While we were on vacation, we had a really wonderful thing happen. We were out at the beach on Okaloosa Island, when a pod of dolphins came fishing. B and I saw them from the shore, while Thor was building sandcastles, and they disappeared before he got a good look. About ten minutes later, when he and I were in the water, the dolphins came back. We were close enough to them that we could see their eyes.
They were swimming in their fishing circles, and I don’t know how long we stayed out there just bobbing and watching. It took me back to Madeleine L’Engle and A Ring of Endless Light. That, and The Jungle were two books that radically changed my thinking in high school. I would never again enjoy sausage, and I would never again enjoy a dolphin show without guilt.
I read about the Blackfish documentary a couple of years back, but never watched the movie until tonight. You know that scene in Dumbo, where Dumbo’s mom is jailed for trying to protect Dumbo, and she sings Baby Mine to him? So, I break down every time I see that. A good half of Blackfish is dedicated to painting a picture of what life in the wild is like for an Orca, how close the family unit is, and how strong the bond is between mother and calf (the calves never leave their pods, and always stay close to their mothers. I can identify with that.)
I had a complete meltdown when they showed where the wild babies, now in captivity, come from. And I cried up my glasses when they showed how the captive mothers cried and keened after their babies (born in captivity) were taken from them.
These aren’t goldfish. These are extremely intelligent, emotional animals–like us. And here’s what we do to them:
- We separate them from their families when they are the equivalent of pre-schoolers (females live up to 100 years in the wild, and males up to 50. we are separating calves from their mothers at age 4. Imagine being separated from your mother at age 4, and being forced to perform in shows for the rest of your life. Basically, you turn into Lindsay Lohan, or Dana Plato, or Anissa Jones–either way, it doesn’t end well for you.)
- We pen them up in what would be the equivalent of a toddler pool to us. So imagine that you can never walk more than 10 feet in a straight line before you have to turn a hairpin curve to head in the other direction. Imagine that is your life. Imagine that your physiology requires that you keep moving, so you have to just walk in these long ovals all day. All day long, you walk in ovals. All your life. Over, and over, and over, and that’s all you can do. You walk in ovals, and people stare at you, scream at you, beat on your walls, take pictures of you, and force you to perform.
- We place them in solitary confinement–these social creatures who are wired to exist in complex societies, who thrive on contact, who need each other, we place in solitary confinement.
- We make them perform. We make them dance. Now imagine that you only got fed if you did tricks. Imagine what that would do to your brain. You only get attention, love, food, or comfort if you do tricks. You are four years old. You are separated from your mom. And you only get love, comfort, and food when you do tricks. If you misbehave, you are locked in a tiny room by yourself, in the dark.
By we, I mean Seaworld.
In calling Seaworld us, I mean that they wouldn’t exist if we weren’t making it profitable for them to abuse animals.
And here, I wonder just how much of a hypocrite I am because we’ve been taking Thor to zoos and aquariums since he was old enough to start screaming at the sight of unfamiliar animals*. I’ve elbowed my way through crowds to get Thor a good seat for the dolphin show at the Corpus Christi Aquarium. When we accidentally came up on a tiger show at the Houston aquarium (why are there tigers at an aquarium?) we sat and watched. We checked out the shark tank at the Golden Nugget hotel the same as all the other Vegas goers. So where is the line?
I don’t know. All I am sure of is this: We are not a Seaworld family.
We will not pay to watch kidnapped babies as they are forced to perform.
Thor can see all the whales he wants on the internet, and maybe one day we’ll be fortunate enough to see some in the wild.
You can watch the Blackfish documentary here, for $2.99. I highly recommend it. I especially recommend it if you have children who are asking to go to Seaworld. Mine asks. I’ve been saying no for nearly a decade now. After having seen Blackfish, I will be saying it with more feeling.
*Actually, the only time he ever did that was when I took him into a pet store at 9 months, to let him look at puppies. He was fine, fine, fine, then he saw a bulldog puppy and went insane. Something clicked and he started screaming like I’d rolled his stroller up to a murder scene. Otherwise, his general reaction was usually somber interest, save for that one time in Colorado, when he kept declaring, “I do NOT LIKE-a those BEARS! I do NOT LIKE-a those GIRAFFES/MONKEYS/BIRDS/SNAKES/TIGERS!” He hated that zoo to bits.