Tag Archives: Tilikum

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

Death at SeaWorld Panel Discussion Coming to Emory Bookstore

Cetacean lovers in the Southeast: mark your calendars!

Death at SeaWorld

Death at SeaWorld, by David Kirby, released July 17, 2012

On September 17, 2012, David Kirby, New York Times best-selling author and author of Death at SeaWorld, Dr. Naomi Rose, and Dr. Lori Marino will participate in a panel discussion, followed by book-signing.  Ask me if I’m excited.

While I have not seen a specific title of the discussion, it is a safe bet that it will address the safety of humans in close proximity to captive orcas, whether orcas and other cetaceans should be confined in captivity, whether SeaWorld has the best interest of either the human trainers or the orca “trainees” in mind as it runs its marine park enterprise, other issues brought out at trial in the OSHA v. SeaWorld that we may not have heard, and how science could and should inform sound U.S. policy on cetacean captivity, especially now.

All three speakers are experts in cetacean captivity, but bring their own perspective:

David Kirby is the latest to join the cetacean expert ranks, having earned his cetacean stripes while researching and writing Death at SeaWorld.  He brought his over 20 years as an investigative reporter to bear in crafting an engaging tale of the captive orca through the eyes of both orca experts and former orca trainers.

Dr. Naomi Rose, by being highlighted in Kirby’s book, has revealed more of her personal story and how she came to know the orca, than she  may have imagined.  But it is this story of a woman’s personal journey of coming to know the orca – from marine biology graduate student to researcher in orca’s behavior and its community structure to Senior Scientist at Humane Society International – that provides access to the orca in a way that few experience, but many, young and old, will recognize.  And to which the budding marine biologist will aspire.

Dr. Lori Marino, a behavioral psychologist, conducted the research that resulted in the first published findings regarding mirror recognition in bottlenose dolphins, findings that revealed that dolphins are self-aware, sentient beings.  Dr. Marino has not only published her findings on dolphin behavior and spoken on how dolphins are ill-suited to captivity, she has provided her expert opinion in testimony to Congress.  Atlanta is fortunate to have her here as a Senior Lecturer at Emory University.

Perhaps all three will have stories to tell of wild orca songs or news from the Nonhuman Rights Project, having just returned from Superpod II, a gathering of orca experts, which mirrors the gathering of orcas each Summer in a Superpod off the coast of San Juan Island, Washington.

While certainly some of the discussion will surround the issues of safety of the trainers in light of the OSHA judgment that SeaWorld must cease waterwork  (where the humans are in the water with the orcas) until it can better safeguard the lives of the trainers AND SeaWorld’s recent plans to return to waterwork, this little blogger is looking forward to Atlanta’s having more cetacean expertise in its city limits than ever before.  Notwithstanding that the world’s largest dolphin, whale and fish bowl is located right here.

It is such a tremendous honor to have these three experts here at the same time,  in the same room, and in the same city where the the world’s largest aquarium wants to erode cetacean protection from being wild-caught and watched in U.S. whale shows.

Panel Discussion: David Kirby, Dr. Naomi Rose and Dr. Lori Marino:

  • September 17, 2012; 6:00 p.m.
  • Barnes & Noble at Emory Bookstore
  • 1390 Oxford Road
  • Atlanta, GA  30322

It should be a fascinating evening, and one that this blogger will never forget.  And will expect to Tweet about all night long.  On the 17th. Well, and maybe the 16th.  Or the 15th, too.  Ah, hell.  This is the biggest cetacean GOOD news that I’ve heard in a long time.  I hope you don’t mind if I bask in it just a while.  Yes, I’m excited.