Friday, February 26, 2010

Orcas Belong in the World's Sea, Not in SeaWorld

Tragedy struck once again at a sea park, this time at SeaWorld in Florida. A clash between wildlife, in this case an orca named Tilikum, and the animal entertainment industry contributed to the death of 40-year-old trainer Dawn Brancheau. The death of Ms. Brancheau is very sad and unfortunate, but this needless misfortune also brings to light the lonely and depressing lives of animals, ripped from their natural environments and forced to endure years of isolation and boredom in the name of amusement.

Tilikum is the largest captive orca in the world. He was captured in Iceland in November 1983 when he was around two years old. He was sent to the Sealand of Pacific in Victoria, British-Columbia, Canada where he was often kept in a small, metal, holding pool from which he received many cuts to his body. On December 24, 1991 Tilikum sired his first son, Kyuquot, but because some thought he might harm the baby calf by playing too rough in what little space was afforded him, he was not allowed to interact with Kyuquot and was kept alone in his small, metal pool more often than usual. Tilikum was moved to SeaWorld in Florida in 1992 to be used for breeding and has been there ever since. He has sired 12 more calves and is now around 29 years of age, having spent the last 27 of those years in captivity. He spends most of his days in isolation in a SeaWorld pool that is more like a watery holding cell or his equivalent to a bathtub. No matter how well SeaWorld trainers think they treat Tilikum, nothing can replace his natural home that was the ocean.

Orcas, who are also known as killer whales because they are often observed hunting whales for food, are actually the largest member of the dolphin family and are capable of swimming 100 miles in one day. Scientists recently declared that dolphins are the world’s second most intelligent creatures after humans. In fact, these scientists believe dolphins are so intelligent that they should be treated as “non-human persons,” making it morally reprehensible to keep them in amusement parks. Orcas are also known to have shorter life spans in captivity.

Late last year, the Blackstone Group bought the offending SeaWorld in Florida, along with two other SeaWorlds and seven other amusement parks for 2.3 billion dollars. All together, the lucrative parks host some 25 million visitors each year. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) sent a letter to Blackstone President Hamilton Jones urging him to transfer all the animals at SeaWorld to transitional coastal and wildlife sanctuaries, but he declined to comment.

Ultimately, this tragedy and others like it are caused by the greedy operators of these parks who find it acceptable to manipulate Tilikum and other animals into performing tricks while putting human lives at risk. Though SeaWorld rescues and rehabilitates some animals, this doesn’t discount their main interest in providing "entertainment" value at the expense of animals. Their calculating business isn’t to save injured orcas just long enough to send them back to their natural habitat, but to breed them for more animal attractions and more money.

Fault also lies with the 25 million visitors who continue to patronize these “parks” with their disposable income and doe-eyed stares.

Most likely SeaWorld will close for a couple of days until the dust settles and then go on as if nothing ever happened pending another death. As long as we continue to treat Tilikum and other animals as prisoners for our own amusement, we can expect more incidents and a continuously rattled public. Orcas, like all animals, should be able to have their own interests represented and be free from exploitation. Trainers choose to put their lives at risk for this debasing style of entertainment – animals do not.

Please contact the Blackstone Group and urge them to end their business of keeping marine animals in captivity.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

So sad. These poor animals are suffering so much.