Horrifying ‘Blackfish’ Documentary Made Me Hate SeaWorld Even More

“Blackfish” a recent documentary making its television debut tonight on CNN, is both psychologically thrilling and possibly an excellent teaching tool about the dangers of keeping large animals in captivity.  As to be expected, the film has caused somewhat of a national debate on the ethicality of bringing our little ones to SeaWorld and similar places, which is especially interesting considering SeaWorld’s decision to allow children in for free during their “Spooktacular” Halloween weekends.

“Blackfish” tells the story of the 2010 killing of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau by Tilikum, a 12,000 pound orca.The film brings up serious concerns about not only the safety of raising killer whales in captivity, but the humaneness of it as well. In addition to showing numerous chilling scenes of orcas attacking their human caretakers, there is an interview with a former SeaWorld trainer John Jett that I felt was especially telling:

“I am not at all interested in having my daughter who is 3-and-a-half grow up thinking that it’s normalized to have these intelligent, highly evolved animals in concrete pools. I don’t want her to think that’s how we treat the kin that we find ourselves around on this planet. I think it’s atrocious.”

Personally, my family has long chosen not to go to places like SeaWorld or the circus where the ethical treatment of animals is in question. Maybe I’m a spoil sport, but even if the admission is free I don’t feel comfortable bringing my kids to see what amounts to torture of a helpless animal, some of which you can see in “Blackfish”.

Do I judge people who go to these places? I try not to. I think most people are unaware of just how abusive they can be, which makes films like “Blackfish” so vital. I think the people who would openly condone animal abuse are few and far between and most people simply don’t know.

Conservation is an important lesson that I wish to impart on my children. It teaches them to care about beings less powerful or intelligent as them and I believe that it will teach them to be compassionate and caring.

Of course, not everyone agrees with my viewpoint. Janis Brett Elspas, a Los Angeles mother of four told CNN that while she “feels bad when whales are captured or born into captivity” that she feels they aren’t safe in the wild either and that places like SeaWorld can protect them:

“I think a lot of the anti-whale-in-captivity people are thinking that people are using them for entertainment value and for their own selfish purposes, but I think it’s really important from the educational aspect.”

Yes, because making orcas do jumps and tricks in front of crowds of children is vital for conservation purposes.

Seriously though, I get the argument that SeaWorld does some good. They are known for doing conservation work. The question is, at what cost? I’m sure a lot of that conservation work is funded by the money that comes from the shows they put (like the ones featured in “Blackfish”). And if they were to stop these shows, what could they put in its place that’s not also abusive to damaging to the animals and dangerous to the trainers. These are questions I can’t answer.

What I do know is that, after watching “Blackfish” is that something has to change. The joy of seeing these majestic creatures in action so that our kids will be interested in conserving them isn’t worth the loss of a trainer’s life or the physical and psychological damage that the animals go through. There’s got to be another way.

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    • Rachel Sea

      Some years ago my wife and I were invited to one of these types of animal parks, for free, by our morning talk radio program. Most of the land mammals seemed mostly okay. The big cats had decent space, the smaller animals seemed bright and engaged, but oh, the largest animals were just being tortured.

      If I hadn’t been packed into the middle of a row of people at the orca show, I would have walked out. How anyone can put such a clearly intelligent, social animal in solitary confinement for life, for entertainment…it’s just evidence to me of how wrong we are as a species. The elephants were even worse, confined in a cement paddock, giving rides for hours on cobbled cement. Their eyes were dead.

      I will NEVER go back, not for free, not for anything. If I want to take someone to see a whale, we’ll go out on a boat. The whale watching tours organized to fund studies by marine biologists, THOSE are the whale viewing experiences that fund conservation.

      • http://anniedeezy.tumblr.com/ Annie

        Don’t forget the wailing rock music!

        That was the worst part of it for me, for some reason. Like they knew how horrible this was and compounded it with cheery, upbeat music in an attempt to make it less so.

      • Rachel Sea

        Oh they used faux Native music at this one. It was all Salish-style wood carving, and Navajo-style flute.

      • http://anniedeezy.tumblr.com/ Annie

        Jeesussss. Hate.

      • BubbleyToes

        You should watch “An Apology to Elephants.” It’s on HBO Go if you have that but I am sure you can find it elsewhere.

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    • Mystik Spiral

      ““Blackfish” a recently documentary making its television debut tonight on CNN,
      is both psychologically thrilling and possibly an excellent teaching
      tool about the dangers of keeping large animals in captivity.”

      Mommyish, please, PLEASE proofread and edit your articles. Animals held in captivity for human entertainment is an issue I, personally, am very passionate about. I’m glad you’re writing about it and trying to educate the masses on the horrifying realities of these places, but that opening sentence is severely bush-league. One could easily argue that it detracts from the seriousness of the message.

      • Cee

        Hm.

        No. I don’t think it took from the seriousness of animals being held in captivity or the message being conveyed.

        Should it have been proofread? Yes. But I doubt the message was missed.

        Their their their, it will be alright. :)

    • anony

      Orcas are two or so evolutionary leaps away from wiping out the human race. These animals fuck with sharks(and boats) /for fun/ and can kill pretty much anything they want to kill, we should not mess with them.

      That being said I’m glad we don’t have any parks like that in my country, there’s only on place around here that keeps larger water living animals and their tanks are huge and well kept. (Their sharks are the world’s biggest attention whores though.)

    • http://wtfihaveakid.blogspot.ca/ jendra_berri

      If you want to know of more bone-chilling treatment of marine animals, look no further than Marine Land in Ontario. It’s awful. I wish it would just be shut down.
      I wish these sorts of showbiz animal attractions would shut down.

      I remember once the circus called my house as a kid trying to sell tickets and my mom kept them on the phone for a good 10 minutes telling them what she thought of circuses. I remember we went to one once when I was 5 or so. It must have made an impression on her.

    • http://wtfihaveakid.blogspot.ca/ jendra_berri

      If you want to know of more bone-chilling treatment of marine animals, look no further than Marine Land in Ontario. It’s awful. I wish it would just be shut down.
      I wish these sorts of showbiz animal attractions would shut down.

      I remember once the circus called my house as a kid trying to sell tickets and my mom kept them on the phone for a good 10 minutes telling them what she thought of circuses. I remember we went to one once when I was 5 or so. It must have made an impression on her.

    • http://wtfihaveakid.blogspot.ca/ jendra_berri

      If you want to know of more bone-chilling treatment of marine animals, look no further than Marine Land in Ontario. It’s awful. I wish it would just be shut down.
      I wish these sorts of showbiz animal attractions would shut down.

      I remember once the circus called my house as a kid trying to sell tickets and my mom kept them on the phone for a good 10 minutes telling them what she thought of circuses. I remember we went to one once when I was 5 or so. It must have made an impression on her.

      • pixie

        I agree with you on Marine Land should close. Mostly because of the treatment of the animals, but also partly because I really can’t stand the commercials. I know summer is coming when they start playing the commercials on TV and the radio. It’s been the same commercial for like the past decade or so.
        I’ve never been to Marine Land and never plan on going. I’d rather spend my money going to an actual sanctuary for injured/unreleasable animals rather than a place purely marketed for entertainment.

      • pixie

        I agree with you on Marine Land should close. Mostly because of the treatment of the animals, but also partly because I really can’t stand the commercials. I know summer is coming when they start playing the commercials on TV and the radio. It’s been the same commercial for like the past decade or so.
        I’ve never been to Marine Land and never plan on going. I’d rather spend my money going to an actual sanctuary for injured/unreleasable animals rather than a place purely marketed for entertainment.

      • pixie

        I agree with you on Marine Land should close. Mostly because of the treatment of the animals, but also partly because I really can’t stand the commercials. I know summer is coming when they start playing the commercials on TV and the radio. It’s been the same commercial for like the past decade or so.
        I’ve never been to Marine Land and never plan on going. I’d rather spend my money going to an actual sanctuary for injured/unreleasable animals rather than a place purely marketed for entertainment.

    • Katia

      The circus? I didn’t know that was still a thing. Our local aquarium’s dolphins seem fine. We have a very bad zoo though. Well, the animals might be happy but it’s just kind of boring and they’ve had a lot of large animals died so its probably just too cold. I don’t see having a few animals in captivity as being as harmful as fishing, farming or whaling .there are some great zoos but I guess most are terrible. China’s zoos aren’t great but the panda sanctuary is nice and ethical

    • Katia

      The circus? I didn’t know that was still a thing. Our local aquarium’s dolphins seem fine. We have a very bad zoo though. Well, the animals might be happy but it’s just kind of boring and they’ve had a lot of large animals died so its probably just too cold. I don’t see having a few animals in captivity as being as harmful as fishing, farming or whaling .there are some great zoos but I guess most are terrible. China’s zoos aren’t great but the panda sanctuary is nice and ethical

    • Katia

      The circus? I didn’t know that was still a thing. Our local aquarium’s dolphins seem fine. We have a very bad zoo though. Well, the animals might be happy but it’s just kind of boring and they’ve had a lot of large animals died so its probably just too cold. I don’t see having a few animals in captivity as being as harmful as fishing, farming or whaling .there are some great zoos but I guess most are terrible. China’s zoos aren’t great but the panda sanctuary is nice and ethical

      • Blueathena623

        How do you define “fine” though? I’m not saying all aquariums and zoos are awful, but I think it can be hard to tell how happy they are. I once read a book by that lady with autism, can’t remember her name, and she talked about neurotic animal behaviors (stereotypies, I think I spelled that right). Once you learn about them, they are easy to spot in a lot of captive animals.

      • EX

        Temple Grandin?

      • Blueathena623

        Gracias. Thats her.

      • FormerlyKnownAsWendy

        National Geographic a few months back had a huge article about how zoos are the last saving grace for many endangered species because their habitat has been destroyed. Even some of the smaller ones were trying to save some of the smaller species, and there was talk of purposely saving animals that are not the cute ones (non-endangered) that people are coming to zoos to see. It was a good article. Found it online; it’s called “Building the Ark.” It’s good to know most zoos are trying to do good. http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2013/10/zoos/kolbert-text

      • Blueathena623

        Yes, I loved that article. And I do acknowledge that the revenue from baby pandas and lions help fund conservation efforts for less popular animals. I know the Atlanta zoo is big on amphibians.

      • SarahJesness

        Some animals do better in captivity than others. We study them over time and can learn how to better improve the conditions. Compare zoos today to zoos fifty, a hundred years ago. The best zoos today have great exhibits that mimic the animal’s natural habitat and strive to provide the animal with proper simulation.

        But that’s where the question with orcas come in. How are the conditions for orcas, specifically, right now? Can they be better, or are orcas animals that can never be kept in captivity?

      • Blueathena623

        Yes, there are good zoos and bad zoos, but even animals, especially the larger ones, in the best zoos can develop neurotic habits because its still not their natural environment. Does this mean they would be better off in the wild? Not necessarily. If you have an endangered animal that is exhibiting anxiety on the level of a person chewing their fingernails, that animal is probably better off in a zoo.
        I think one way to judge the conditions for orcas is to look at life expectancy. I think the seaworld people were saying 25-35 years, while the wildlife experts were saying 50-60. If captivity is cutting an animal’s lifespan in half, conditions aren’t right.

      • A-nony-mous

        Zoos and aquariums are…controversial.

        For instance, generally it’s cruel and unhealthy to breed animals. That is a fact. Pregnancy and birth is dangerous and the life expectancy goes down the more an animal is bred. Thus breeding purely to keep profit up (by having a consistent ‘supply’ of an animal) is cruel, unnecessary and a dick thing to do, especially by organizations that claim to be ALL and ONLY about the welfare of animals…like zoos and aquariums. But they’re constantly breeding and even breeding unhealthy animals, such as the constant celebrations for white tigers. For every ONE white tiger there are many normal colored tigers that are unwanted and essentially disposed of by being dumped at other zoos or even big cat non-profit sanctuaries. White tigers are ALL inbred as they were created by breeding one white offspring back to it’s parent and all the stock comes from that line. But zoos routinely do this because it brings in big money.

        I’m not even entirely convinced on the “conservation” aspect of zoos because pretty much every animal is captive-born and will NEVER go back to the wild and contribute to wild genetic or ailing populations. NO American zoo lion will aid the plummeting African populations. I’ve never heard of any American gorillas being released back to Rwanda or the DRC. Never heard of any American zoo tigers being released back to Siberia or Sumatra. Most are too captive. Having lots of pandas in zoos might mean they don’t go extinct in the wild but the money people spend going to see a bunch of captive-bred, captive-born domestic pandas could be better spent donated to organizations that work with the Chinese government to end poaching or habitat loss to actually protect wild populations, you know?

        People used to say the same thing about “conservation” and “it’s a better life” about circus animals to justify that too.

      • SarahJesness

        If it makes you feel better, a few years back the AZA banned it’s zoos from breeding white tigers, white lions, and king cheetahs.

        Anyway, releasing zoo animals back to the wild is a tricky thing. You don’t see it done a lot right now, I think, because a lot of the animals currently don’t have much of a wild to go back to. It’s a bad idea to release elephants back into the wild if they’re just going to be killed immediately by poachers. We can’t release tigers back into the wild if there’s not enough wild to put them in. We need to get rid of poaching problems and ensure that there’s plenty of wild land for the animals to go back to before they can be released.

    • pixie

      I’ve never been to Sea World and I’ve never been to the Canadian/Ontario equivalent, Marine Land, either. My parents were never big on that sort of thing because of the cruelty to the animals. Instead, I went to wildlife sanctuaries as a kid. Near where my parents live there is a conservation area that includes bird of prey sanctuary where ALL of their birds are unreleasable. Some were injured, others were rescued from people who wanted them as pets and realized they couldn’t keep them (resulting in the birds imprinting on humans); none were bred there. At the sanctuary they do have a couple of “shows” a day, weather and temperature permitting, but they educate people about the bird species, give a background on that particular bird, and the bird gets its daily exercise. If they didn’t hold the shows, the staff would still be doing the same thing as they do in the “shows” regardless to exercise the birds. They have nice, big enclosures, but it’s good for them to be taken out now and then, get a tasty treat for their troubles. The same conservation area also has one of the last (if not the last) semi-wild bison herds in Ontario that have hundreds of acres to roam around on and it’s really neat to walk the trails to see them (there’s a fence between where the bison are and where the people can go, but that’s to stop people from getting too close and potentially hurting themselves or the bison, but their area is so large, you can’t see the whole of where they live).

    • pixie

      I’ve never been to Sea World and I’ve never been to the Canadian/Ontario equivalent, Marine Land, either. My parents were never big on that sort of thing because of the cruelty to the animals. Instead, I went to wildlife sanctuaries as a kid. Near where my parents live there is a conservation area that includes bird of prey sanctuary where ALL of their birds are unreleasable. Some were injured, others were rescued from people who wanted them as pets and realized they couldn’t keep them (resulting in the birds imprinting on humans); none were bred there. At the sanctuary they do have a couple of “shows” a day, weather and temperature permitting, but they educate people about the bird species, give a background on that particular bird, and the bird gets its daily exercise. If they didn’t hold the shows, the staff would still be doing the same thing as they do in the “shows” regardless to exercise the birds. They have nice, big enclosures, but it’s good for them to be taken out now and then, get a tasty treat for their troubles. The same conservation area also has one of the last (if not the last) semi-wild bison herds in Ontario that have hundreds of acres to roam around on and it’s really neat to walk the trails to see them (there’s a fence between where the bison are and where the people can go, but that’s to stop people from getting too close and potentially hurting themselves or the bison, but their area is so large, you can’t see the whole of where they live).

    • pixie

      I’ve never been to Sea World and I’ve never been to the Canadian/Ontario equivalent, Marine Land, either. My parents were never big on that sort of thing because of the cruelty to the animals. Instead, I went to wildlife sanctuaries as a kid. Near where my parents live there is a conservation area that includes bird of prey sanctuary where ALL of their birds are unreleasable. Some were injured, others were rescued from people who wanted them as pets and realized they couldn’t keep them (resulting in the birds imprinting on humans); none were bred there. At the sanctuary they do have a couple of “shows” a day, weather and temperature permitting, but they educate people about the bird species, give a background on that particular bird, and the bird gets its daily exercise. If they didn’t hold the shows, the staff would still be doing the same thing as they do in the “shows” regardless to exercise the birds. They have nice, big enclosures, but it’s good for them to be taken out now and then, get a tasty treat for their troubles. The same conservation area also has one of the last (if not the last) semi-wild bison herds in Ontario that have hundreds of acres to roam around on and it’s really neat to walk the trails to see them (there’s a fence between where the bison are and where the people can go, but that’s to stop people from getting too close and potentially hurting themselves or the bison, but their area is so large, you can’t see the whole of where they live).

    • Blueathena623

      I saw the documentary, and it was horrible in the sense that I felt so bad for the orcas. And seaworld’s conservation efforts can kiss my behind — they donate about a million a year, and bring in about half a billion. And how much are you really learning about a species when you basically only study them in when they are performing in parks? And seriously, the part about the mother whale keening for her baby? Heartbreaking.

      I love aquariums, but I’m starting to get turned off by them too when they have bigger animals and large mammals. The one in Atlanta is/was a big deal and touted as one of the best in the country, but there was a period when one species (dolphins or beluga whales, I think) just kept dying. Maybe you shouldn’t exhibit an animal you can’t keep alive.

    • A-nony-mous

      I’m from Victoria BC,in fact I used to live about 5 minutes walk away from Sealand of the Pacific in Oak Bay and now I live about 10 minutes away. I saw Tillikum right around the time he killed Keltie Byrne in 1991, so this is something that’s always been close to me and I’ve always followed his story.

      I think Sealand/Seaworld is absolute scum. What conservation efforts do they really do anymore? I haven’t heard about practically anything. Especially to balance out to the harm that they’ve done and CONTINUE to do to their animals. They are STILL bringing in other whales. Google the story of Morgan the orca. The Dolphinariam in Harderwijk was all prepared to rehabilitate her and try to release her back to the wild but Sealand saw a new breeding stock for their ailing gene pool and put their money and lawyers in and needless to say a Judge ruled and Morgan instead was moved to Loro Parque in the Canary Island to join other Sealand-owned orcas. There are laws against taking orcas from the wild now but in order to skirt these laws Sealand does exactly this. Morgan was born and raised in the wild but now she isn’t “wild” anymore, she’s now a Loro Parque orca so soon enough it’ll be legal to ship her to the USA to put in their parks and breed her with their stock, probably to Tillikum, who’s fathered like 15 orcas in spite of his horrible temper and performance record. See how it works? They have other whales hidden away too.

      And what is so “educational” about the orcas? Their behaviour in theme parks isn’t anything remotely like what it is in the wild. They don’t even put them in realistic pools. There’s nothing in their tanks except blank grey walls, a blank grey floor and that’s it. Yeah, real educational and realistic. Teaching kids that it’s normal for orcas to let people ride around on their heads and to do stupid tricks for a few tiny fish.

      • SarahJesness

        SeaWorld often takes in stranded or injured sea animals, rehabilitates them, and releases them back into the wild.

        But yeah, I do agree with a lot of what you’re saying. If SeaWorld is about educating and not entertaining, they should prove it by stopping the shows and giving them more natural environments to live in. Because that’s what really depresses me about SeaWorld. I can go to a good zoo and see animals in exhibits that resemble their natural environment. The zoos and zookeepers do a lot to keep the animals stimulated and entertained. Intelligent animals like monkeys are especially given a lot to do. Orcas? They’re extremely intelligent, emotional, and complex. Keeping them in blank concrete tanks, with little to no stimulation and entertainment besides show training, is cruel.

      • A-nony-mous

        ” On a complaint filed by Earth Island Institute in 1992, the federal government blocked the import of cetaceans from Taiji to Six Flags Discovery Park (formerly Marine World Africa USA) in Vallejo, CA, due to this law, and ever since US marine parks like SeaWorld have had to either breed their own dolphins and orcas in captivity or retain stranded animals by claiming they could not be released back.

        But they choose to pretend the abuse and suffering are not associated with their industry. They refuse to police their industry and help abolish the dolphin trafficking conducted by “Ocean Embassy” (former SeaWorld trainers Ted Turner, Robin Friday et al).

        They refuse to help crack down on fellow member aquariums in the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) which, as we speak, are getting dolphins from the inhumane and bloody dolphin drive hunts in Taiji, Japan. Indeed, the Taiji Whale Museum, which supervises the hunts and trains wild dolphins for captivity is a member of JAZA, the WAZA affiliate in Japan!”

        http://savejapandolphins.org/blog/post/seaworlds-hypocrisy

        “On August 27, 2012, SeaWorld LLC quietly applied for a permit to import the 6-year-old Pacific White-sided dolphin named Kirara for public display at SeaWorld San Antonio. Kirara was born on May 3rd, 2006 in Kamogawa Seaworld in Japan.

        Kamogawa is just another entertainment-through-slavery facility of which Japan alone has more than 50, mostly ‘stocked’ with animals stolen from the wild. This particular place for instance houses the Orcas Bingo and Stella captured in Iceland, three Belugas captured in Canada and Russia, and Bottlenose, Common, Risso’s and Pacific White-sided dolphins originating from the wild.”

        http://www.seashepherd.org/commentary-and-editorials/2013/10/14/seaworld-and-co-waza-and-imata-and-their-collaboration-with-the-dolphin-slaughter-in-japan-623

      • Jayess

        I was going to mention this, but you’ve provided resources, which is much better. SeaWorld has never released a cetacean to my knowledge, unless it was a smaller dolphin or porpoise. Their whales are their moneymakers and stay with them permanently. At least, until they die god-awfully premature deaths.

      • Paul White

        The shows wouldn’t be a downside to me, IF the environments were better and bigger. Teaching an orca to perform an easy trick in exchange for a treat is a decent enough form of enrichment after all. But that doesn’t negate the need these animals have for *space*.

      • SarahJesness

        If we want to educate about natural behavior and environment, that means no more tricks. What would people think of an accredited zoo having tigers jump through hoops?

        But as for space… Orcas need a lot of it. I’m not sure if a tank big enough to house happy orcas is possible, or at least affordable for anyone.

    • SarahJesness

      I’m not against animal captivity in general, but I’m not sure orcas are a good candidate for captivity. They are large, very intelligent, very emotional, very complex animals, and I don’t think the marine parks and aquariums keeping them do a good enough job of making sure they’re stimulated and happy.

      That said, if people are going to insist on keeping orcas in captivity… Give them better, more natural environments. A lot of captive orcas right now are kept in what pretty much amount to big swimming pools with little to do. Give them rock formations and artificial reefs and plants to explore in. A big variety of toys, always changing out for new ones, to keep them entertained. Activities to do, and such.

      SeaWorld says it wants to educate, but orca shows don’t educate, they merely entertain. I don’t think SeaWorld is all bad, I acknowledge that they do a lot of good. (and ironically, while keeping orcas captive isn’t good for the individual animal, it’s really done a lot for the species as a whole) But they could be better. Give orcas tanks that better resemble natural environments. Focus more on talking about their natural behaviors and environments, not focusing on the tricks. I recently decided not to support the whole “captive orca” thing. Admittedly my decision was somewhat reluctant. I LOVE killer whales. They’re my #1 favorite animal, and right now if I want to see one, SeaWorld is the only place I can do it. But I have to get over my selfishness, I guess. But I might, MIGHT be willing to go back if they improved the conditions the orcas are kept in.

      As for risk to trainers? These are 8,000+ pound dolphins. Even if the animals are perfectly trained and perfectly tame, and you can 100% ensure that they’ll never attack anyone, one wrong move or one missed trick can result in injury or even death. It’s a risk you have to take if you’re going to work with such big animals.

      • A-nony-mous

        What, specifically, has entertaining shows at Seaworld done for wild orcas? I’m not trying to be snarky but I see this thrown out a lot and I have yet to meet anyone who can actually back it up with facts.

        The island I live on is one of a very few places in the world with resident orcas and where you can, fairly routinely, see wild orcas just by sitting on the beach. Yet I can guarantee you that 99.9999% of people who go to Seaworld cannot even pick the island out on a map and wouldn’t know what it was if you said it by name. Nor does Seaworld ever mention it. It sure doesn’t push for people to come and spend their money on whale watching boats which are far less invasive than Seaworld captivity. It hasn’t pushed people to become educated about Vancouver Island pollution, a problem we’re currently trying to deal with here now, that is known to threaten orca populations. I sure haven’t heard anything about an outpouring of Seaworld ticket-buyers offering to donate towards a sewage plant on the island. Nor did Seaworld or any of it’s goers donate or come to try and help Luna, a disoriented and lost orca here a few years ago.

        I doubt it touches on other places with orca populations or encourages people to go to these other countries to see wild orcas, because that would be money that Seaworld isn’t getting.

        So I’m curious as to what specifically Seaworld is really doing for the species as a whole except passing on inaccurate facts and providing a bit of shallow entertainment for 30 minutes. People appreciate the animals but it rarely goes further than the gift shop because no real information about how and where to help their wild counterparts is given.

      • SarahJesness

        I’m more talking about public image, really. Prior to the keeping of orcas in captivity, the animals were seen as monsters. We knew little about them. When some were kept and brought to aquariums, they were studied and people learned that these animals were friendly. As a result, people today care a lot more about their safety and conservation. When orcas get hurt or a young one gets separated from its pod or orphaned, people care. You mention Luna. Luna would not have become a sensation if people still thought orcas were mindless killing machines. Orcas have become what is known as “charismatic megafauna”. If you want to talk about ocean pollution and overfishing, you can get more people to care by saying “It’s hurting orcas!”. Yeah, most people are still ignorant on a lot of issues involving orcas, but it’s a lot better than it used to be.

        Of course, that’s how it used to be. And people back then didn’t really know better. They knew nothing of orcas and so had no idea how they’d hold up in captivity. But there’s not really much of an excuse now, and I do agree that SeaWorld doesn’t really do much to educate, and they keep their orcas in crap conditions. Again, I’m just saying it’s ironic. Captivity has helped the image of orcas but it’s so damaging to the individual animals.

      • Jayess

        You’re right: whales are definitely “charismatic megafauna” and the enthusiasm to see them was certainly started by getting them captured and in aquariums. But here’s the thing: that rage for getting orcas into aquariums actually almost obliterated the B.C./Washington population. I’ll have to do some quick hunting to try and find the figures (I’ll be back with it, promise), but it wiped out more than half of the wild whales. BRB with resources.

      • Jayess

        Sorry, can’t find specific numbers, but from the Center for Whale Research, I have this: “The size of all three Southern Resident pods was reduced in number from 1965-75 as a result of whale captures for marine park exhibition. At least 13 whales were killed during these captures, while 45 whales were delivered to marine parks around the world. Today, only Lolita (Tokitae) remains alive in captivity at the Miami Seaquarium.”

        There’s currently 81 whales in the Southern Resident pods. If the number was similar pre-1965, then the removal of 58 whales would have been pretty catastrophic for the local population.

      • SarahJesness

        It’s one of those “people didn’t know any better” thing. People still didn’t know much about orcas but they did like them. If somebody tried the same thing today, would they be able to get away with it without mass criticism? Or people petitioning for laws? I doubt it.

      • guest

        Is that Luna from the documentary “The Whale”? That was heartbreaking. My daughter and I both watched it and learned even more about these awesome creatures. We’ve been in recovery from our Sea World addiction for about 6 years now.

      • Paul White

        To be fair, people should be able to elect to take informed chances. I work with animals that could theoretically kill me because the risk is small enough that I’ll take it in exchange for the payoff.

    • SarahJesness

      Compromise idea: “open ocean parks”. Parks and research facilities build by the seashore. The animals can come and go as they please, though can be encouraged to come with food and attention. I think it’s been done with bottlenose dolphins, and orcas are just big dolphins, maybe it can work. Researchers can study them up close and visitors can view the animals in their natural habitat. Be entertained AND educated, not just entertained. If that can be done, I’d be all over that!

      • A-nony-mous

        Why not just go with what already exists?

        There’s already Whale Watching in most places with any kind of resident pods. It’s much more humane because it does not affect the animals or disrupt their natural patterns. If you start feeding animals, they stop hunting and migrating and just hang around to be fed for entertainment. Where there’s profit, there’s usually no morals so there will be no restraint. There will be a demand to have multiple shows a day which means the wild animals would be fed multiple times a day, seven days a week as long as there’s profit to be made.

        With wild whale watching you go out in a small boat and you always stay 50 or more feet away and there’s no feeding of the animals and the whales can dive and swim away at any time and you quietly go on your way afterwards.

        Why do we constantly have to pre-package everything into an “entertaining show” form? Why don’t we start telling people that they have to get off their lazy asses and make an effort if they want to see something so bad? If you want to see a lion get off your ass and pay to go to Africa and go on a safari. If you want to see a real tiger, get off your ass and pay to go to Siberia or India. Otherwise maybe you don’t actually care or need to see one that bad and maybe shouldn’t demand that a bunch be rounded up, overbred, inbred and delivered to you in an entertaining local variety.

        If we’re going to do it with animals why not do it with heritage places? Let’s knock down the entire Great Wall of China so people who can’t be bothered can visit a chunk of it in Texas and New York and Spain instead. And the Taj Mahal and the Pyramids too. Disassemble them all and ship chunks of them around to museums and theme parks. People can’t be expected to actually travel to see the real thing where it actually came from, right?

      • Jayess

        100-200 yards is the legal requirement for distance in both Canada and the U.S. for whale watching. In Canada this is as per the Species At Risk Act. But that does not prevent the whale from coming closer to you, and sometimes, in B.C., you see the whales right from the ferry between Van. and Victoria.
        It’s seriously cheaper than Sea World in so many ways.

    • Erik Giles

      I’ve said this before, long before any of this controversy.

      “Seaworld officials said the whale showed no aggressive behavior before it killed so and so …. it only killed two other people before this latest killing … ”

      I’m not an expert on sea life – but, – Hey marine biologists – it’s a KILLER WHALE.

      KILLER WHALE. Not cuddly whale, not BFF whale, not Golden Retriever Whale – KILLER WHALE.

      It’s a KILLER whale.

      Not a ‘bruiser whale’ or ‘mugger whale’ or ‘rough you up a little’ whale or ‘assault whale’ or ‘DUI whale’ or ‘arsonist whale’ or ‘burglar whale’ or ‘pickpocket whale’ or ‘embezzling whale’ or ‘drug dealer whale’ or ‘stalker whale’ or ‘sexual harrasser whale’.

      IT’S A KILLER WHALE. Think Hannibal Lecter at 12,000 pounds with hundreds of sharp teeth and string muscles.

      KILLER WHALE.

      • Jayess

        Hahaha my favourite thing is when people are like “omg NOOOOO it’s an orca.” So I look at them evenly and say, “Yes, orca orcinus: literally Latin for BRINGER OF GODDAMN DEATH”

      • Paul White

        Well, common names are not exactly always accurate indications of an animals behavior; see the various local names like “three step snake” for instance.

        That being said….they’re giant and they’re carnivores. Crap yes they are DANGEROUS.

      • G.S.

        Actually, it’s supposed to be read as, “Whale Killer.” As in, “these suckers can and will take down a giant fricking whale just because they can.”

      • SarahJesness

        True story: they’ve been known to kill great white sharks in the wild.

    • Jayess

      I’m a sea kayak guide. I grew up close to Vancouver, and we used to go see the killer whales there all the time. I remember loving it.

      Then I saw a whale from my 17-ft fibreglass kayak for the first time. There is nothing in the world like seeing a whale in the wild, whether you’re in a boat, on the land, whatever. It’s seriously like seeing your high school crush: your heart leaps into your throat, you feel like squealing, you’re not certain whether or not you want them to notice you. You grab your friend’s arm and go “omigod omigod omigod!”

      I’ve read “Death at Sea World.” I’ve seen these animals. And seriously? Fuck Sea World so much. Some of their “facts” about orcas are full on WRONG. I don’t think there’s anything anyone ever could say to convince me that captivity for whales is a good idea. This is a mammal so complex that experts questioned on their habits still shrug their shoulders and say “hell if I know.” And we think that keeping them in a pool that Michael Phelps would be bored in is okay?

      The argument is: a lot of people will never see whales except at Sea World. OK. So will a lot of people never see a lot of things. They’re flying huge distances, in some situations, to go to Sea World. What if they changed their ticket and flew to a coastal town? It’s actually incredibly inexpensive to book a whale-watching tour; or if you’re in a place with residential whales, just flipping go sit on the beach for an hour.

      Okay I’m about 80% sure everyone else has said this in the comments, but it’s a pet topic of mine, so I had to climb on my soapbox. You all should come paddling with me and we’ll all go “omigod omigod omigod” together when we see those big black fins bursting out of the water.

      • SarahJesness

        I don’t know why anyone with the money to fly long distances would opt to go to SeaWorld instead of a wild tour. I guess SeaWorld guarantees you’ll see some whales, but still.

        There’s a SeaWorld not too far away from me, and if I want to see killer whales it’s my only option… But I’m not gonna do it, as badly as I want to see them. Ah, someday I’ll get to see wild ones…

    • wendy

      The things that really shook me, aside from the obvious poor treatment of Tilikum and all of the whales in general, were the breaking up of the family units and just the outright lying and deception by Sea World (the dorsal fin, the average age of them in captivity vs in the wild).

      • Matthew

        Sea World hasn’t captured any orcas for 35 years. A lot of the footage from the document was completely fake and out of context. The “experts” they had were only animal rights activists with no expertise on killer whales. Go ahead and look them up, the facts are there.

    • Ex SW Trainer

      I was a killer whale trainer at Sea World San Diego for over 2 years and I can tell you that this “documentary” is very very skewed. There are way too many uneducated people commenting on this article , basing their knowledge on news reports and “stories” they have heard. First off, I am not employeed by the park anymore and left on my own. I understand why people get so outrage by these type of movies. But before you all let someone else tell them how to think or feel, you should actually speak to the trainers at Sea World, they are honest, genuine, hard working, animal loving people that get paid very very little for what they do. They will be honest if you ask them what they think about working there. These animals are treated extremely well and get amazing medical attention. There are real bonds between the whales (actually dolphins) and the trainers and there has been (1) death at the Sea World Parks by (1) whale, this is not an epidemic, nor is it the norm. People need to stop reacting to the media, understand it is thier job to get you all excited so they can sell ads, read their blogs, log on to their websites….
      Sea World has spent billions, yes with a B, on conservation. Just because you havent heard about it, doesnt mean it doesnt happen…. I challenge everyone to do your own research before making a decision either way, rather than let people with an agenda make it for you…..

      • Sundaydrive00

        The narrative of the documentary was mostly told by former Sea World trainers though. It wasn’t based on uneducated people and news reports that didn’t know what they were talking about.

      • SarahJesness

        Things aren’t black and white. SeaWorld has done some good and I’m sure that the trainers care about the animals… But that doesn’t change the fact that there are a lot of issues with captive orcas.

      • Name

        If you’ve seen the film than you also know the flat-out lies, omissions, misinformation, and half-truths that SeaWorld tells it’s own employees (that’s you sugarbee) as told by SeaWorld trainers who have worked for the parks previously. It’s not just about the way that the whales are treated. It’s also about the way the employees and trainers are treated and lied to. That should anger you and the fact that it doesn’t makes me question the validity of your argument. As of now it looks like you’re more guilty of towing the corporate line and parroting their words back than we are of buying a extremist point-of-view based on hearsay and speculation.

      • KBuffalo

        I found the trainers’ stories pretty heartbreaking, too. They were all obviously compassionate people who had a passion for marine life and came to feel as deeply for the whales as they would have for a human co-worker or friend. You could see the agony many of them had gone through as they came to realize that what their employer was doing was wrong, and the conflict between their desire to stop being a part of it and the drive to stay and do what they could for the whales they’d forged a bond with.
        I’m glad OSHA ruled against them. I hope more regulations are coming. I think that SeaWorld can find a way to impress the public with the beauty of these animals without exposing humans to risk, breaking up the whales’ family units and providing better environments for the animals.

    • Paul White

      My concern, from what I’ve seen, is that Blackfish acts like practices common 30 years ago are still de riquer and that’s simply false.
      I’m ambivalent about orcas in particular (as well as dolphins and great apes) being in captivity, but any discussions about it need to be based around our current understanding of these animals and current husbandry, not how things were decades ago.

      • arizonagirl

        There is proof that dolphins are being imported to the U.S. from Taiji. Taiji runs are happening right now. If you don’t know the significance of Taiji, please Google it. We can’t get any more up to date than that.

      • Paul White

        I’d be curious of your proof…

    • Martinez

      I watched the documentary and was shocked how aggressive they can be in captivity. I googled Killer Whale attacks on humans and was shocked how many have occurred. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Killer_whale_attacks_on_humans
      It lists only 6 deaths during captivity, but the list of being injured is long. None of them sound like “accidents” either. The article also lists the names of the 11 Orcas that have attacked their trainers. Maybe the documentary is “misleading” and “one-sided”, but you can’t argue with the facts.

      • SarahJesness

        Even if most of them are “accidents”… It’s people messing with 8,000+ pound dolphins. Even if you’re 100% careful and the whales are 100% nonagressive, somebody almost certainly will get hurt if s/he spends a lot of time with them.

    • Name

      These places would shut down if we just stop going to them. After watching Blackfish I will never go to Seaworld again nor would I let my child see these majestic animals do stupid pet tricks for profit. I would prefer to go whale watching and watch these beautiful animals swim in their natural environment. To get corporations to change the way they do business is just to simply stop spending your money in their parks and that will speak volumes to the corporate executives.

    • CrazyLogic

      I have seen Blackfish and still kind of remain neutral to the debate at worst, mixed feelings at best. Mainly because while I think the Sea Parks need a lot of improvement and have the capability of being better, but just don’t…I see the solution most people are scream (shut these parks down right now) as impractical and may even be harmful for the animals (what would happen to them if all the parks suddenly closed down).

      Release is possible in cases. But it takes years of training and the most famous case of release, Keiko who played Willy in Free Willy, only lasted three years in the wild. And apparently that entire time he was rejected by wild pods and and one point let strange people ride him because he was desperate for human interaction.

      The parks have great potential for rehabilitation, environmentalism and rescue. They need improvement and people to support them to make these changes rather than calling them to shut down. They need to make sure the facts they say are correct and make sure the animals have as close to a natural environment as possible and hopefully make the living tanks (different from the tanks the shows are in) as big as possible. Not to mention even if the whales and dolphins didn’t do shows, they would still be taught many (although not all) of the tricks they do in them for the sake of mental stimulation.

      In short…this is a hugely complex issue that one 90 minute documentary cannot even begin to cover fully, it’s like one paragraph trying to describe all of War and Peace. I’m sure Blackfish gets the majority of it’s facts right, but I’m just as positive it missed vital information both for it’s own side and definitely the other side. And I do not agree with the final solution most people come to (shutting the parks down or just dropping the whales into the ocean tomorrow, both bad ideas) on watching it. The parks have the ability and should take measures to vastly improve and focus more on education rather than entertainment like many Zoos across the world have done. That is my stance.

      And the sad thing is…Sea World is still one of the better parks when it comes to how they treat the animals. Look at Chinese and Russian parks, or hell the Miami Seaquariam (more specifically, how they keep their Orca, Lolita), for how much worse it can be. Sea World still need to strive to be better though.

    • NYCNanny

      As k-k-k-Katie once said, “you’re really something. You’re really beautiful. I mean it…”

      I’m an occasional reader of mommy ish. I tend to disagree with a lot of the articles and comments, but this one brought actual tears to my eyes.

      You are all so smart, informed, and compassionate. I’m so very impressed that the majority of comments have been anti-Seaworld. That’s amazing. And the fave that many of you are moms who are teaching your children this animal compassion…amazing.

      Thank you for reminding me that there are still good people in this world.
      :)

    • Itsme

      While the value of places like SeaWorld is debate able and without a doubt the facilities should be improved (open water,etc.) . The tricks if nothing else show off the amazing strength of these animals and instil a sense of awe in the abilities .

      Make no mistake viewing these animals in thier natural habitat is extremely disruptive and I will say much worse than what is going on in Seaworld.

      Living in Hawaii I witness on a daily basis sealife being harassed . Chased down by swimmers, snorkeler a, scuba divers, boats. All in the name of a “natural experience”

      How would anyone feel if you were trying to have dinner with you family and some creature started peering into your windows to watch you? How about while you slept? People that come to swim with the Dolphins are disrupting thier sleep time and there for make it impossible to get rested enough to defend themselves from predators and hunt themselves.

      I have seen people try to ride turtles. Turtles breath air, they have no gills. Imagine if you were swimming alongside then someone 4 times as big as you grabbed onto you for a ride around the bay? I have seen these poor creatures struggle for air pulling grown men looking for that “experience”

      I have watched in horror as swimmers jump into the water in the evening when the Manta Rays are trying to eat and grab onto the animals mouth for a ride.

      This is something that happens every day, every night .

      What about the whale watching boats whose tips depend on the best experience . Imagine being out with your baby and having a bus load size boat chasing you up and down the block just to have a look and thier idea of a personal connection.

      I feel these parks are a necessary evil in the promotion of the wonderful ness of these animals. Yes there are better ways but without them and the education that can be obtained if you want it they do a lot to educate .

      Finally, am sure I will killed for this but it is hard for me to believe that any of these trainers is unaware of what these animals is capable of. They themselves are undertaking that risk. I don’t see a huge difference between this a say a cowboy riding a bull. There is an inherent risk involved . The trainers are willing to take this risk because they love the animals and they love what they do.

      But for the love of God! Interacting with animals in the wild is NO BETTER than what is going on in Seaworld. It is worse! So much worse!

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    • Michelle smith

      I hate knowing that sea world does that to the whAles, it’s so sad I want them all to be released into the ocean. I don’t agree with what sea world is doing at all. Tilikum is way to big to be kept in a pool. They have messed with his emotions. How can he be happy in there. Poor tilikum and other whales. I can only hope they’ll release them some day. Hate sea world

    • RheaLee

      BOYCOTT BOYCOTT BOYCOTT ALL ANIMAL ENTERTAINMENT…………..
      OMG WAKE UP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • RheaLee

      BOYCOTT ZOO’S, CIRCUS’,PETTING ZOOS, BULL FIGHTING, DOG FIGHTING, ETC. ETC. ETC.ANY/ALL MONEY GRUBBING GREEDY EVIL little minds THAT DELIGHT IN THIS DISGUSTING WAY OF LIFE…….BOYCOTT ANY/ALL HAS TO DO WITH THE EXPLOITATION OF ANIMALS….THIS HAS BEEN GOING ON FOR DECADES, EDUCATE YOURSELVES……………..

    • Betsy

      This animals ARE NOT FOR FUN! I wouldn’t care if another beautiful animal eats another idiot. They need their freedom! They have the ocean for themselves, not a pool, that is small as hell… all for stupid entertainment, I hate seaworld and the stupid people that watch animal brutality like a circus, why don’t you all put yourselves in a cage? With no enough food? Ignorants, take your kids somewhere else.