When people think of killer whales or orcas in captivity, they imagine a magnificent, social animal that is waited over hand and foot by its loving trainer and who loves to entertain large crowds, but their lopsided dorsal fins tell a different tale.
The fact that it is not just unnatural, but almost criminal to keep these sea mammals in captivity at places like SeaWorld in San Diego was highlighted in a recent documentary called ‘Black Fish’. It caused quite the stir among nature-loving singers and artists.
Willie Nelson is among a number of them who have canceled shows at the theme park after watching the documentary which focuses on Tilkum, a five-ton male orca that was captured in 1983. He has been involved in the deaths of three people. The reason behind his aggressive nature is probably because he is not in the wild, as he was born to be.
Orcas can swim for up to a hundred miles a day in the ocean, but at Sea World, they are confined to tanks and forced entertain people for some fish in return. The film suggests that if humans were trapped in a bath for 30 years, they might also become a little ‘psychotic’.
On the other hand, Sea World has called Blackfish "shamefully dishonest, deliberately misleading, and scientifically inaccurate". It accused the filmmakers of exploiting the events surrounding the death of Dawn Brancheau's, a trainer who was dunked into the water by the gigantic Tilkum and drowned as a horrified audience looked on.
The park disputed the claim that Tilikum killed after being "driven crazy by his years in captivity". It added that "all the evidence" suggested the orca was interested in Brancheau's ponytail. She was standing by the edge of the tank and giving a talk when the whale approached and pulled her into the water by grabbing her ponytail.
However, it is not only the mental outlook but also the physical state of the whales that gets affected.
Just for starters, the dorsal fins of captive orcas slump over because it needs an adequate amount of water pressure for support, which can be provided by the ocean, but not the tanks in that become their eternal prisons.
It is not only Blackfish that speaks of the miserable conditions endured by killer whales, but also David Kirby, the author of ‘Death at SeaWorld’.
Jeffrey Ventre, one of the four trainers interviewed for the book, claimed that he was fired from the theme park when he raised his concerns over the welfare of the animals.
Other trainers told stories of whales breaking teeth on metal gates and mother orcas going into depression after being separated from their offspring. They also claimed that trainers were instructed to "masturbate" Tilikum -- the whale later blamed for Brancheau's death -- to collect semen for artificial insemination. In the wild, orcas usually choose their partners.
As much as SeaWorld defends its actions, a massive and highly intelligent animal like the orca – which swims for miles a day in the open sea with its entire pod – cannot be kept in such crippling confinement for the sake of human entertainment.