As SeaWorld recoils from the truth-telling Gabriela Cowperthwaite film, Blackfish, various interests have stepped forward in SeaWorld’s defense. Its defense by the Florida Attractions Association is not surprising. Nor is SeaWorld’s own self-defensive ad, a statement which it today published in eight U.S. newspapers.
Also not surprising is its message which is a repackaged refrain that most will recognize. Its first point, that SeaWorld “does not” capture killer whales in the wild, is a true statement. Since Blackfish never suggested that SeaWorld is actively capturing orcas (killer whales), it is misleading that this was their ad’s opener. Significantly, however, is that SeaWorld’s adverstisement omits the fact – the truth – that SeaWorld is part of an initiative to capture other whales for display at its parks, being party to the Georgia Aquarium’s 2012 application to capture 18 wild beluga whales in Russia.
When, however, SeaWorld states that it does not separate killer whale young from their mothers, except, for instance, if the mother cannot care for the young, the lack of truth rankles and the words fall hard on an ear that understands even a little about this process.
Katina is a female orca at SeaWorld Orlando. SeaWorld has removed five of Katina’s seven young from her. Because young, wild female orcas learn from older females how to be mothers, Katina, snatched from the wild at about the age of two on October 26, 1978, was premeditatedly removed from her maternal models by the aquarium industry and was, as a result, actively set up by its capture process to fail as a mother.
Despite the lack of appropriate maternal mentoring, however, SeaWorld used Katina to become a breeding orca and to continue the unnatural mother-child relationship that it would then use to justify its own artificial mother-child separations.
So does “bad mothering” explain why SeaWorld would take five of Katina’s seven children away?
Actually, the record supports just the opposite inference. SeaWorld found itself extremely and undeservedly fortunate in Katina’s displaying, instead of a poor mothering record, one that indicates that the separation of her children had nothing to do with her mothering skills. In contrast with SeaWorld’s ad, trainers who worked with Katina, found that her mothering instinct was strong. Carol Ray, a former SeaWorld trainer featured in Blackfish, who worked directly with Katina, noted that “Katina took to nursing with no trouble and was immediately receptive to the babies.” She seemed able to care for both her older children and the newborns, but only so long as SeaWorld allowed it.
Despite these good skills, Katina has experienced every mother’s worst nightmare: the involuntary removal and even death of her children. She has had five of her seven calves taken from her (one was subsequently returned):
- Kalina, also known as “Baby Shamu,” was Katina’s first-born, and is considered the first successful orca captive birth. She was taken from Katina when Kalina was four. While she was returned later, Kalina died at the age of 25.
- Katerina, taken from Katina at age two, died at SeaWorld of Texas at the age of ten.
- Taku, Katina’s third, and taken at age 13, died soon after the separation in 2007 at SeaWorld of Texas.
- Unna, Katina’s fourth, born in 1996, was taken at age 6, and now lives at SeaWorld of Texas.
- Ikaika, Katina’s fifth, born in 2002, was taken from her for another breeding program at age four, and now lives at SeaWorld San Diego.
- Nalani, born in 2006, lives at SeaWorld Orlando with Katina.
- Makaio, Katina’s youngest, born in 2010, is only the second of Katina’s seven calves who has never been separated from his mother.
The notion that a “healthy social structure” is fostered by removing a child from its mother is something that would be stated only by the captivity industry.
SeaWorld seems to think that if something is repeated over and over, it begins to ring like the truth. The only thing that is ringing in this household is the insult that it lobbed at not only the orcas, and the orcas’ mothering skills, but also at our ability to distinguish fact from fiction.
Don’t take the bait. Don’t go to the dolphin show. Share Blackfish far and wide. Join the Blackfish Brigade on Facebook and on Twitter. Tweet using the hashtag #Blackfish. Read Death at SeaWorld for a more in-depth understanding.