Tag Archives: Blackfish

SeaWorld’s cluelessness about anything “natural”

As SeaWorld describes on its own page, SeaWorld Cares, its President and CEO Joel Manby announced, “the company has initiated production on a new orca presentation for its San Diego park.”  The new presentation will showcase “more of the species’ natural behaviors.”

The new experience will engage and inform guests by highlighting more of the species’ natural behaviors.

SeaWorld has provided little to no detail on what is meant by this, but the following image from its website may provide some clues.

What does this picture tell the public about what SeaWorld has in mind for its new show format?

What does this picture tell the public about what SeaWorld has in mind for its new show format?  Image from SeaWorld Cares.

I guess that SeaWorld is attempting to make the point that because, in the wild, orcas breach, when SeaWorld trains the orcas in its collection (by using food deprivation) to jump out of the water, this is a natural behavior.

But if it isn’t exactly clear that this is what SeaWorld means, one can read further in its blog for tells.  Describing the following image, SeaWorld states that “[i]t’s going to be focused more on the natural setting, natural environment and also the natural behaviors of the whales.”

SeaWorld's next example of "natural behaviors." Image from SeaWorld Cares.

SeaWorld’s next example of “natural behaviors.”  Image from SeaWorld Cares.

So, yet another image of orcas leaping out of the water is provided, with the implication, again, that because orcas leap out of the water in the ocean, when they do so upon command in a concrete tank, this makes it a “natural behavior.”  Never mind that the wild orcas are not rewarded with frozen, dead fish or signaled “trick successfully completed” by the toot of the trainer’s whistle, or “bridge”.  SeaWorld is apparently telling us that this is natural behavior.

The concept of “natural behaviors” seems to be the focus, because nothing in SeaWorld’s presentation to stockholders on October 9 or on its SeaWorld Cares site would indicate that “natural setting” or “natural environment” is truly in the offing for its collection of orcas.  Quite to the contrary, SeaWorld has steadfastly refused to signal any support for the creation of actual natural settings or environments, like a marine sanctuary.  In fact Mr. Manby has reportedly stated that “doing so would only lead to the orcas to get sick, and likely die.”

But what might SeaWorld have in mind to make the tanks a more “natural setting” or “natural environment?”  Less blaring music as during the theatrical performances?  Some concrete formed to look like, um, the ocean bottom?  Since it has abandoned the Blue World project, it has apparently rejected the notion of an additional 14 feet in depth to make the tanks more “natural”.  But of course, this additional 14 feet would have done nothing, as in nothing, to make a tank a more natural setting.

The natural setting and natural environment of an orca. Image by Candace Calloway Whiting

The natural setting and natural environment of an orca. Image by Candace Calloway Whiting

While we wait to hear what SeaWorld has in mind for its mission of “naturalness”, it is clear that just as whatever trick SeaWorld entices the orcas to perform, or whatever it may add or subtract from its system of tanks, there is nothing natural about it.

Too bad that the entity responsible for 24 orcas in the United States is apparently clueless about this.

The parallels between this graphic that I made for fun and SeaWorld's own are striking. And disturbing.

The parallels between this graphic that I made for fun and SeaWorld’s own are striking. And disturbing.

Freedom from tyranny and the dolphin captivity industry

Fox New’s John Stossel will be airing a show (I’ve never used the word “mockumentary”, and I’m still safe; but gosh, was it tempting) from his Green Tyranny platform.

Whether you watch Fox News or not, but especially if you are a consistent purveyor of its broadcasts, and you watch the show, I would ask you to think from the tagline of this publication: “A Free Press For A Free People Since 1997” and realize that freedom is what is at the core of this issue.  Freedom for humans, and freedom for dolphins and whales.

Freedom for humans. Humans have been fed a line of nonsense about dolphins and whales since aquariums opened, but especially since the mid-1960s, when the aquarium boom started.

Our ability to distinguish the truth about whales and dolphins from the fiction about their captivity is minimal, since most of us are not marine biologists with a focus on studying the wild ones (instead of marine biologists who think that tanks facilitate their next research grant).  That inability to distinguish was complicated by the fact that in the 1960s, no one understood dolphins and whales very well.  Not marine biologists, not aquariums, and certainly not laypeople.

In the ensuing years, we have learned more about dolphins and whales.  We’ve learned about them by studying them in the wild.  What we’ve learned from those in captivity is that they are not suited to it.

So, freedom for a free people?  What’s the tyranny here?  Trying to spread information that corporations want hidden?  Or using a news platform as a shill for the aquarium industry to pass off more aquarium hype as fact?

Freedom for dolphins and whales.  This point is rather too obvious to make, but it would be missing to ignore.  What the “Freedom” tagline underscores is the arrogance of humans to think that we deserve it, but no other species does.  We deserve self-determination, but no other species does.  We deserve happiness (or whatever is our closest approximation), but no other species does.

The irony of that is that we don’t realize that we’ll never find ours, if we don’t encourage their finding theirs (or at least not do anything to prevent it).

Jiyu at Dolphin Base in Taiji, Japan

Jiyu, a dolphin captured for the aquarium industry in Taiji, Japan. Her emaciated appearance should be a bellweather for anyone who thinks that starvation isn’t a human value. Uncredited photo from ProjectAware.org.

Dolphin and whale rights activists have been encouraged by the public’s reception of the film Blackfish, and have promoted its message it via social media.  This film opened the eyes of many, mainly via its broadcast on CNN and its availability on Netflix.  Some have taken this new awareness and have read Death at SeaWorld by David Kirby and former SeaWorld trainer John Hargrove’s personal account as a trainer, Beneath the Surface.  Others have watched the PBS Frontline special, A Whale of a Business and A Fall from Freedom.

These are all good resources to learn about the morbid existence that whales and dolphins face by being exploited inside the captivity industry.  So if you watch Stossel’s show or if you don’t, I highly suggest watching these videos and reading these and other materials, so that we can avoid tyranny and embrace freedom for all.

Open Letter to the City of Jacksonville

The City of Jacksonville, Florida, is considering opening an aquarium. A group called Aquajax is actively promoting this project, with one of its stated goals to “[m]ake the city a desired vacation location for both local and foreign visitors.”

From Lolita, A Slave to Entertainment.

From Lolita, A Slave to Entertainment.

Please consider the following issues as evidence that in contrast to making Jacksonville such a “desired” location, the erection of an aquarium, at considerable financial cost, such a facility will doom Jacksonville to being out-of-step with the current and growing sensibilities of an increasingly ethical public.   Some of the problems of captivity for orcas were brought to the public’s attention by the book, Death at SeaWorld, by New York Times best-selling author David Kirby, and the award-winning film, Blackfish, but the problems of captivity extend beyond that one dolphin species.

SeaWorld, which showcases orcas but owns in its “collection” many other species.  These other species are doing little to redeem SeaWorld’s reputation, as the public, worldwide, becomes aware that exploitation of marine creatures, including but not limited to marine mammals, is an endeavor that we must begin to phase out, not encourage.  The public, which may recognize SeaWorld’s efforts in coordinated rescue efforts of stranded or injured marine animals, also recognizes that one good deed (rescue) does not offset a horrid one (captivity).  There is no balancing that will remove the blemish of captivity from SeaWorld.

Consider these other “current events:”

  • The National Aquarium is ending its dolphin captivity after it recognized that phasing out its dolphin shows, which it had done only about a year previously, was not “enough”.
  • The Vancouver Aquarium Board has voted to end captive breeding.
  • Southwest Airlines ended its 25-year cross-promotion with SeaWorld.
  • The Georgia Aquarium has been denied a permit to import 18 wild-caught Russian beluga whales.
  • Bills to end orca captivity are under consideration in both California and New York. These bills, with the support of over 1.2 million people, are a reflection of the recognition that marine mammals and other oceanic aquatic life should not be exploited for human entertainment.
  • A plan to release Lolita (Tokitae) from the Miami Seaquarium has been proposed by the Orca Network.
  • Facilities in the United States that hold marine mammals inspire the growth of such facilities worldwide, which, in turn, supports a horrific dolphin hunting industry in Taiji, Japan, and elsewhere, where thousands of dolphins, hundreds of entire families of dolphins, can be slaughtered each year, in order for a number of young, pretty dolphins to be forced to live a life forever in captive, money-making (whether for-profit or non-profit) facilities.
  • Other marine mammals, such as polar bears, seals and sea lions, have an equal right to live in their own natural habitat.  Zoos and aquariums that hold them are targeted for being unable to provide suitable habitat, and in any case, deny them their birthright.
  • Zoo Mendoza in Argentina is being called upon by nearly a million people to release Arturo, a polar bear living in desert-like conditions, to a better facility in Canada.
  • SeaWorld’s last remaining polar bear, Johnny, who lived an unnatural solitary life, finally succumbed to this life and died, even while being touted as being in good health.
  • Zoos are coming under more scrutiny as being incapable of providing the kind of life that actually teaches our children to respect wildlife.

It is becoming all too clear every day to more compassionate and ethics-centered humans that “education” at the cost of denying the birthright of animals who should have freedom is a cost that is inconsistent with a humane society.

To learn more about the reality of the captive marine mammal industry, please watch A Fall from Freedom, Blackfish, A Whale of a Business, Lolita: A Slave to Entertainment.

To learn more about the link between dolphin captivity and dolphin killing, please watch the Academy Award-winning film, The Cove, and follow the efforts of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and its campaign, Operation Infinite Patience, dedicated to ending the horrific dolphin hunt in Taiji, Japan.  Here is one report from last year’s dolphin hunt, which is set to resume on September 1.

Do not invest your monies, or your ethics, in a dying industry.

Cove Blue for Jiyu

Photo Credit: James R. Evans / U.S. Pacific Fleet

Title asks whether Taiji may be causing problems for SeaWorld

The Texarkana Gazette has published (and pulled, much like what happened when the Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote a story about the Georgia Aquarium’s plan to import 18 wild-caught beluga whales), a story about SeaWorld’s triggering with admission prices as a demonstration that it really does not care about profits.

Pulled from online publication is a story in which SeaWorld looks to ways to salve its recent wounds

Pulled from online publication is a story in which SeaWorld looks to ways to salve its recent wounds

Since the story has been removed, we are left wondering why it was out there to begin with and why it was pulled.  In the case of the Georgia Aquarium’s pulled story, the same story was, indeed, slipped out for publication exactly as it had been written in the “pulled” version, so if like the Georgia Aquarium case, it may be eventually printed that “Fred Jacobs VP of Communications at SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. says they are about to ‘waive all admission fees until July 31st 2014 at their San Diego, San Antonio and Orlando locations. It’s our way of proving SeaWorld does not place profits above the care of its whales and dolphins.'”

As if straight out of The Onion or something from my generation, Mad Magazine, this text is the stuff of which satire fans’ dreams are made.  And since I am a generally snarky writer, one might expect me to be sitting here shaking my head, chuckling, at what is, if true, merely the latest misjudgment of SeaWorld.  But since I am far bigger than that (don’t believe it for a moment), I’m not.  Okay. I am.  It truly never ceases to NOT amaze me when I see how SeaWorld just does not get it.  It isn’t about the money.  We, or at least I, don’t give a flip if SeaWorld makes cabillions of dollars.

We just don’t want it to be at the expense of animals.

The truth – not opinion – is that marine mammals, that is, dolphins and whales, do not belong in concrete tanks.  Not for entertainment.   Not for education.  Not for research on their communication.  Not as bomb finders. They belong in the ocean. Period. Human beings have the remarkable talent for thinking that anything they can do, they should be allowed to do.  We know this isn’t true.  We can exterminate human beings on a massive scale.  Because we can does not imply that we should.

But as delicious, however expected, as it might be to see another SeaWorld misstep, it is the catch-line of the article that is the most notable.

Troubles in Taiji

It asks, “Are troubles in Taiji to blame?” for SeaWorld’s potential of “sinking”.  The erstwhile article doesn’t touch this subject (which leads me to believe that it was prematurely published), and merely points to SeaWorld’s troubles being linked to the award-winning documentary, Blackfish.

What “troubles” the reporter means in reference to Taiji, Japan, I am wondering and have sent a message for clarification.  Meanwhile, since this is a blog, I can just muse what those might be.

Could the troubles be:

  • The statements of the U.S. Ambassador, the UK Ambassador, and the ambassadors of Italy and Germany who all stated that they have concerns about the drive hunt;
On January 17, U.S. Ambassador Caroline Kennedy sent the "tweet heard round the world"

On January 17, U.S. Ambassador Caroline Kennedy sent the “tweet heard round the world”

  • The letter from Yoko Ono to the fishermen of Taiji requesting that they cease killing the dolphins;
  • The incredible amount of media attention from CNN, HLNTV, Jane Velez-Mitchell, Anderson Cooper, Piers Morgan, Reuters, BBC, ABC, CBS, NBC, the Daily Mail, and many others; or
  • The involvement of the “star” factor, where people with significant name recognition, and ethics, are voicing their concerns and objections to the Taiji Drive Hunt, including Moby, Susan Sarandon, Ricky Gervais, Kirstie Alley, William Shatner (OMG! Sorry, other stars, but William Shatner is Captain Kirk!!!!!!), Wynonna, Hayden Pannetierre, Alyssa Milano, Shannen Doherty, the band Nickleback and others (see this reported in the preceding link).

The real and immediate troubles in Taiji are not for SeaWorld.  The human arrogance of imagining that Taiji is more a problem for SeaWorld than it is for the lives that aquariums worldwide exploit is the root of the problem: of imagining that Taiji is more of a problem for SeaWorld than for the 52 bottlenose dolphins who were forcefully removed from their immediate family and the greater community that defines them and upon which they looked for all of what it means to be a dolphin over five horrific days; of imagining that Taiji is more of a problem for SeaWorld than it is for the 41 who were brutally and painfully killed by a metal pike that severs the spinal cord with no guarantee of immediate death, but merely paralysis to allow the transfer of their motionless bodies to the butcherhouse, while some of them drown during transfer; of imagining that Taiji is more of a problem for SeaWorld than for the 250 bottlenose dolphins in this community who were harassed by “banger boats” into a dead-end killing cove, only to have that community ripped apart by death and capture and to have a remnant of the community driven, splintered, fractured, traumatized, back into the open ocean, where they could attempt to regroup and survive; of imagining that Taiji is more of a problem for SeaWorld than for the entire family of striped dolphins that was killed while the entire world watched; of imagining that Taiji is more of a problem for SeaWorld than for over 1,000 dolphins who have been driven into the Taiji Cove this year alone and all the dolphins who have the current misfortune of migrating past Taiji, where the Isana Fishermen’s Union leaves port daily to catch dolphins for aquariums, the “seaworlds” of this planet: this is human arrogance at its clearest if not finest.

There are life-threatening problems in Taiji.  And the world needs to know that aquariums, “seaworlds” everywhere, are likely the biggest cause of those problems.

So when the Gazette queried whether Taiji was a source of problems for SeaWorld, it is fitting that the question be asked and the connection be made, the connection between the fact that aquariums need dolphins for their ridiculous, exploitative, uneducational shows, and that aquariums get many of them from Taiji.

But SeaWorld’s problems? Not ticket problems.  Not revenue problems. Not stuffed-toy-sales problems.  The problems that SeaWorld has are ethical ones.  Since SeaWorld has more orcas (the largest species in the dolphin family) in captivity than any other aquarium in the world, and since SeaWorld pioneered the unnatural holding of these beings in tanks that don’t even approximate a sufficient habitat, the responsibility is on SeaWorld to genuinely revisit its 50-year-old business model cum inspiration for the world aquarium market and turn away from its heretofore lucrative exploitation of these animals.

The good news for SeaWorld is that if it desired, it could rehabilitate itself, its image, its ethical foundation by genuinely engaging with the marine mammal experts to begin a program of rehabilitating the dolphins and whales in its control and preparing them for life in a sanctuary or, in some cases, perhaps many cases, for a life as free as she may remember in her youth.

Tokitae (Lolita)One sidebar about Lolita: on January 24, NOAA published the Proposed Rule to “revise the endangered listing of the Southern Resident killer whale distinct population segment to include Lolita.”  The public is now invited to submit, by March 28, 2014, its comments on the Proposed Rule.  Wouldn’t it be a class move if SeaWorld and the Miami Seaquarium both submitted comments that they will support efforts to evaluate the prudence of retiring Tokitae to somewhere other than the horridly small tank in which she has been held for 40 years.

So troubles? Yes, there are troubles.  For the dolphins and whales.  SeaWorld, should it choose, could rehabilitate and restore them to a better life, and in so doing, rehabilitate its image like no Public Relations firm can do.

In the meantime, while we wait for SeaWorld to recognize that we don’t hate it, but that we fully expect that it has the wherewithall to do the right thing and to remain profitable, please learn more about the dolphin hunt, find out what you can do to help, and sign a pledge not to go to the dolphin show.

Update January 27:  In art imitating life (I know it’s the other way; come on!), the story snafu has been claimed to be the work of a hacker, says Texarkana newspaper editor Les Minor, in this report by My San Antonio.  But what if this newest report is the work of a hacker?  Oh, the pain.  The pain!  Will we ever be able to distinguish the real missteps of SeaWorld from satires of their infamous moves?

 

Why DO people like “Blackfish”?

James Franco has “analyzed” the appeal of Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s award-winning film Blackfish and has what I’ve seen characterized as some interesting observations.  His theory is that Blackfish delivers on a dark underbelly: it dishes out blood without the guilt.

While he may be onto something about those who go to the shows at SeaWorld who may have a secret, lurking, black desire to see some violent orca-on-human behavior, much as those who go to the circus might secretly hope for the tight-rope walker to need that net, I’m thinking that doesn’t explain the appeal of Blackfish.

Rather, what resonates is the universal truth that all living beings share, which is a desire to live a fully-expressed life. What comes through is our ability to have walked on a darker side of life, to have contributed to a machine of which we were but vaguely aware or perhaps quite aware, to have been even an integral part of that machine, but to be able to truly undo, to redo, and to redress.  What comes through is celebration and redemption: something that even SeaWorld could embrace if it chose.

The dark side of Blackfish? I’m not sure there is one.

If it’s dark you want, just preserve the captivity-making machine of SeaWorld, of Marineland, of Miami Seaquarium, of Loro Parque, of the Georgia Aquarium, of Shedd, of SeaWorld Kamogawa, of the Dubai Aquarium, of Atlantis: The Palm, of the Utrish dolphinaria, of the Beijing Aquarium, of the Nagoya Aquarium or the more than fifty aquariums in the nation of Japan (more than any nation on Earth).  If dark you want, don’t stop the new projects that are continually wanting to emulate SeaWorld’s model.

If, on the other hand, one wants to step into an ethic that preserves and respects life, be part of closing all dolphin and whale shows and ending the capturing and breeding-for-captivity.  Learn about the wild ones on their terms, without the noise, without the shows, without the artificial splashing of stuffed-toy-purchasing children and their parents.

So, at the risk of closing with a “pretty but uninspired long-lens shot[] of whales frolicking peacefully . . . ,” it is an image like this that is the inspiration of those who so love Blackfish and the Blackfish Effect.  This is our goal for all of them.

Why do people like Blackfish?  Because they resonate with truth. And because they very much like redemption. Both for us and for the dolphins.

Support this for all of them by signing the pledge to never go to a dolphin show.

Don’t invest in the captivity machine. Take the pledge to never go to a dolphin show.

What you can doRespect and celebrate life.  Take the pledge to never go to a dolphin show.  Join the #Blackfish Brigade on Facebook and Twitter and take part in coordinated action to get the attention of the entertainment (e.g., concerts at SeaWorld properties) and service industries (e.g., Southwest Airlines) that we want to end the dolphin shows.  And never stop until the shows stop.

Sometimes A Great Nocean: the Simpsons Does SeaWorld

The Twitterverse plants ideas that can’t be shaken, like the tune that someone innocently hums while passing you on the opposite escalator.  Today’s sticky thought began innocently enough.

Watch as the SeaWorld-Simpsons connection is established in your brain

Watch as the SeaWorld-Simpsons connection is established in your brain

A proposal for a perfectly lovely animated movie based on Blackfish that would teach children to respect wildlife enough to see them in the wild (before they had been derailed and come to expect to “have” wildlife on the other side of a glass wall, in the best of instant gratification schemes) turned quickly into an episode – no, an entire series of mental episodes – of The SimpsonsThe Simpsons is especially fitting since Sam Simon, co-developer of The Simpsons, is an exemplar for championing the true nature of this world and whose support for the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society resulted in The Sam Simon being part of the SSCS-Australia organization’s whale-protecting fleet.

And because I have neither the skill nor the rights to write the erstwhile Simpsons scripts, I will leave it to the imagination of the overlapping Venn Diagram of Simpsons and wildlife fans.

But rolling around in my noodle are the images of the battling Bart (wants to own a dolphin) and Maggie Lisa (understands that wildlife belongs in the wild), with Bart’s selfish desires being manipulated by the evil Mr. Burns and his shifty

Even Mr. Burns revealed that he had a heart, if memory serves

Even Mr. Burns revealed that he had a heart, if memory serves

Blue-Haired Lawyer to project his desires onto stuffed toy ownership and dreams of becoming a trainer, while hapless Smithers allows his loyalty to Mr. Burns to take him, once again, down the garden path, offering special rates to schools for “field trips” to the Mega Aquarium Chain.  Or the trainers Ernst and Gunter, spewing out the latest script written by Sideshow Bob, while Patches and Poor Violet are exploited in a Public Service Announcement that reveals that orphans deserve to exploit captive dolphins, too.

Or the secrets revealed by Groundskeeper Willie about how a young man was pulled into the orca tank at night and killed, while Smithers (or was it Dr. Julius Hibbert?) was backed into regurgitating a story about hypothermia.

I think I was on a roll until that last bit. But the truth of captivity is not funny.  Dolphins consistently die around the world to feed the aquarium machine, to supply the demand of the market that the aquarium industry created.

Sometimes a Great Nocean would be a wonderful script indeed when Mr. Burns realizes that his greed has resulted in a massive manipulation of both nonhuman and human life, has degraded the lives of all and the ethical compass of humans, and sends Smithers out with an announcement that captivity, while begun in an innocent time, would be irresponsible if continued and that Mega Aquarium Chain would now be turned to an enterprise dedicated to the rehabilitation and release of stranded marine mammals and genuine studies of how to protect their marine habitats.

DOH!

What you can do: To become involved in resetting the ethical compass to the True North of respect for marine mammals, first WATCH BLACKFISH! Then follow your heart and your head and host or join an event in your city to Empty the Tanks, and follow the Blackfish Brigade, the Voice of the Orcas and the Sea Shepherd Cove Guardians for daily actions to bring marine mammal freedom into reality.

A generous reader pointed out that I meant Lisa! Thank you! 😉

Former SeaWorld copywriter’s note in light of Open Letter

As we read SeaWorld’s Open Letter, which it wrote in response to the truth-telling documentary Blackfish and published in several U.S. newspapers, we could spot the spins and turns it wove for an unsuspecting potential shareholder and visitor base.

There have been several responses written to clarify the spins and turns, including:

Something floated across my radar screen today, and when I re-read it, it literally took my breath away.  It was a statement of an advertising agency copywriter for SeaWorld, who described SeaWorld as “one of my favorite accounts . . .”  She submitted her statement to the Orca Network, which published it a bit more than a month ago.  Her statements are truly chilling in light of SeaWorld’s advertisement, Open Letter, Op Ed, whatever it is (which isn’t clear and may be characterized differently in the different publications):

A devout animal-lover, I thought (as did most of the creative team) I was participating in the preservation of Orcas seemingly delighting in this magical environment of hands-on trainers soaring through the choreographed acts with them. Oh how very wrong I was. And oh how deeply ashamed I am today for being a part of this vile travesty. I never knew or saw SeaWorld in the truest sense. I bought the lie…

So, as I read SeaWorld’s Open Letter, I think of this copywriter, and her anguish at having been part of disseminating the SeaWorld view of these magnificent beings, the orcas and other dolphins, the beluga whales – all the wide-ranging marine mammals – and I find myself wondering whether, and even when, the copywriter who worked on the current piece will have a similar epiphany.

What you can do:

Write letters to the editor: In order to ensure that the newspapers who published the SeaWorld piece are presenting both sides of the issue, the Blackfish Brigade has initiated a CALL TO ACTION regarding writing a letter to the editor of those newspapers (but don’t forget your local paper), to request that they publish one of the above-linked responses to SeaWorld, and state your view that a business model that is built upon the captivity of these magnificent creatures is now outdated, and that SeaWorld must adapt to our new awareness and begin working to develop a new one that is not based on animals-as-entertainment or captivity.

Participate in Empty the Tanks: The plans for the second annual Empty the Tanks events to be held on May 24, 2014, have already begun.  Check to see if your city has an event or events scheduled and begin the rallying cry to Empty the Tanks!

Share the word that Blackfish, being watched by more and more people every day and getting Oscar buzz, is available on NetFlix, Amazon and iTunes.

I’m following Blackfish Brigade for coordinated actions to make sure that SeaWorld and all aquariums that hold marine mammals captive are @blackfished!

There is no eduation within the mind of man that can justify the enslavement of dolphins.  Certainly no miseducation can.

There is no education within the mind of man that can justify the enslavement of dolphins. Certainly no miseducation can.

SeaWorld uses full-page advertisement: an insult to both orca and human

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?

Katina, a "stellar" mother, held at SeaWorld Orlando

Katina, a “stellar” mother, held at SeaWorld Orlando

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.

Repeating it only makes the nose grow longer

Repeating it only makes the nose grow longer

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.

Could Blackfish interrupt the legacy of captivity?

As the world heads to Sarasota for a screening of Blackfish, a much-celebrated film by Gabriela Cowperthwaite that premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival and will, on April 5, open the Sarasota Film Festival, Tampa Bay Online (TBO) takes a more “traditional” view of marine mammal captivity rooted in the 1960s and the television show, Flipper, as it considers whether the Tampa area can support two large aquariums.

TBO’s article, which demeans both its readership and dolphins by continuing, if only to correct itself, the aquarium industry’s old tradition of not giving dolphins unique names, reflects the all-too-evident sensibilities of the aquarium industry: the ability to profit and compete is a more salient factor in whether to keep marine mammals in captivity than the harsh reality that marine mammals do not fare well in concrete tanks.  Instead of films like A Fall from Freedom working to keep businesses like the Georgia Aquarium from opening (2007), from adding a dolphin “extravaganza” (2011), or from applying to import the first wild-caught marine mammals since 1993 (2012), the focus of TBO’s article suggests that competitive demographics is a more salient factor in aquarium siting and expansion than the truth about captivity.

Winter as she retreats from the noise

Winter as she retreats from the noise

Winter.  According to TBO, Clearwater Marine Aquarium (CMA) officials believe they “have that . . . something particularly interesting and readily visible” to keep attracting visitors.  The CMA’s “something” is Winter.  Winter is a female dolphin who lost her tail fluke after being caught in the monofilament line of a crab trap.  She was brought to national focus by the movie, A Dolphin Tale, and now lives in a world with the additional noise that accompanied the increased ticket sales from her “stardom” – a not insignificant one, as reported by TBO, from “$8 million to $21 million between 2011 and 2012.”

Winter’s position as the CMA’s current “something” is complicated since she “would be difficult to replace because her prosthetic tail is integral to her story,” as the TBO quotes an economist.

Winter would be difficult to replace because her prosthetic tail is integral to her story.

Tilikum.  Difficult to replace, as would be Tilikum.  SeaWorld Orlando’s star sperm-donor with more living offspring than any other male orca in captivity, Tilikum was caught off the coast of Iceland at about the age of three in 1983, where he was removed from his family and placed into a lifetime of confinement with strangers.  Tilikum is one of the stars in David Kirby’s 2012 groundbreaking and much-acclaimed book, Death at SeaWorld, and although Mr. Kirby did not set out to make a case against marine mammal captivity, he now finds himself at the center of an international dialogue about the ethics of this confinement.

Tilikum during a performance at SeaWorld

Tilikum, his flacid dorsal fin, during a performance at SeaWorld

As does Ms. Cowperthwaite and her film.  Blackfish tells more of Tilikum’s story: a male orca who was caught in the wild in 1983 and brought first to Sealand of the Pacific and then to SeaWorld Orlando, where Ms. Dawn Brancheau, one of Tilikum’s trainers, met a fate – shared by two other individuals – that would not exist but for the aquarium industry.

While Tampa and Clearwater continue to vie for more of the public’s dollars as aquariums display marine mammals and continue their vested interest in maintaining dolphin captivity, come to Sarasota on April 5 for the screening of Blackfish.  Consider the life of Tilikum, the deaths of two trainers and an aquarium visitor at his hands, and become part of the educated dialogue.

This is a world of compensations; and he who would be no slave, must consent to have no slave. Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves; and, under a just God, can not long retain it.  – Abraham Lincoln