© Rolf Hicker Photography: free photos by Rolf Hicker
I watched the movie Blackfish on CNN the other night, and my eyes filled with tears as I watched the story of the Orca or killer whales in captivity and in the wild.
Orcas are the largest animal in the dolphin family. They swim freely in the cold coastal waters from the polar regions to the equator, feeding upon seals, seabirds, and sometimes other whales. They live in social groups, and study of their brains reveals highly evolved emotional states.
They swim free with their pod families–sometimes in groups as large as forty. Even though their bodies can be as long as thirty-two feet and weigh up to six tons, they swim gracefully through the water, only showing the black of their dorsal fins when they surface. No cages hold them; no trainers try to control them; no screaming kids and cheering parents disturb their world.
If you missed watching Blackfish on CNN, you missed an emotional look at the treatment of killer whales in sea parks around the world. It also looks at what happens when the captive animals act out their natural instincts while in an unnatural environment. Someone on film compared it to humans having to live in their bathtub for the rest of their lives. Wouldn’t that drive most of us insane? As a result, these captive whales have maimed and killed their trainers too many times over the years.
Those who feel the movie is too one-sided against the sea parks shout about the purpose of zoos, aquariums, amusement parks, and other places holding wild animals in captive environments far different from the natural world. The purpose is to give kids the chance to see these animals up close and personal to learn something about wild animals they might otherwise never see.
The killer whales stay with their offspring and swim through the ocean in groups. Females give birth every five years or so, after a seventeen-month pregnancy, and they are highly protective of their offspring. In captivity, many times the offspring are taken away to be the star attraction at yet another amusement park far away. The abandoned mothers scream in despair when their offspring leave. In captivity, they are frustrated and lonely. When this happens, anyone or anything in their wake may want to get away as fast as possible. Except in these prisons, there is no where to escape.
In the wild, the killer whale’s life span can equal that of a human. However, in captivity the life span is shortened by as much as one-half to two-thirds as long. There is nothing humane about their captivity.
Wild animals are wild animals. Maybe we aren’t supposed to be able to watch them up close in these controlled environments. What are we learning about Orca whales when they are performing surrounded by cement walls? Not a whole lot, I can assure you. Some folks argue that showing a younger generation the performing black and white giants, they will care about them and help to conserve them.
I’m not sure about the validity of that argument. When I grew up, we didn’t have these sea parks. I never saw a killer whale yet somehow I’ve managed to care about wildlife and their treatment. Confining them in a pool isn’t how we learn about wildlife.
Sometimes we can help wildlife by keeping them in captivity if they are injured, but the wildlife folks I’ve known make every attempt not to humanize wildlife, so once rehabbed, they can go back where they belong.
Watch the movie and draw your own conclusions.