Sun. Jul 14th, 2024

For years the orca shows at SeaWorld have entertained audiences with large whales that can perform tricks while looking like giant happy animals. Nobody gives a second thought to what goes on behind the scenes, only to what they see when a whale is waving its fins or lifting up trainer on its nose. If they showed you what went on behind the scenes-the things that SeaWorld covers up-you might think twice about these orca shows.
Two weeks ago I was watching a documentary that aired on CNN called “Blackfish.” It was an expose of SeaWorld and the dangers of keeping orcas in captivity. It was a real eye- opener, using testimony from former SeaWorld employees and facts about both captive and free orcas that are unanimously accepted by scientists.
Keeping orcas in captivity is dangerous, both for the orca and for the trainers, and the documentary really delved into the reasons why.
Orcas are large, intelligent creatures that require a lot of space to move around. They are kept in small, dark tanks, sometimes not even twice as wide as their body at any given width. Captivity is not beneficial to orcas. Male orcas have a mean life expectancy in the wild of 30 years, with the maximum between 60-70. Females average 50 years and sometimes live to 80-90. In captivity these animals rarely live 30 years, with many dying in their teens and twenties.
Whales in captivity also exhibit physical and psychological damage. “Blackfish” mentions the collapsed dorsal fin of orcas in captivity, an occurrence that happens in most captive whales. The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society say it is due to structural damage in the fin because of swimming in circles in inadequate space. An observational study by Erich Hoyt found that only 1 percent of whales in the wild have a collapse dorsal fin most due to accidents.
Orcas that are held captive also exhibit signs or mental stress. Tilikum, the whale featured in the documentary, exhibits extreme aggression that is believed to have stemmed from being bullied by other captive orcas and by being kept in dark, small pools.
Before you say it is the same as zoos, I can agree to an extent. However there are some big differences. If an animal in a zoo is physically or emotionally unwell because of conditions, it is taken elsewhere. Take elephant for example. Most zoos do not house elephants any more because it was discovered that there is just not enough space for them to be happy. Also, animals in zoos are not forced to act for a crowd every day or trained to perform. These orcas are brought in to perform, and suffer the consequences of inadequate space.
There have also been cases of orcas harming one another in captivity. “Blackfish” discusses one incident in 1989 At SeaWorld in San Diego, where one orca died because it attempted to ram another to show dominance, missed, and rammed a wall. The resulting injury was a ruptured artery in the jaw, which killed the whale in 45 minutes.
These animals also pose a threat to trainers. Trainers use food to get the whales to do the certain acts. “Blackfish” states that killer whales, unlike dogs and other animals, do not form a relationship with the human trainer. They strictly do the tricks for the food. They listed one incident where the animal saw that there were no fish left in the bucket and became agitated and stopped performing. Since there is no bond between the trainer and whale beyond feeding, it is extremely dangerous for trainers to get close to these deadly animals.
There have been more than two dozen cases of orcas attacking people since the 1970s. The worst (of just four cases) that happened in the wild? ONE killer whale bit a man and he required 100 stitches, and lived. In captivity, attacks are frequent, and there have been incidents of orcas taking trainers and dragging them to the bottom repeatedly, dragging them around by their legs, leaping and falling on them, and even killing them. Many of these attacks, according to one former SeaWorld employee interviewed for “Blackfish,” are covered up by means such as destroying footage of the attacks.
Three people have died as a result of Tilikum alone, the large male at SeaWorld in Orlando. In 1991, Tilikum and two other whales dragged a trainer under water and drowned her. In 1999 a homeless man was found nude and dead in Tilikum’s tank, ravaged by lacerations and bruises. The most prominent death was that of trainer Dawn Brancheau. Brancheau drowned when Tilkum dragged her around in the water during a live show, marking the third death that he was involved in.
Yet miraculously, despite the fact that humans and whales have unnecessarily died so a few people can watch a show, SeaWorld continues to capture orcas and put the whales and their trainers at great risk to turn a few dollars. It is absolutely unacceptable. I will never spend my money at SeaWorld to support the mistreatment of these whales and the risk these trainers are put in every day, and I urge you not too either. Watch, “Blackfish” if you are unsure, it will help you make up your mind pretty quickly.
Kenny Ayres is a fourth-year student majoring in communication studies with a minor in journalism. He can be reached at 

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