SeaWorld offers family fun and amusement by giving their customers a chance to watch giant whales perform intricate tricks and moves. This is a rarity in itself as enthusiasts are presented with a once in a lifetime opportunity to watch and experience up-close how these sea giants behave. This source of amusement and entertainment has brewed massive controversy sparked by the documentary The Blackfish. The documentary strongly contends that holding orcas in captivity makes them wild and aggressive to the extent of posing a threat to human life. This point of view was further upheld by the death of Dawn Brancheau, a trainer at the amusement park who died at the hands of a killer whale named Tilikum. The Blackfish further accuses SeaWorld of providing scanty detail with regards to the facts surrounding the death of the trainer as well as the history of Tilikum. SeaWorld in its defense contends that Blackfish uses a poignant cast to emotionally manipulate the audience and create the perception that the orcas are unfairly treated. It also contends that the film heavily relies on information provided by former SeaWorld employees who little or no experience with killer whales, neither had they been at the employ of SeaWorld for the past 20 years.
The documentary posits that orcas are accustomed to a life of free roaming in the vast waters and by confining them they turn aggressive and unhappy. They, in turn, attack the attendants as they see them as the source of their unhappiness and restricted freedom. The attack on Dawn by Tilikum led to the perception that the title killer whales was indeed a literal one when in reality it was a case of rebellion against confinement. This captivity reduces the lifespan of the orcas because of their unhappiness and the new limited environment that limit their freedom.
It is erroneous to smear all scientist and to label them as activists just because they revealed some information that puts ones firm in a bad light. Some of the scientists whom SeaWorld-branded as activists are indeed members of reputed scientific organizations. This brings to question the nature of scientific ethics. When scientists give an opinion regarding the ethical dimensions surrounding the captivity of orcas, they do so based purely on their scientific knowledge of whether this captivity is the right thing for the animals or not. SeaWorld should seek to address the content of the claims presented by the scientists/activists and former employees and not resort to tarnishing their names. SeaWorld further claims that the lifespan of a captive orca is similar to or at times even longer than that of a wild orca. Extensive studies conducted on the Pacific Northwest on orcas are in agreement with the widely held belief by scientists that they have a longer life span as compared to enclosed orcas. Orcas are communal mammals, with the young living with their mothers their entire lifetimes. To overcome issues of genetic diversity from arising, they mate with other males from different pods. The claim by SeaWorld that adult orcas should leave their mothers in the vast seas so as to encourage genetic diversity is there wrong and misleading.
As a result of the airing of the Blackfish, the image of SeaWorld has been dented. Prior to the airing of the documentary, SeaWorld was seen as a family place where people would unwind and enjoy watching orcas perform lovely flips and maneuvers, but it is now perceived as a place where these same animals are tortured and mistreated. With the death of the trainer, customers now perceive SeaWorld as a dangerous place both to the trainers as well as the orcas. It is no longer deemed as that happy place for fun and good memories.
The Blackfish presents poignant episodes that totally arrest the attention of the viewers. Some up-close shots of the orcas show that they are visibly worked up and bleeding, conjuring up images in the minds of its viewers that the animals are mistreated. In another episode, an attendant is placing her feet on top of an orca and lifting it repeatedly. Suddenly she is grabbed by the leg and drawn deep into the tank by two killer whales. This is emotive as the viewers empathize and are uncertain whether she would survive. The Blacklist raises a genuine and logical concern regarding the welfare of orcas held in captivity and the security of attendants taking care of them. Animals are meant to be free, roaming in the vast ocean waters, not contained within a small confinement. This confinement makes them unhappy, thus reducing their lifespan. The documentary, however, captures the audience through its strong emotional appeal of heart-wrenching episodes that make the viewers sympathize with the attendants and the orcas in similar measure.
Animal welfare is a thorny issue to many stakeholders. The Blackfish points to the plight of orcas held captive as well as the threat they pose to the attendants. The important issues raised in the documentary touching on the lifespan of captive orcas, their happiness and the threats they pose have not been properly addressed by SeaWorld. It has instead resorted to tarnishing the names of the scientists in the Black fish as either lacking experience or are not scientists at all.
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