I drafted this blog after the documentary Blackfish was aired on BBC4. I am an animal lover and great believer in conservation. As previous blogs have suggested, I often struggle to determine if something is cruel, (unintentionally so), and the difference between animal conservation and interfering when perhaps we shouldn’t, and where animal tourism fits with this. Is it helpful? If so, to whom? The tourist or the species? What is animal tourism and why is the grey area between animal tourism and animal conservation so blurred?
My views this time however are quite clear cut. As a previous film student, I’m well aware that documentaries can appear one sided in order to promote the views, opinions and beliefs of just one party. So, I am well aware that some documentaries are designed to serve one purpose only.
I watched this film with an open mind, I had heard about it but to be completely honest, I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t get what the hype was about, but nonetheless, I watched it with my mum and followed the #Blackfish conversation on Twitter. Within moments of the film starting I had one of ‘those’ moments (for regular readers, you’ll notice I often have moments of clarity that offer some realisation). This moment was reflected in my tweet: ‘Oh… Now I get it’.
If you go into this the same way I did, largely unaware and without having read much online in advance, it’s quite shocking when it quickly becomes evident, undeniably so, that Sea World plucked these wild orca killer whale babies from the ocean, from their mothers, with no regard for them or nature at all, specifically for entertainment purposes.
Some places call themselves rescue centres, they take in wild animals that are abandoned, often hurt and orphaned. The aim generally is to rehabilitate these animals, to look after them and offer them care in a safe environment where they can get their strength up, with the ultimate aim and success to be their release back into the world. Now, this isn’t always possible. Sure, I’m an optimist and an idealist but of course I’m aware that this isn’t always possible, so sometimes they stay, because they’re too tame and they’d surely die in the wild, or they’re genuinely needed for conservation efforts because they’re one of very few, or perhaps their habitat is disappearing and there is no other choice.
Yet this is not the case with Sea World.
The tragedy of which is two-fold; not only are wild animals intentionally captured and trained to entertain audiences, then abandoned in small tanks once they’ve served their purpose. But, secondly, in the process, the sheer disregard that they have shown for any life at all has left several trainers injured or worse, dead. Killed by the animals they’re working with.
‘Its a killer whale… The clue is in it’s name’ you may scoff. But actually, there are no records of wild orca killer whales ever injuring or killing a human. They’re so far out to sea, yes they’re aggressive but generally, they don’t come into contact with humans. Let’s face it, they aren’t supposed to. The only incidents have involved animals in captivity, the majority of which involve Sea World in some way.
A further tragedy that this documentary highlights is the awful way in which Sea World have continually lied and covered up any and all incidents, even directly blaming those that have been victim to these animals. And, the fact that these animals are so sad, kept so unnaturally and even somewhat abandoned.
I think the most heartbreaking aspect of the documentary is based on the whale Tilikum. Once a star, perhaps even ‘The star’, who became fed up and depressed. He is responsible for the deaths of three people to date, but what is perhaps even more tragic is they way that they’ve turned their backs on him. No longer allowed to perform due to safety fears, but they won’t set him free either? They won’t even meet half way, and set him free to a retirement pool somewhere, far out in the ocean. A happy medium so he can still be monitored and fed, but not completely alone after so many years in captivity. Nothing. So they just leave him there. It’s tragic really. They did this to him, but take no responsibility and don’t even acknowledge him. They refuse to do the right thing by him.
This whole tragic, sorry mess is further compounded by the fact that Tilikum has been used for breeding purposes over and over again. I mean, this point is raised in the documentary: if you had an aggressive dog, for instance, you wouldn’t breed that dog. I mean this kind of simplifies this issue but essentially, you wouldn’t. This whale is aggressive (not necessarily through his own doing) but he has been bred over and over, what if these genes have been passed down? The evidence from the documentary suggests that this is precisely what has happened, and furthermore, other ‘incidents’ at Sea World and other organisations similar to this may be indirectly linked to him.
The documentary provides at lot of solid evidence against Sea World. In life, not many issues are black and white, there’s often so many grey areas inbetween it’s impossible to come up with a clear cut opinion or conclusion either way. But not in this instance. This issue is as black and white as they come. It’s just not acceptable to do what they did, to get away with it, to cover up all of the lies and deaths and to continue to operate today. I mean it’s ridiculous! They have complete and utter disregard for life, both animal and human, they take zero responsibility for their actions and they continue to operate today, knowing what they know.
They also seem pretty intent on did creating what is said in the documentary, without actually directly denying what the evidence suggests, they just sort of try to shout other people down and cover up the issues by re-directing blame onto other people.
So, for all of these reasons, I will never, ever, go to any Sea World ever, unless it is to help with the release of these animals.
Further to this, I recently read this article on twitter which precisely highlights and re-confirms why I will never ever (EVER) visit Sea World. They want to ‘have a conversation’ with the public (aka talk at you & shout you down) and they don’t want ‘noisy’ people disrupting their campaign (aka people who have an opinion and probably disagree with them) and then there’s the fact that they still won’t admit to doing anything wrong in the first place, or take responsibility for their actions and incompetencies since then, let alone do the right thing by these creatures and let them be wild.