Last night, I watched the tear-jerking documentary “Blackfish”, a CNN documentary on the horrendous way that orca whales are treated for the purpose of human “amusement” in marine parks like SeaWorld, for instance, a multibillion dollar company.
The term “blackfish” comes from the First Nations people who first observed these beautiful beings and believed these whales to be incredibly spiritual. Through watching the documentary, the fact that orcas are highly intelligent, wildly emotionally intelligent and have deep and lifelong social ties becomes evident.
Truth be told, orca whales have the brains to go with the brawn (they can weigh up to 12 000 pounds, FYI). Studies have shown that orca whales have shown capacities in understanding symbolic language, memory, problem-solving, visual perspective, recognized themselves in mirrors and tool usage. MRI’s of the orca’s brain have revealed a convoluted brain resembling the human brain PLUS an extra lobe in the emotion-processing area of their paralimbic system, making their limibic system much more elaborate than that of the human brain. Neuroscientists suggest that this could mean orcas possess complex emotion-processing capacities. Furthermore, whales are very social and may have a very distributed sense of self. They remain in family pods forever, each herd speaking a different language (the human equivalent of dialects is how I see it), giving rise to cultures. The orcas an orca is born with are the orcas that orca will die with. There is no detachment from the pod, as is observed in humans, for instance, when young adults leave the family home to go start a life of their own. In fact, they are so social that if a whale is sick and starts heading towards the shore, the whole group will follow. When a male orca’s mom dies, he may stop eating, go into some sort of clinical depression, and die. Orca whales’ emotions, sociability and orient towards family are undeniable and this is depicted in the documentary, when a baby orca is cruelly taken from his mother at SeaWorld in order to be sent to another marine park, after which the mother orca remained in the corner of her tank for hours, without moving, and made calls, screams and long-distance pleas for mercy never before heard by human ears, probably hoping that her child would hear these moans and return.
All in all, the documentary shows the dark underbelly of marine parks like SeaWorld. The reality is, the marine mammals in these parks have been “kidnapped” from their families, trained using unethical and stressful methods (i.e. withholding food), forced to live with orca whales of different “cultures” who speak different “languages”, which often leads to isolation and “bullying” or intimidation as orcas try to establish their territory in a crummy tiny tank. Neuroscientists have suggested that these high-stress conditions can lead to psychosis. The sole purpose of these whales is to perform, and their needs are not being met. One of the most striking and saddening facts I learned through watching “Blackfish” was that after all the ill-treatment and the high performances that are expected from these poor orcas, they are kept in very small dark tanks only double the lengths of their bodies for many hours of the day, when they are not performing, which is the equivalent of keeping humans in large, covered, dark bathtubs for hours on end. Living in captivity may also decrease the life expectancy of killer whales, as they can live up to a hundred years old in nature, whereas once captive, life expectancy falls to 30-35 years (and quality of life during these fewer years is awful).
Former SeaWorld trainer John Jett puts it beautifully: “I am not at all interested in having my daughter who is 3-and-a-half grow up thinking that it’s normalized to have these intelligent, highly evolved animals in concrete pools. I don’t want her to think that’s how we treat the kin that we find ourselves around on this planet. I think it’s atrocious.”
I think (or should I say hope..) that a few years from now, when we look back upon the way humans treated intelligent, social and beautiful animals for entertainment and food, we will realize how barbaric we were truly being. The worst part is, all of this goes on why? For already-profitable SeaWorld to make a buck. Disgusting.
I highly recommend this documentary to everyone and anyone, especially those that still doubt that animals are emotional and intelligent creatures.
Here is a link to the extremely powerful trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fLOeH-Oq_1Y
Thank you and please spread the word 🙂 .