In the past year SeaWorld have come under mass scrutiny and international backlash after the release of the documentary film Blackfish, which illustrates the treatment of Orca within Aqua Parks; focusing predominately on SeaWorld.
While various animal rights activists have spoken freely and created a variety of campaigns to “Free Tilly” or Tilikum (his full name) one of the predominant orcas featured on Blackfish, SeaWorld has quickly tried to fix this backlash of problems.
I believe though in looking at two side to every story, I firmly back that Orca’s should never have been placed in captivity, these majestic and noble animals are at the highest levels of the food chain within the ocean. Their shear power and speed as well as their ability to work within a group causes them to be apex predators, meaning they themselves have no natural predators. Unfortunately though, we cannot change history, these whales have been caught and placed within tanks, forced to perform for us as entertainment for over thirty years. Now that the spotlight has been placed onto this cruel form of captivity we’re deciding to speak up (where were these people all of those years ago when Orca were being actively attacked and separated from families by fishermen seeking a big pay-out?)
While people scream “Free Tilly” do they stop to think that he now, after over twenty years in captivity (he was captured in 1992) that he cannot be freed? If these Orca were to be released into the wild it is a known fact they wouldn’t be able to survive, nor function without the aid of humans. Due to either their whole life or the majority of life being spent in captivity they will have lost certain primal functions; the ability to hunt wild/live prey being one main issue.
Another issue involved in the release of these captive Orca is their ability to integrate within pods. Orca travel within a family unit for their entire lives, calves never leaving there mothers side. If these Orca were to be released they could not join any pod, every pod has a separate dialect, an individual language that is specific allowing for Orca to communicate clearly with members of their pod and differentiate between other pods that may be within the same vicinity.
Feeding innovation is passed on through generations. Whether an elder bull whale illustrates his wisdom or the younger Orca develop their own style, they have strategies that are learnt from a young age and developed throughout life. Captive Orca are fed daily, not needing to hone their feeding habits and they have had no teachings from elder pod members. This is an integral part of an Orca’s lifestyle, and a part captive Orca could not live without in the wild.
Keiko (the captive Orca whom played the role of Willy in Free Willy) was released into the Norwegian Fjords after an international campaign to see the whale freed. Keiko though proved the inability or captive Orca to thrive within the wild. Keiko was seen giving children rides on his back or coming up to fishing boats, desperate to be close to humans (this is the life he had always known, humans his main companion). Keiko lasted a year in the wild before he was found beached having dies of pneumonia.
So should we be campaigning to free Tilly? Or should we be campaigning for a better lifestyle? Should we be forcing SeaWorld to create larger enclosures, with better food and strict rules?
I believe that Orca need to be protected and have the best lifestyle that is available to them, for those that are captive unfortunately being returned to the wild may be far to ambitious and can only lead in premeditated, early death. You may argue that this is what will happen to them at SeaWorld, this is true however; with increased pressure these whales may receive a far better life at SeaWorld if measures are put in place.
With stocks crumbling around them and investors pulling out of the parks SeaWorld announced a new BlueWorld project to try and protect their reputation: http://www.orlandoinformer.com/2014/seaworld-announces-blue-world-project/
This project offers a much larger tank that will incorporate a sea affect trying to convey the Orca’s natural environment, with fast flowing tidal currents to help aid Orca in stimulating activities that will increase their muscle mass and aid there health.
If this project does go underway and SeaWorld keep up with there promises this is a highly beneficial solution. There are a few steps though that I believe must be followed by the multi-million pound industry.
- Actually build the Blue World tanks in all parks, to ensure a healthy lifestyle for the Orca.
- Stop breeding within captivity therefore, we end the cruel cycle of Orca captivity.
- If breeding is to continue, or even if not, Orca are now not to be moved to other parks unless parks to be shut down (Loro Parque is unfit to hold Orca, there training is sub par and the tanks not large enough nor well equipped for these predators.)
- Legislation to be put in place to ensure that all parks that contain Orca adopt the initiation of larger tanks, better food and again the halting of constant separation.
The separation of Orca in captivity is traumatising (as mentioned before Orca never leave their Mothers, if they do, it is for the smallest amount of time). When calves are ripped from their mothers researchers and trainers at the parks had never heard the noises the mothers made – these were long distant calls, the mothers were screaming for their lost children.
- Keep other live mammals in the same aquatic stadium, fish and plankton, to again help to create an ocean feel.
- Never have Orca alone, either one in a park (as is the case in France) or in solitary confinement, Tilikum. This would not happen in the wild, and the main point is to ensure they have as much of a realistic lifestyle as possible.
These creatures are too revered to be kept in small tanks with little interaction with other Orcas and constant separation and re-integration. However, it is my firm belief that these captive Orca unfortunately could not thrive in the wild.