Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Marine Mammals Don't Belong in Captivity! Be the Change For Animals

"There are many opportunities in which enormous suffering by animals can be reduced at a small cost to humans."
Stephen Pinker
The Better Angels of  our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined

"Since the tragic death of Dawn Brancheau Tilikum has been kept isolated in a concrete tank far too small for his size. Does SeaWorld really provide him with the proper care he requires? The only purpose Tilikum serves SeaWorld today is as a living reproduction machine. This is no life for any animal, especially not for such an intelligent and social one. Let Tilikum go!"
Jessica Wysser

Photo Credit: Voice of the Blue

When my daughters were toddlers we were lucky enough to live in Bermuda for four months. Among the many fun things we found to do was attending the dolphin show at a little marine park. I didn't give it much thought; it was just something entertaining for me and the kids.

When they were bigger we lived in San Diego. We went to SeaWorld a couple of times, and were awestruck by the Shamu show. The sea lion show was hilarious. The animals performed flawlessly. We were told that the tricks they did were based on natural behaviors and that all the animals enjoyed performing. I believed this, in spite of all my education in biology. (Or maybe because of it; in the 70's we were taught that animals were incapable of feeling the way humans do - 'don't be anthropomorphic!')

Click here to see a youtube video exposing other myths about marine mammals in captivity.

Last fall we had a long layover in Atlanta, and took the opportunity to visit the fabulous aquarium there. It was more incredible than I imagined. Long after our visit however I was haunted by watching the beluga whales swimming in endless circles in their cement swimming pool. One of them had scraped itself raw by ritually rubbing against the same spot on the viewing glass as it went around, and around, and around again, probably hundreds of times a day.

It didn't seem right for the 'canaries of the sea' to be imprisoned that way.

Two weeks ago, I watched a documentary called "Blackfish". I'd never heard of it. I was stunned by the callous mistreatment of the orcas and the greed of Sea World in exploiting them AND their human trainers.

Click here to watch the trailer for Blackfish. You can find Blackfish on Netflix streaming.

While researching for this post I discovered a review of the book Death at Sea World  on the blog Voice For The Blue. Here is an excerpt from the review:

With the upcoming release of the new documentary Blackfish, I decided to finally read Death at Sea World. Simply put, it is an inspiring, heartbreaking, thriller, that provides significant insight into the lives of Killer Whales in captivity. Kirby takes you through a gripping investigation that is hard to put down. The book in the end, is an eye opener to Shamu and the Dark Side of Killer Whales in Captivity.

The Humane Society of the United States has this to say about marine mammals in captivity:

"Life for captive whales, dolphins, and other marine mammals 
is nothing like a life in the ocean. It is almost impossible to maintain a family group in captivity, a tragedy for whales and dolphins. When you see marine mammals in tanks or pools, consider what they have lost in order to entertain us."

Orcas are highly intelligent and social. Scans of orca brains have revealed that they have an additional structure in the limbic area that humans lack. The limbic area is physiologically the seat of the emotions. Neurologists have concluded that the social bonds and communication between orca families (pods) is on a level we can only imagine. In the wild, orcas stay with their mothers for their entire lives.

The orcas used in shows are taken as babies (cheaper to transport). Literally, they are kidnapped from their families as calves. Blackfish shows the heartbreaking grief of the captive mother orcas when SeaWorld takes their babies away.

Orcas use language. We can't understand it of course, but marine scientists have concluded that some whale species have names! Upon greeting another whale, they repeat this sequence of sounds (their name) precisely. Dolphins are now known to call their friend's name when they are separated (click here for more). By the way, anatomically orcas are the largest dolphin species.

It's appalling to think of these sentient animals being held in swimming pools in what amounts to solitary confinement. Perhaps worse is when they are held together and don't get along - a bullied whale can't get away.

Be the Change for these animals. Watch Blackfish. Sign the petition to Free Tilly and end the practice of keeping marine mammals in captivity. Take the pledge to never buy a ticket to a dolphin show or swim with dolphins in captivity. 
Photo Credit:

Blog the Change


  1. We so think of captive land animals all the time but totally forget about marine life. You are so right. Peeps got a present to be a zoo keeper for a day and despite going on about breeding etc she was appalled. The enclosures for lions and gorillas etc was awful and we can well understand your point. Food for thought. Have a wonderful Wednesday.
    Best wishes Molly

  2. Oh, what a great post! I used to be the same - went to SeaWorld once about 10 years ago and didn't give that much thought to the animals there. I bought the lines they used about "saving" the animals, or rescuing young ones that were abandoned by their mothers. But then my brother watched Blackfish and told me about the scenes with the mother whale screaming as they take her baby away. AWFUL. I will NEVER go to SeaWorld again. I'm off to sign the petition as well.

    (By the way - how funny that you lived in Bermuda for 4 months! I lived there for 7 years. And San Diego too! Wow - we have 2 residences in common!)

  3. BTW.. don't know if you can go back in and fix it, but your link is not working properly in the linky list...

  4. A thoughtful post - thanks for sharing this information. I wish it could be shared to everyone still paying to see those shows. Signed the petition and took the pledge.

  5. Thank you for posting about whales in captivity. I signed the petition and took the pledge.

    For the last Blog the Change, I wrote specifically about the Belugas at the Atlanta Aquarium including my own footage of them circling round and round, repeatedly bouncing off the glass. I' glad to hear we share a similar impression. It was heartbreaking to me too.

    Excellent post. Thanks for Blogging the Change!

    Kim Clune

    PS: I fixed your broken link in the BTC link list. :)

  6. Great cause! I also saw Blackfish and resolved to not attend any Seaworld or similar place. It's appalling.
    Have you seen The Cove? I highly recommend it if not. I will forever have guilt about swimming with dolphins in captivity in Mexico years ago before I knew any better.

  7. I live in San Diego and have been to the zoo and sea world many times, and like you did not think too much about it. but I have realized what a horrible and tragic live killer whales have. I was shocked in Blackfish when they used the aggressive male's sperm for more 'show' whales. Really?! what where you thinking. humans have a control issue! or they try to and never learn you can't!

  8. Thanks for making me more aware of this. I'll watch that movie and sign the petition. Thanks.

  9. My mom and dad belong to that organization WSPA which is an organization that is trying, among other things, to get freed wild animals that are hold captive, to entertain us. I will sign the petition. Licks from Laika.

  10. I have not yet seen Blackfish. I don't need convincing and I'm a little worried about it taking me to a dark place. But maybe I'll put my big girl panties on and check it out.

    Humans can't resist interfering with animals. It's never enough for us that they exist in their own world.

    I lived aboard a sailboat in the San Blas islands for a month last year. When we spotted a mother dolphin and her baby swimming nearby, everyone wanted to go out to swim near them.

    It's wonderful to see animals in the wild. But they aren't here for us. Maybe if more people realize that zoos, circuses, and marine parks will start losing money.

    Terrific, thoughtful post.

  11. I watched that Blackfish documentary, and the fact that this whale was abused during his first years of capitivity and that he has killed two people, should make Seaworld rethink their decision to keep him in that small tank. The isolation and lack of exercise will only cause his aggression to escalate. And it's inhumane, no animal should be kept in those conditions.


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