Black(and blue)fish – Stop Orcas in Captivity

I’ve never had pets of my own. To go to someone’s house for a sleepover and find out they owned a cat or dog was the most devastating news I could hear, and ultimately it meant I would have to go home.

But I’m not heartless. I’m just allergic.

The topic for this week was “A Bloody Business: Communicating animal suffering” and boy did that live up to its title. Sitting in my tutorial and watching clips of animals subjected to cruelty for the pleasure of humans was a really eye-opening topic for me. I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve never actually been able to be around animals, but I’ve simply never thought about cruelty towards animals before.

Like most other kids, I went to the aquarium as a special treat. I thought it was amazing, seeing all these wild creatures that we wouldn’t be able to see under normal circumstances. But what you don’t think about is how those animals came to be living in an aquarium, what they’re missing out on, and the family that they got taken from.

Watching Blackfish changed all these thoughts. I watched in horror as baby Orcas were trapped and kidnapped, leaving behind an inconsolable mother crying out in long-range vocals for her baby.

It reminded me very much of the Stolen Generations – with hindsight it is obvious to us how unforgivable these acts were. With all of this knowledge, why are we repeating history and inflicting this pain on to our wild Orcas – a species that has been proven to have a phenomenally developed emotional capacity.

In this aerial view of SeaWorld, you can see how little room the orcas have. Inside the circle is Tilikum, whose nose and tail appear to be able to touch both sides of the tank at the same time.

Lori Marino, a neuroscientist prominently featured in ‘Blackfish’ states

“If you look at, say, the brain of an orca [and] the brain of a human, it would be difficult to say that the human brain was capable of more emotional depth than the orca brain, because what you see in the orca brain is an elaboration on the limbic area that the human brain doesn’t have.”

It is evident that the Orcas in captivity are suffering. The average lifespan of an Orca in captivity is only 9, but in the wild orcas live lifespans similar to that of humans, and can live up to 70-80 years. In the wild, there has never been a report of an orca harming a human being. But in captivity it is a very different figure; there have been three known deaths of orca trainers since 1991 and many others have been injured.

To me it is really clear that we as a society need to have a discussion about the treatment of orcas in captivity, and figure out if we are prepared to continue this detrimental cycle for human enjoyment.

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3 thoughts on “Black(and blue)fish – Stop Orcas in Captivity

  1. This is heartbreaking… 😦
    I’ve always loved going to the aquarium. Seeing all of the animals in such a happy atmosphere, like you, I never seemed to consider what goes on behind the scenes or the long term impacts on the animals. I loved that you looked into the orcas because seeing them at a zoo is like seeing a circus show. We clap, we laugh, we are entertained yet those trainer death statistics you mentioned really put into perspective the negatives of captivity. They are animals, yet we take advantage of them and use them for entertainment rather then letting them roam in their natural habitats… sad really.
    Really interesting post, I only wish you had mentioned more about what goes on behind the scenes, I feel as though looking at training techniques etc. would have revealed a lot about the mistreatment of the orcas.

  2. Your combination of personal detail and though at the beginning of your article makes it easy to read and engage with. It is so true – we travel to places like the aquarium or the zoo at a young age and see these animals. But never are we taught to see them as trapped, taken away from their family or suffering. It’s a great point you raise, and one to make us think about the ways we have individually come in contact with animals that have been taken from their homes.
    You point out that this issue runs parallel with Australia’s dark history surrounding the stolen generations. While these situations are not necessarily on the same level, it does highlight the fact animals are often dehumanised (thought of without emotions or thought processes). I think it is important that we start to recognise animals as beings capable of emotion, and very capable of suffering when subjected to confinement. Your argument has me convinced! We definitely need to rethink the way orcas are being kept in captivity, or preferably the legality of holding them for entertainment. I think with an additional source or example your article will be indisputable!
    Great work 🙂

  3. Really good job Sarah, I like your comparison to the Stolen Generation – I hadn’t considered that!

    I totally agree with you, as a child I thought going to SeaWorld was amazing; I was so lucky to have an opportunity to see so many incredible animals up close. I remember applauding the animals, admiring how clever they were doing all of their tricks. I gave no consideration to how they got there or what they would have endured. Of course, as we learnt from Blackfish, if I had of asked that question, the SeaWorld staff would have fed me lies.

    The Orca’s are such complex, intelligent sentient beings, it is incredible that it could even be suggested that they are not capable of emotional depth. Check out the link below, the video explains how different whales have developed different ways of hearing consequently, impacting the way in which they communicate – quite interesting.

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