Animals don’t belong in captivity

I took my children to Marineland in Niagara Falls when Aimee and Samantha were little.
We watched the orcas and the dolphins do their circus act, and we got wet when a huge wave washed over the aquarium wall.
We laughed and were amazed by the romance of these intelligent animals, and wished we had one of our very own; that we could dive into a pool and be one with these intelligent animals.
But I also remember feeling slightly uncomfortable with the whole scene, expecting the experience to have had more of a tone of education about it rather than a song-and-dance number because, otherwise, why would we capture whales and confine them if not to learn about these magnificent creatures with whom we share the planet.
I took comfort in the fact that these whales were cared for with respect and dignity and concern for their well-being. I was such a fool.
Killer whales have a complex social structure unlike any other mammal. Young orcas live with their mother their entire lives—taking their place in the social arrangement.
Each pod will have its own dialect for communication within the group, especially those groups that are not as transient as other ones.
I recently watched “Blackfish,” a documentary film created in 2013 that reveals the plight of orca whales in captivity and, more specifically, of Tilikum, the orca who has been responsible for the death of three individuals (two trainers and a trespasser who snuck into the whales’ tank after hours).
I admire those who create documentary film; who put themselves out there to gather information and share it with us, to spark conversation and debate, to expose truths that are hidden from most of us, and to challenge us to think and to wonder.
Some have criticized “Blackfish” for being too one-sided. These critical “some” include the top dogs at SeaWorld, who own and manage Tilikum and other orcas. Yet these same individuals declined to appear on film with CNN to discuss their criticism.
Tilikum killed Dawn Brancheau in 2010 and the tragedy compelled Gabriela Cowperthwaite, the director of the film, to tell the story of Tilikum and other captive whales.
No matter how the information was portrayed, be it one-sided or not, the simple questions that were screaming at me from my television were: Why do we feel justified to confine animals in often appalling and limited conditions for our own entertainment?
When did we decide that our false superiority on this planet allows for such treatment of any animal, be they wild or domestic?
Tilikum was captured off the coast of Iceland in 1983 when he was only two years old. He wasn’t rescued or taken for study. He was removed from his pod—from his family—for the sole purpose of becoming an entertainment tool in Sealand of the Pacific’s facility near Victoria, B.C.
The park is now closed but it was here in 1991 that Tilikum and two other orcas drowned a young marine biology student who had slipped and fallen into their tank.
Tilikum is 22-and-a-half feet long and weighs 12,000 pounds, and he spent his nights in a tank that was 20 feet deep and 28 feet across—a whale who would naturally swim more than 100 miles a day.
And it requires a study and hearings and people debating this one-sided film to determine if this treatment of an orca is humane?
Don’t take my word for it. Watch the film “Blackfish,” read David Kirby’s book, “Death at Seaworld” published in 2012, and read “Killer Controversy: Why Orcas Should No Longer Be Kept In Captivity” written by Dr. Naomi Rose.
And then listen to your heart that already knows our treatment of animals is unconscionable.
wendistewart@live.ca

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