As a native to the Pacific Northwest, I have learned over the years that those who call this place home are incredibly fortunate to have such vast amounts of nature and wild life. The killer whale (or Orca) has become a marine life icon in this area, they are known to be playful, intelligent and very social animals.
Decades ago the attitudes towards Orcas were very different, they were greatly feared and were thought to be violent and dangerous. The overall public knew little about the nature of these creatures, but as their name “killer” whale implies, they sound very unsafe. Because of the lack of knowledge and overwhelming fear, they were hunted and eventually taken into captivity. SeaWorld is one of the most popular Orca attractions in the world and they claim to treat their whales fairly and keep them in top health condition but even if this is true, many people feel as though keeping whales in captivity is inhumane.
Killer whale captures for exhibition purposes began in the Pacific Northwest in 1965, the Center for Whale Research tells us the story of one of the first captures. Ted Griffin, the owner of the Seattle Public Aquarium, dreamed of taking care of a killer whale; he was convinced that a friendly relationship was possible. Griffin bought his first whale for $8,000 and named him Namu. He wanted to show that killer whales were not the dangerous predators that everyone thought they were; to show this to the thousands of tourists coming to see Namu, Griffin decided to swim with him. He studied Namu’s every move and attitude, Griffin eventually hopped on his back and he reported that, "It was as if my every conscious wish became the whales command." They were inseparable and performed together until Namu got a bacterial infection leading him to his death. Ted Griffin had great intentions in showing the public how friendly and intelligent killer whales truly were yet the idea of capturing a helpless animal to use them for commercial entertainment is truly heart breaking.
According to the Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC, a non-profit organization) there are currently a total of 56 orcas held in captivity, 23 wild-captured plus 33 captive-born in at least 12 marine parks around the world. At least 150 orcas have been taken into captivity from the wild since 1961 and 127 of these orcas are now dead.
SeaWorld states that they are committed to animal care, conservation, rescue and research of animals in their park and in the wild. Their legacy is to help animals that are orphaned, ill, injured or in need of expert care and the goal for every animal rescued is to successfully rehabilitate and return it to the wild. “Due to the world-class veterinary care that the whales receive they are not just healthy but they are thriving, and their lifespans are equivalent with whales in the wild,” according to SeaWorld. SeaWorld also states that they have not captured a whale in 35 years due to their ground-breaking reproduction research program.
SeaWorld claims to have top veterinary care for their animals but the information feed to their guests have been proven false by many other marine biologists…
Tilikum was the main breeder at SeaWorld and was used to inseminate all female whales at the facility. Currently, 54% of the whales in SeaWorld’s collection now have Tilikum’s genes even though he has shown significant signs of aggression.
With their new breading program, SeaWorld welcomed a new baby Orca, the calf soon started defying her mother and creating disruptions in the shows. SeaWorld made the decision to split the family apart and move the baby whale to another park when she was just four and a half years old. Once the baby was on a truck on the way to the airport, her mother stayed in the corner of the pool, shaking, screeching and crying. In the film Blackfish a former trainer John Hargrove noted the vocals of the crying mother when her calf was taken from her he and how they had never heard them before so SeaWorld brought in senior researcher scientists to analyze the vocals; they were long range vocals, and she was looking for her calf. “How can anyone look at that and think that that is morally acceptable?”
SeaWorld has created an environment that greatly inspired many people to go out and to learn about marine life. Without these parks we would not know what we know today about Orca’s and all the other type of marine life. I do believe that SeaWorld had great intentions to keep all of their animals happy and healthy, but with the Orca’s something went extremely wrong. Now we know that these animals love to swim and learn until they ripped away from their families, put into a small pool with other strange whales and told what to do in order to be fed. These animals are highly intelligent and it should not be normalized for them to be put in concrete pools. Another former SeaWorld made a statement about Tilikum that says it best, “…He’s killing not to be a savage. He’s not killing because he’s just crazy. He’s not killing because he doesn’t know what he’s doing. He’s killing because he’s frustrated, and he’s got aggravations and he doesn’t know how to—he has no outlet for it.”
With the severely declining health of Tilikum and an overall outrage from the public, we can finally see a light at the end of the tunnel. In recent events, SeaWorld has announced their last generation of whales and that they will no longer breed Orcas.