Amusement parks are no novelty to human culture. Before places like Disneyland, Six Flags, and SeaWorld became popular, circus shows were all the rage, and zoos were a perfect family destination. Today, we empty our purses to spend a day (or more) going on fast rides and watching engaging shows for a quick adrenaline rush to make up for our otherwise boring lives. We pay outrageous amounts for bad food and won’t hesitate to buy an expensive souvenir because why would we want to forget such a wonderful experience?
It’s hard not to buy into this system (and I mean that quite literally).
My family took a trip to SeaWorld once, many years ago. Like most children, I was overjoyed with the experience of seeing so many of my favorite animals in close proximity. I was inspired by the trainers during the Shamu show, and I remember thinking, “Gosh, I want to be just like them.” My older sister, a college graduate with a degree in Environmental Science, had thought the same. Now, we both realize how naïve we had been.
Blackfish is a 2013 documentary focusing on the story of Tilikum (aka “Tili”), an orca at SeaWorld that killed several of its trainers while in captivity. A collection of video footage and interviews, Blackfish makes for an emotional experience, much like the experience given by The Cove, a 2009 documentary about a group of activists exploring the horrifying slaughtering of dolphins.
In all honesty, I put off watching Blackfish for many months. It had been referred to me by several of my friends, especially when I did a short presentation on orcas for a philosophy class. I continued to put it off because I knew what I would discover, and I couldn’t find the courage to click “play” on my Netflix home screen, where the movie so often made an appearance.
When I finally did get around to watching the movie, I realized that it was not my lack of courage that had prevented me from watching Blackfish; rather, it was my need to ignore the reality of orca captivity, a microcosm of society’s unnecessarily destructive nature. However, upon facing that reality through much different circumstances, I no longer found it necessary to ignore the truth. I pressed play.
The movie revealed to me a plethora of details surrounding orca captivity that I had not previously known. For example, you don’t need any sort of master’s degree to be a trainer. In fact, SeaWorld will hire people without any experience, so long as they can swim and have a good personality, the two qualities needed for putting on a good show. After all, isn’t that what this is all about? Pleasing the crowd, and thus making more money?
Not when there have been reports of more than 70 accidents with trainers and orcas, several of which were deadly, while there is no record of orcas doing harm to humans in the wild.
Orcas lead highly elaborate emotional lives, which transfers into their social lives. In the wild, orcas travel in large families, or pods. They hunt together, travel together, play together, and die together. SeaWorld claims that it recognizes the “importance of family bonds,” but mere recognition is not a legitimate justification for orca captivity, which in and of itself is the exact opposite of maintaining family bonds. Additionally, according to WDC, Whale and Dolphin Conservation, orcas are known to swim up to 100 miles a day; however, at SeaWorld, the orcas spend the majority of their lives in small tanks barely large enough for the 18-21 feet long mammals to move around in. That would be like us spending the majority of our lives in a hot tub. In captivity, separated from their families, isolated, and emotionally and physically deprived, orcas cannot function properly. They are remarkably intelligent animals, much like humans, and such deprivation can drive them to insanity. As many cases in human history have shown, insanity can be incredibly dangerous.
SeaWorld has done some terrible things. However, truthfully, SeaWorld is but a reflection of our society today, which has been destroying the lives of other beings (plant life, animal life, and human life) for centuries. Much like how I initially refused to press “play” in order to escape the reality presented by Blackfish, we hide from the truth in order to psychologically protect ourselves.
What we don’t realize is that in doing so, we only harm ourselves all the more.
Blackfish. Dir. Gabriela Cowperthwaite. Prod. Manny Oteyza. CNN Films, 2013. Netflix.
“Blackfish Official Film Site.” Blackfish Official Film Site. Dogwoof, n.d. Web. 11 June 2014.
“Captivity.” WDC, Whale and Dolphin Conservation. WDC, n.d. Web. 11 June 2014.
“Killer Whale Care.” Killer Whale Care. SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, n.d. Web. 11 June 2014.