I don’t like any animals to be kept in captivity, but depriving dolphins and killer whales of their freedom must be the worst kind of imprisonment, as terrible as trapping birds in cages. Just as birds are meant to have the whole sky in which they can spread their wings, these magnificent mammals should have oceans to explore, not be forced to perform tricks in enclosures the size of swimming pools. Because that’s the only reason they’re trapped: for our entertainment. Not because they’re endangered, not for some vital conservation work, but purely to make money for the corporations that imprison them. The argument is often made that places like SeaWorld raise awareness in children who otherwise would never get the chance to see killer whales. But aside from the fact that documentaries of these creatures in their natural environment are a much better way to appreciate them, how can children learn to respect animals by seeing them treated in this way? We no longer tolerate animals being forced to perform in circuses, so why do we still allow it at SeaWorld?
If everyone watched the documentary Blackfish, which tells the story of Tilikum, a killer whale that has spent his life in captivity, I don’t think we would. Tilikum was taken from his family off the coast of Iceland when he was three years old, and has subsequently endured thirty years in captivity. The first ten of these he spent at Sealand of the Pacific in Canada, where every night he and two other whales were moved into a holding pen a mere 8.5 metres in diameter. This treatment was nothing less than torture and no doubt contributed to the death of Keltie Byrne, a trainer who was drowned by these three whales after falling into their pool. Soon after the incident Sealand of the Pacific closed down and Tilikum was moved to SeaWorld in Orlando.
It isn’t hard to imagine the whales being driven mad under such conditions. As a girl I saw bears in my local zoo repeatedly swaying their heads from side to side, behaviour that is typical of mammals kept in confined spaces. It is distressing to see. Just because dolphins and whales are able to perform amazing feats during their shows and look like they are smiling doesn’t mean they aren’t deeply unhappy. How could they not be?
Sometimes corporations and governments have too much invested in terms of either money or jobs to do the right thing, but as individuals we have tremendous power. If we all act together we can bring about change. SeaWorld only exists because people pay to go there. No doubt those people are filled with awe by what they see, but the only place for these animals to be truly awesome is in the ocean. We must do the right thing and set them free.