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. 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.
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