“Blackfish” vs. SeaWorld, The Never-Ending “Animals In Captivity” Debate

I have been obsessed with marine life for as long as I can remember. When everyone else had blankets and teddy bears, I had a stuffed dolphin named Dolphin-Dolphin. When everyone else was watching Disney, I was watching whale and shark documentaries. Once, I begged my mom to take me to a college lecture about sea turtles… I was eight. Now that I’m older, my obsession has turned into a passionate interest. I think that’s why “Blackfish” caught my eye.

In case you have been living under a rock, this film focuses on the effects of capture and captivity on marine animals. “Blackfish” is a documentary inspired by the death of SeaWorld trainer, Dawn Brancheau and the whale who killed her, Tilikum. It focuses heavily on the life of SeaWorld orcas, but mainly Tilikum who has killed three people during his tenure as a captive whale. Loaded with scientists, former SeaWorld trainers and lots of cute orcas, “Blackfish” has been a hot topic on social media and in the news.

Naturally, as a lover of marine animals and bleeding heart millennial, these movies really upset me. When you hear the 911 call explaining that a whale has eaten a SeaWorld trainer or you see the conditions the whales live in, you will feel the worst pit in your stomach. Shockingly, “Blackfish” has been getting major backlash from SeaWorld, who claims that some of the basic tenets of the film are untrue or exaggerated. Is SeaWorld just trying to cover their own ass or does the film take you on a teary-eyed false journey of the hardships of orcas in captivity?
“Blackfish:” Average life span in the wild is 30 for males, 50 for females. However, it can be upwards of 60–70 for males and 80–90 for females.

SeaWorld: Average life span is 25–35 years, with some whales reaching 40 in the parks.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration website, males live for about 30 years but there have been documented cases of males reaching 50–60 years. Females live to about 50 years but can live as long as 80–90 years old.  Furthermore, the average life expectancy of killer whales in captivity is half as long as in the wild. I’m going to call this one in favor of “Blackfish;” sorry, SeaWorld.
“Blackfish:” Collapsed dorsal fins occur in less than one percent of wild male killer whales.

SeaWorld: Collapsed dorsal fins occur in about 25 percent of male killer whales.
According to a report in the Aquatic Mammals Journal, dorsal fin collapse occurred in 4.7 percent of British Columbian whales, 0.57 percent in Norwegian whales and 23 percent in New Zealand whales. However, the 23 percent can be misleading because the study only observed 30 male killer whales and seven of those had collapsed dorsal fins, hence the 23 percent statistic. There is also evidence that dorsal fin collapse occurs in every captive male killer whale and even some female whales. This seems plausible because the collapse is caused by stress, gravity (captive whales spend a lot of time at the surface of the water causing their fins to droop over time), and a whole host of other factors. Although “Blackfish” might not be 100 percent correct it’s clear that dorsal fin collapse and captive whales are too close for comfort, meaning another strike against SeaWorld.
“Blackfish:” Although whales do fight in the wild, the tight quarters cause greater aggression and injury to the whales because there is no way to escape their attacker.

SeaWorld: Whales don’t bully each other, raking their teeth against another whale is a way of showing dominance that occurs both in captivity and the wild.
While fights occur among any social animals, even humans, captivity tends to increase both the quantity and viciousness of the attacks. In the wild, orcas live in families and social groups that prevent aggression because they all speak the same language and perform the same customs. When orcas are put into or born into captivity, they are often separated from their social groups and forced to create new ones. Imagine if you, your family and your friends lived in this big amazing property and you could go anywhere you wanted and do anything you liked. Sure, you might still fight sometimes but the chances but would be much. Now, imagine if you, your family, and your friends lived in a small house and were never allowed to leave the house. I don’t think my sister and I would make it out alive. What SeaWorld fails to understand is that it’s not the fighting that’s unusual, it’s that the “flight” response has been taken out of the equation meaning the whales can only fight. Strike three for SeaWorld; looks like you’re out (of excuses).

I could really go on for hours, but from the research it seems clear to me that SeaWorld is attempting to mislead potential customers into thinking “Blackfish” relies heavily on emotional sway as opposed to facts to convince viewers of its cruelty. Facts and figures aside, this documentary has been having major impact on celebrities and fans alike. The Barenaked Ladies, Heart, Willie Nelson and Cheap Trick were all scheduled to perform at SeaWorld Orlando’s Bands, Brews and BBQ festival but have cancelled after a viewing of the documentary and outrage from their fans. Joan Jett ordered SeaWorld Orlando to stop using “I Love Rock and Roll” during their Shamu Rocks shows. Russell Brand tweeted that SeaWorld is a “stain on humanity posing as entertainment.” Even Hugh Hefner had a screening at the Playboy Mansion! This documentary is having a sweeping effect, but will it end SeaWorld’s reign of orcas in captivity? Only time will tell.

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