This weekend, after much internal debate, my husband and I took our two girls to Seaworld. It wasn’t my first visit to Seaworld. I remember the awe and wonder I felt watching the orcas and dolphins interact with their trainers when I was a child. I even wanted to be a Marine Biologist for a while.
Looking at the park through the eyes of an adult, I felt a profound sadness for the animals housed there. It’s clear that their trainers love them. It’s clear that they get a steady diet. It’s clear that they live their lives in a tiny little fishbowl of a tank when most of them would wander the oceans deep.
There’s great debate over the cause of the collapsed dorsal fin of the male adult orcas in captivity. No one can say for certain what causes this. But it’s also clear that this does not happen to healthy male orcas in the wild. So…
I saw the 2013 documentary Blackfish. I cried for Dawn Brancheau and for Tilikum. I vowed not to set foot in the park. Then a Groupon came along. Half price. I thought now or never. The park lured us in with Sesame Street characters and the fact that we live in close proximity to it and not to it’s superior Disney counterparts.
We rode the scant rides. We saw the impressive shows. We had fun. And yet, my husband and I both left feeling sad. Sad for the animals who are now being bred into captivity and have never known the open ocean. Sad for the animals who were “collected” – a sanitized word for what must have been a brutal and traumatizing event for a young animal torn away from its pod. Sad for the animals who have been trained to clown, to collect the cheap laugh and their allotment of frozen fish. Sad for the trainers who are surely just as much actors in this tragedy – playing the role of marine biologists and psychologists when Seaworld’s website states a college degree is not required to handle these apex predators.
There is much we have to learn from these beautiful and intelligent creatures, but, I don’t think we’ll learn them in Shamu stadium anytime soon.
I’m not sure what the solution is. Animals bred into captivity certainly wouldn’t fare well in the wild. Free Willy’s Keiko is a prime example of that.
As much fun as my kids had watching the Sesame Street show and riding the small carnival rides in the Sesame Street Bay of Play, my four year old astutely asked the trainer after the One Ocean show:
These are big whales (orcas). Why do you keep them in such a small tank when they need to be in a big ocean?
The trainer, I’m sure having answered many such questions, didn’t skip a beat. She happily spoke of orcas in the wild having to swim many miles to find food and these orcas having the equivalent of breakfast in bed each day. I don’t know about you, but after about two days of that situation, I’m stir crazy. It’s probably an accurate assessment.
Visiting Seaworld with my children 30 years after I first watched a trainer dive from Shamu’s nose was indeed an eye-opening experience. It has strengthened my resolve to raise children who are aware of our impact on the world around us. In that, I suppose Seaworld was successful, but it will be our last trip.
Perhaps some day we will have the opportunity to see these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat.