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

10 responses to “Could Blackfish interrupt the legacy of captivity?

  1. This just breaks my heart! It is so wrong in so many ways!! 🙁

  2. nicola cleverley

    your saying seaworld is making money out of tilikum what exactly are you doing? making money out of tilikum by doing this about him! what does tilikum get out of this?

  3. That is a great question: what are YOU doing to help spread the awareness of Tilikum, of the ills of marine mammal captivity?

  4. @Nicola YES, SeaWorld IS making $$ out of Tilikum! For one he has sired 54% of the Orcas at SW, he is a sperm donor, that is all he is to them! If people stopped buying tickets to these abusement parks (exactly what they are) and spread awareness about it, we could get these intelligent, sentient beings rehabbed and released back to the Ocean where they BELONG! So, as Mo asked you, what are YOU doing to help Tilly or any other marine mammal in captivity/prison?

  5. Pingback: Winter le dauphin : une histoire de gros sous ! | Free Dolphins Belgium

  6. Lolita’s mother is still alive and the Matriarch of L -Pod. Lolita was originally acquired by the Seaquarium to be a companion for a solitary male Orca named Hugo who was captured in 1968, but Hugo died in 1980, after only 12 years of captivity, from self inflicted injuries cause by hitting his head against the side of the tank. Lolita has now spent the last 30 years in Solitary confinement. Her only social companions are a few captive dolphins that share her tank, and of course her human trainers. Remarkably, the tank that she once inhabited with Hugo is even too small for her alone. The USDA isnaware of that Miami Seaquarium does not meet the basic legal requirements for Orca enclosures and has done nothing, contrary to the Animal Welfare Act. The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) regulations for the humane handling, care, treatment, and transportation of marine mammals (9 C.F.R. Section 3.104 – Space Requirements) state that the primary enclosure for a killer whale must have a minimum horizontal dimension (MHD) of no less than 48 feet. Lolita’s tank is only 35 feet across. The Miami Seaquarium is considered to be one of the most dilapidated aquatic parks in the world. It is constantly in need of repairs. Additionally, as per the Marine Mammal Inventory Report, the Seaquarium has a substantial death rate for their animals. They cannot get a permit to build a larger enclosure, and most likely wouldn’t do so anyway due to the capital cost. Yet each day Lolita entertains the crowds and the Seaqurium owner Arthur Hertz counts the profits.

  7. This also breake my heart. It must be forbbiden, restricted. We all together must raise our voice to stop this ruthless exhibition of such an intelligent creature. You can see: he is lonely and depressed. Let him free, to return to his family!

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