Killer whales are not for our exploitation

The documentary “Blackfish” highlights ongoing struggles of whales that need to end soon.

Keelia Moeller

Controversies surrounding the captivity of large aquatic animals have captured public attention over the past few years.

The documentary “Blackfish,” released in 2013, focuses on animal welfare at SeaWorld. It highlights treatment of captive killer whales and provides examples of the damage that captivity inflicts on the animals.

To begin, “Blackfish” shows how these whales used to be captured. Although many aquatic animals in captivity are now rescued from beaches and protected by laws banning their capture, this did not used to be the case. Whale hunters often turned to other, crueler methods to capture them.

In earlier years, bombs were used, as well as aircrafts and speedboats to herd killer whales into coves. Agents would sort out the younger whales and capture them straight from their natural environment, right in front of their resident pods. If this is not a horrifying method of retrieval, what is?

This brings us to Tilikum, a killer whale captured off of the coast of Iceland. Before he came to SeaWorld, he was kept in a 35-foot-deep, 5.6 million-gallon tank during the day. To make matters worse, he shared this tank with two female whales that viciously attacked him because of their proximity. As a result, Tilikum now lives in constant isolation in a different tank.

Killer whales are highly intelligent. They are capable of feeling human-like emotions and can develop strong social bonds. It’s unacceptable to treat such animals so inhumanely, by forcing them to live in small pools which are a fraction of the size of their natural habitats.

Probably the result of SeaWorld’s abusive practices, Tilikum killed his trainer, Dawn Brancheau. During a show, the animal became increasingly frustrated with the trainer, dragging her underwater and ultimately killing her.

SeaWorld has not escaped entirely unscathed from incidents like this one.

Since the release of “Blackfish,” SeaWorld’s stock has fallen significantly. The documentary has also prompted a lawsuit from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. These require SeaWorld to increase its employee safety measures.

SeaWorld has recently announced that it will pledge $10 million to organizations working to improve the health of wild killer whales. The company will also double the size of its killer whale tanks. These actions, however, seem like desperate attempts at animal advocacy, intended to keep visitors inside the parks.

While the success of OSHA’s lawsuits is a good step forward, the only long-term solution to SeaWorld’s abuse is to release killer whales back into the wild.

There are a few means by which this could become reality. First, we must realize that animals do not exist for our entertainment, and we must share this fact with other people. Second, we should sign petitions that advocate for the release of Tilikum back into his natural environment. These are available on Change.org. The success of one petition may serve as an impetus for the success of those that follow.

Help start Minnesota on a journey toward animal advocacy.