted. I am sure his begining in captivity was full of blunders if a 20 year old was his trainer. The trainers at sea world are not allowed to be alone with orca's until they have years of training.
While I don't think it is the best idea to have wild animals in captivity we do and we have and it gets people closer to them to learn and enjoy and they adapt. Not to mention animals are also becoming extinct and we might only see them in captivity some day.
Wild males will have wild days especially if they breed. It is natural for the male to be aggressive and a killer. He did what was natural to him especially considering his age and all the breeding. They behave this same way in the wild and human encounters are no where near the number of encounters in captivity. Look at the whale that dragged the woman under water and it was more unlikely that he would have let her go but he did. They are told not to go in the water with him for a reason and she shouldn't have laid down on that shallow edge with him because he is so unpredictable and if she were alive she would take all the blame for what happened because she knew him. The problem is that she trusted him too much because he was behaving so well but safety was the key and she crossed the line. The pony tails are dangerous and they all should have been wearing buns.
This is just an opinion....you are right. You don't have the facts to support it. I am surprised that an author for NG would not see what I wrote. The orca's are happy at Sea World. They don't know the other world. Even if stripped as a calf it is forgotten. Wild animals are not ever "tame" animals. They are not domesticated and risks are involved with handling them. Artificial Insemination is also not uncommon and done very often for breeding. There are a lot of things we do that are not natural but they are effective in the circumstances.
If Dawn were alive she would surely argue this. The mistake was on her part and she knows it (dead or alive). These trainers love those animals and do the best they can to keep them healthy and happy in captivity. They are dedicated to them. She spent a lot of time with him and trusted him and she shouldn't have. Period. If she would have survived she would defend him and his actions. I can't believe you are saying this wasn't natural. It is exactly what they do to sea lions.
My heart bleed for Tillikum. The Black Stone Company, is everything about making money off these wonderful creature's backs! Doesn't matter about safety standards,for their employees, or the wellness of the stars of the production, as Sea World always says "the show must go on"! Quite frankly it does! With a death here, a still born pregnancy there, their blatant claim that their whales are happy where they are, and they claim to educate the viewing public on all sorts of (un)facts that don't exist, such as how long a whale lives compared to one in the wild!
The movie Blackfish, gives you the cold hard facts! He is not a killer! He was taken from his family, beaten up by dominant females, moved around, made to perform dumb tricks, stripped of everything that is natural to him, and made to live in a concrete pool, among so many other things. This would turn anyone nuts!!!
Do yourself a favor, and go see the movie, these whales deserve it!!!
Animals in the wild are not doing so well, especially the big predators. Just ask panthera.org. I've been living with an aviary of prisoners of more than 20 parrots for more than 20 years. They've taught me a lot about staying centered, how far gentleness can take you, and how one person can have an effect in the world.
I want to give people a glimpse at how do bird brains work. Despite common misperception, birds aren’t dumb.In fact, according to researchers Gisela Kaplan and Lesley Rogers, describing someone as a Bird Brain may actually be a compliment! They say:We humans use our neocortex for abstract thinking, problem solving, forming memories, and carrying out complex communication. The neocortex also plays a role in expressing our emotions and our personalities. We humans tend to be egocentric believing our neocortex is evolution’s crowning achievement, but now we are discovering that evolution has led to some very smart brains with no neocortex at all. The tiny brains of birds do not have a neocortex.This should not be surprising, because more than 200 million years ago birds branched from the line of evolution that led to mammals, primates, and humans. What is surprising is that, despite the absence of a neocortex, birds can perform complex cognitive tasks once thought to be unique to primates and some even unique to humans. These tasks include seeing optical illusions, forming concepts, understanding the mental state of another individual, using and manufacturing tools, and communicating speciﬁc meanings to achieve speciﬁc goals. These discoveries challenge our notion of the evolution of the brain and show us that there is more than one way of wiring an intelligent brain.
We have so much to learn about these fascinating creatures. I hope to educate people about the pressures birds face so they will care about how things are going for them in the wild places they live.
Birds are highly social creatures that rely on family members to help them in a variety of ways. Birds have to be smart to survive in the wild.There’s a lot to know.They have to remember where a fruiting tree grows in the forest, what time of year it should be harvested, and who to avoid when you get there.Birds rely on each other for preening new feathers they can’t reach themselves, building nests, finding food, standing guard while other members are eating.They help each other.
The minute we take them out of their niche in the wild, we’ve created a new creature that cannot be inserted back into the natural world because they don’t understand correct social protocol for being accepted into the flock, they can’t speak the flock dialect, they don’t know where to find food. The flock will run them out of their territory because they are outsiders. They can’t survive on their own.The people who set their pet birds free are not doing them any favors.
So what do you do when your pet bird is not thriving?
You do what I did. You start visiting avian veterinarians. I soon went from local avian vets to big city to practioners to the top of the food chain. There I metDr. Harrison. He is a Diplomate of the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners (ABVP) and aDiplomate of the European College of Avian Medicine and Surgery (ECAMS), two avian veterinary specialty organizations. There are currently only seven other veterinarians in the United States and European Union who are double-boarded avian specialists.
Not only is he a top avian veterinarian who publishes medical text books about avian companions, he also sells certified organic birdfood worldwide because he understands that food is medicine.
Ten years ago, he taught me a thing or two about publishing.I went on his website and told him he needed to make it more linear so more people could get at the information and he told me to give my idea wings.
He gave me copies of the talks he gave to other avian veterinarians and tables of information.I looked at government documents then wrote, designed and published a point of purchase booklet that was very detailed.He bought it from me and used it to educate bird owners and veterinarians.It made a big splash and changed the way the whole industry talked about feeding parrots.Soon cat and dog food was being formulated and marketed differently not to mention people food.We were riding a wave.
In the past year I’ve taken pictures of the food I’ve been offering my birds and pasting it on Facebook.It’s a visual record for me and it’s how I get my friends to think about what they are eating too.Are they eating as well as my birds?
Why does this matter?
Earlier this year, President signed The "Monsanto Protection Act“ into law effectively barring federal courts from being able to halt the sale or planting of controversial genetically modified or genetically engineered seeds, no matter what health issues may arise concerning GMOs in the future.
Why do I feed certified organic food?
Because of the way they grow it.I’m voting with my dollars about my vision of the future.I want to live in a world where farms rotate their crops to take care of the microorganisms in the soil, where wild birds can nest and beneficial bugs can thrive, and where many layers of living creatures share the same space.
People love birds.Americans spend billions of dollars on bird seed every year but it’s not organic so they are perpetuating the problem.Once pesticides are affecting the wild birds, they stop dancing and singing their mating rituals, they don’t have enough energy to incubate eggs, and their chicks are so weak they don’t beg for food.A state the size of Tennessee has about 67million birds and that’s the same number of birds that die across the nation every Spring.
I can show you a map describing how the mouth of the Mississippi turns into a dead zone once the rains start washing the pesticides out of the fields and into the river.
Up North, 40% of the Midwest’s duck population has been lost due to pesticides and farming practices which drained their habitat.
How long do parrots live?
Small robin sized birds live 15-20 years.Medium sized parrots that are the size of your two hands clasped together live about 40 years.And the largest parrots live as long as a human.
Do you really think people would understand this much if these creatures weren't interacting with us as ambassadors of the natural world? When I hear people talking about letting creatures stay in the wild, I know they simply don't realize they are really opting out of waking up. As long as they can remain unconscious. They don't have to change a thing. There is no pressure to become something greater. I look forward to the day when kinder, gentler humans are the norm.
wow.. okay so nobody here eats meat or meat byproducts.. doesn't brush their teeth or use any beauty products and doesn't take prescription medication? I was a vegan for 13 years , I volunteer with local animal organizations and currently foster animals so they wont be put down. I eat meat for health reasons now and don't feel bad about it. You may think my comment sounded selfish but it was more honest then you obviously are.
“Of Sharks and Man” shows the complete story of humans and sharks, with all the fear, bloodshed and reverence it embodies. We examine the relationship between sharks and men - what it is now, how it used to be, and why it came to be this way. We explain what sharks really mean to us - and what we really mean to them. From shark fin soup to habitat destruction, we show what humans are doing to drive sharks into extinction. And we show the profound impact that their extinction would have on us. We travel the world to find the most interesting, most bizarre and most intriguing stories of human-shark interactions. We show cutting-edge shark science and talk to psychologists, we hear from the victims of shark attacks how their experiences have changed their lives, and explore the myths and misconceptions the media has spread about sharks.
I visited Keiko several times and each time I left feeling that this was just somehow not right. That someday this beautiful animal should be set free to be what he was intended to be.
These animals should not be caged in any form and the folks who do this should have to pay the consequences to the families of the the trainers injured or killed.
Ken, I wish to apologize for comments I made yesterday about your article. I feel that the essay was extremely well presented and by all accounts the details presented factual and indeed quite riveting. I just wish that you had not opted to utilize a parable to humanize the story. The facts, simply stated, spoke for themselves. Thank you for your amazing contribution. D. Brown
My family raises two pigs. I have a good communication with these cute and lovely guys. When they put their front legs up onto the barrier and make some sounds, I know that they want freedom. I think restricting any creature that has a life is cruel. Losing freedom is really terrible for humans and non-human animals alike.
animals are free of nature, they shouldn't be in these horribel parks to amuse stupid people...they're are free not slave from bad humans...
100% agree. Stop the madness. And, please get rid of the parks that give people the privilege of swimming with dolphins.
Some of my best childhood memories are from Seaworld , The wild animal park and the San Diego Zoo. It's a shame that we treat animals so inhumanly but its not going to stop me from ordering a steak at a restaurant or refusing my child a trip to the aquarium. It's sad somebody died but it could happen in any field, at any time, to anybody. Oh and it might be a good idea to NOT put any more people in a tank with this killer whale.
@John Barr Hi John I think there is a difference because we are forced to share this land with animals. In my experience as a pet owner my pets have always been outdoor pets.They always come back because i live in the suburbs and i feed them, also im not in a wild environment where they can hunt freely and successfully. They are not captive and not for my entertainment. Whales are not designed to live on land no matter how big the pool is. It is not their environment. Picture yourself living on a significantelly tiny piece of land in the middle of the ocean. Would you not try to return to land at the first opportunity?
The difference is that cats, dogs, fish and other animals domesticated as pets are just that - domesticated. This is something that has taken thousands of years, and these pets are animals that have changed dramatically over these thousands of years from their original wild form. Would you have a pet lion or a pet wolf? Of course not (I hope) - that would be ludicrous. However, basically this is what Sea World and other animal parks are doing - they are taking wild animals and placing them in an environment that is unsuitable to their continued survival, an environment that is even detrimental to their daily well-being. Crack a book now and then or even do some research on the internet - in some way, shape or form please educate yourself before posting inane comments on subjects about which you obviously know next to nothing.
@Sharon Burgos An avulsion is the tearing away of flesh. This tells me that the entire arm was not eaten, simply a portion of the flesh from it. Reading the report, it seems as though the muscles of the upper left arm were torn away, in much the same way as a person would take a bite from a chicken drumstick.
@Lieschen Fish Having seen the whales many times in the Pacific Northwest I can attest that you may actually see the whales closer that you think. One time, 3 brothers surfaced right beside the sail boat.
@Jackie BlueThat was actually an incident that happened around Africa where a breaching whale accidentally collied with a sailboat. Also... That's a right whale, not an orca.
@Jackie Blue I guess because it is on the internet it must be true.
@Jackie BlueThat`s an edit of a video of an orca catching a sea lion - that exact clip aired in a national Geographic special a while ago. You can see the sea lion in front of the orca just before the guy falls down.
@Jackie Blue in regards to your statement about killer whales killing in the wild, there is no case of this EVER. In reality, there is 3 kinds of killer whales (resident, transient and off shore) and not all of them eat other mammals.
@Jackie Blue In the wild male killer whales are actually submissive - it`s a matriarchal social structure in which the eldest females have all the power and boys just follow their moms around.
Also, horses are prey animals. It makes absolutely no sense to compare the behaviour of a prey animal like horses and other ungulates to the behaviour of a predator.
I see.....this was a way to promote his book. Using this woman's death to promote your book? Are you no different than Sea World? They use the animals to make money and you used this animal and her death to do the same.
@Beth Martell Though i appreciate the article you wrote and as a parrot keeper myself, i agree with a lot of what you say, don't you think this article is a little misplaced on a whale page?
@Effy Rothe It is extremely -and disgustingly- sad that some people are not educated even in 2013. I feel sad for you Effy... I hope you can reflect to your words.
@Effy Rothe What I read was "I don't care about anyone or anything more than myself, to the extent that a couple of hours at Seaworld is more important to me that the life of a young girl."
You should be ashamed of yourself. That is exactly the kind of selfishness that lead to the tragedies described above. Disgusting.
@Jackie Blue I suggest you read "Death at SeaWorld" by David Kirby. It is a well research book that has received high praise. The ponytail is reputed by several witnesses. Many scientists who study killer whales for a living agree they should never be held in captivity - in swimming pools (in the wild they swim hundreds of miles a day). Killer Whales are inbreed in captivity. The young are separated from the mothers at a very young age. They live many times longer in the wild (females can live as long as 100 years) and are not in any way endangered with extinction. They are a highly intelligent, self aware, social animal that live in pods for their entire lives, They are as intelligent or even more so than humans. So, if you agree they should be held in captivity then you must support keeping some humans in captivity for entertainment! SeaWorld is in the business for one reason and one reason alone - money! They are just a bunch of greedy bastards that have no concern for the Orcas. As for the trainers - yes they do care deeply for these animals and that is why several have left - they just could not stand the mistreatment by management any longer (Tillicum has lost almost all his teeth from biting on the bars where he is keep most of the time). Because of the intelligence of Orcas it is animal cruelty at its worst!
@Kay PetersVery well said! It's because of selfish human beings like you, @Effy Rothe , that millions of animals are killed every day, kept captive, get mistreated and suffer.
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