Friday, March 21, 2014


Twenty years ago--probably right around this time--I had to write a term paper for my sophomore English class. The English teachers and our biology teachers decided to make it a dual project. We'd write one paper, print it out twice, and submit it to both teachers. The English teacher would grade us on writing, style, and all that good stuff, while the biology teachers would grade on our topic, research and argument.

"Free Willy" had been released fairly recently, and it's star, Keiko, had gained international fame for his plight. He suffered from skin lesions, a collapsed dorsal fin, and other ailments that wild orcas don't really seem to have.

Let's get one thing straight from the start of this blog post. I hate the term "killer whale." Yes, orcas are "killers" because they do, indeed, hunt the cute little seals for food. It's called nature. Get used to it. Your friendly neighborhood lioness kills cute little wildebeest and cute little zebras. Everyone's gotta eat. But there is this ongoing myth that orcas are inherently dangerous to people, when the truth is that wild orcas are not considered a real threat. (Yes, my reference is Wikipedia, but it links to credible sources.)

But then, you put them in captivity, and all hell breaks loose.

What I'm getting at with all this, is that tonight, I finally watched Blackfish.

I've been hearing about it--mostly on Twitter--for months now, but only tonight finally live streamed it on Netflix. I knew, going in, what I was getting into, because I wrote that high school term paper twenty years ago, and I knew then that I would never step foot in a marine amusement park ever again. I refuse to give one penny of my money to anyone who keeps orcas and/or dolphins in captivity, performing humiliating shows for sugared-up American tourists who don't realize they're watching blatant animal cruelty unfold right in front of them.

Because, yes. I do believe it is cruel to keep an enormous animal in a tiny, concrete pool. I do believe it is cruel to force highly intelligent and emotional creatures to exist in a boring concrete block. They don't even hunt--they're handed dead fish for performing stupid tricks. Pectoral fin waves? Puh-lease. You want to see some amazing orca behavior? Watch this (and apologies for Maayan and I being shrill and hyper throughout):

Sea World, ever the capitalistic monster, continues to try to defend themselves, but I, for one, refuse to listen. A 12,000 pound mammal who grieves when it is separated from its young does not need to be put in a swimming pool. I'm not entirely sure, however, that I'd mind if the greedy bastards running Sea World weren't shut into a concrete room for the rest of their lives, with no stimulation, never to see their loved ones, to live out their lives with health problems brought on because they are not receiving the basic things they need to survive. I wonder how they'd like that?

Fortunately, there are saner heads prevailing. Richard Bloom of the California State Legislature has introduced a bill to effectively ban holding orcas in captivity in the state. I sincerely hope it passes and that Sea World is forced to close their doors. If you want to promote marine life in a positive, earth-friendly way, look to the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

I've been so fortunate to see many kinds of whales--humpbacks, orcas, pilot whales--in their natural habitat, in the Hawaiian islands, the Monterey Bay, and the Puget Sound. I know this is not necessarily an option for everyone, but trust me, it is so much better, so much more real, than watching an unhappy animal do stupid tricks for a handful of dead fish. Where is the joy in that?

Keep them wild, keep them free.

Orca dorsal fin in the San Juan Islands, Washington.

Humpack tail fin, Monterey Bay, California.
Orca, Monterey Bay.

An adorable sea otter in Monterey Bay.
Humpback whale, Maui.

Another humpback in Maui.

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