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Posted by on Jan 9, 2014 in Uncategorized | 3 comments

BlackFish: A Call for the Humane Treatment of Orcas

blackfish-posterI just finished watching the film Blackfish. It is a very moving documentary about the ethics surrounding the capture of orcas in the wild and their treatment while in captivity. The film takes a close look at the popular park Sea World and their treatment of orcas, more commonly known as “killer whales,” and the resulting tragedies that occur to the trainers of these animals, such as Dawn Brancheau, who was killed by a 12,000-pound killer whale named Tilikum in 2010 at a Sea World park.

The film was very moving and superbly done. I really enjoyed it, though at the same time it left me very sad about the treatment of these beautiful, majestic and highly intelligent animals.

The documentary contrasts the environments, life spans, and behavior of orcas in the wild and compares them to those in captivity, and argues that the negative changes seen in captive orcas are a direct result of that captivity. Examples include curled fins, separation from family, and attacks on humans, which do not occur in the wild. Blackfish appears to have an open and shut case that captivity isn’t good for these animals, unlike what the parks often argue, who make millions from parading these animals around as if in a circus.

It has long been my belief that human beings are not a special species on earth that should traipse around the world destroying the habitats of other animals, killing and capturing them for sport or other unethical uses. One such disturbing example I learned a few years ago was that the US military sought to train dolphins and sea lions to seek out sea mines. When I heard about this I immediately objected because I feared these high intelligent dolphins might be blown to bits because of the military’s uncaring program that put these animals at risk (though I have heard that robots would be replacing these animals, which I hope was implemented).

A much more ethical means to put these animals on display would be to contain them in sea pens or sanctuaries where companies could still charge for people to come watch these animals, but at the same time ensure they are better cared for in a more natural environment with their families. With this more ethical option available, which doesn’t threaten their profits, there is no reason at all to treat these animals in this manner.

I urge all people to watch this film. I think it has the potential to change the way people view marine parks like Sea World.

As a side note, for my skeptical readers Donald Prothero reviewed the film Blackfish in the November 2013 issue of Skeptic magazine, Vol. 18 No. 4 2013. Rest assured. For those who are not subscribers to Skeptic you can find this article for free at skeptic.com.

  • SmilodonsRetreat

    I’ve been doing research on Sea world for quite a while. Two notes, which, if they weren’t mentioned in the film, means that I neither support it or will watch it.

    There were three deaths around Tilikum. The first was soon after he and several other Orcas had been in captivity. They had not been trained, indeed, it is likely they had never experienced humans before. Why one of the intern-trainers (not a full trainer) decided to go swimming with a handful of multi-ton sea predators (two of which happened to be pregnant) defies my imagination to explain. We must also note that she was not eaten just prevented from reaching the side or the surface. The second was a homeless man that snuck into the poll after Sea World had closed. Not sure what happened with Dawn. Numerous eyewitnesses reported different things. I don’t know. But let me point out that one trainer, one intern, and one homeless guy have died in the entire Sea World history. More people died on the roller coaster rides at these parks than by marine life.

    The other thing is that the majority (32 out of 45 in all parks everywhere) Orcas in captivity were born in captivity. Also as I understand it, no new orcas are being taken from the wild. Anyway, the problem with releasing the orcas is that there is almost no way that they could survive in the wild. No more than taking an inner city New York kid and driving him out into the middle of the Yukon and leaving him. They have no pod and orcas need a pod to be more efficient hunters. Most of the orcas in sea world have never hunted before.

    Now, I whole-heartedly agree that we shouldn’t have taken them out of the wild in the first place. That was not a good plan. However, doing anything with them in terms of putting them back in the ocean now would be almost as bad… at least for the born-in-captivity animals. They probably wouldn’t survive a year.

    I’m not thrilled with them being there any more than I would enjoy living my entire life in a small apartment.
    I don’t have an answer, but I also want to make sure all the information is available.

    • SmilodonsRetreat

      Prothero’s article talks about the naked and maimed body floating atop Tilikum. But the statement from the police in the New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/1999/07/07/us/corpse-is-found-on-whale.html)
      says

      “”The man was sort of draped over the whale’s back behind the dorsal fin,” said Jim Solomons of the Orange County Sheriff’s office. ”There was no obvious trauma.””

      Again, I don’t approve of the whales being in captivity, but someone isn’t telling the truth and I’ll withhold judgement on the film until it can be determined (which sadly, may be never).

      • ArizonaAtheist

        Thanks for the info. It’s been a little while since I saw the film, but their argument hinges upon several “facts.” 1) They argue that orcas need much more room to live. Their current conditions are akin to a person living in a
        bathtub, when they are used to swimming hundreds of miles a day. 2)
        Orcas in the wild have never killed a human being. They point to the deaths as evidence of unstable mental condition, along with other signs, such as bent over dorsal fins, which are never seen slumped over like that in the wild. They argue this only happens during times of depression. 3) They argue that the individual groups of orcas are akin to family units, with their own set of vocalizations. Placing orcas from different groups, or families, would be like placing people of different countries, who speak different languages and with different cultural norms, in one tight confined space. This leads to frustration and a lack of socialization due to being unable to speak to one another because of the differences in “languages.” This, they argue, has lead to attacks upon other orcas in captivity.

        These the ones that stick out in my mind. I looked up some of their facts and most of it seemed to check out, but I don’t recall all of the facts about the deaths. I’d have to watch the film again.