Blackfish, SeaWorld and Captivity Industry Exploitation
Last Thursday, CNN’s ratings increased dramatically when it aired the documentary Blackfish, a film based on footage and interviews that exposes the cruel treatment of captive Orcas at Seaworld. Blackfish focuses on Tilikum, a bull whale captured near Iceland in 1983, when he was two. Tilikum resides at Seaworld, in small pool that amounts to a human-designed prison, where people pay lots of money to the giant corporation, to watch his human-choreographed shows.
Tilikum has sired fourteen offspring, ten of which are living, and he is the largest male Orca in captivity. Tilikum resides at SeaWorld, Orlando. He has killed three people during his captivity tenure; the last was his trainer, who accidently fell into his pool on February 24, 2010. Her name was Dawn Brancheau.
Orcas are the largest members of the dolphin family. They are apex predators that live in the North Pacific, Antarctica and North Atlantic, using distinct vocal communication and hunting techniques to organize and hunt cooperatively in pods. Researchers have identified three types of pods, based on their makeup and feeding habits. ‘Resident’ pods prefer a diet of fish whereas ‘transient’ pods feed on marine animals. Vocal dialect is distinct within each pod. Orca groups are matriarchal, organizing around and staying with mothers and grandmothers.
Dawn Brancheau’s death occurred during a show performance with the audience witnessing and the entire (brutal) event was caught on tape. Not surprisingly, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) conducted an investigation in the aftermath and cited SeaWorld, issuing three safety violations. OSHA demanded SeaWorld make some changes, notably separation of trainers from killer whales, during performances. Seaworld, owned by Blackstone, timely appealed the violations, and was summarily schooled by Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Ken Welch, who upheld OSHA’s finding and, not appreciating SeaWorld’s attempt to shirk responsibility, said:
At the hearing, SeaWorld attempted to distance itself from the other SeaWorld parks and from Loro Parque, noting that it is a separate corporate entity. In this way SeaWorld hoped to minimize evidence that working closely with killer whales is a recognized hazard, since many of the aggressive interactions between killer whales and trainers occurred at other parks, and the most recent trainer death occurred at Loro Parque. The record establishes, however, that the operations of all of the parks are intertwined.
When SeaWorld lost in the the ALJ court, it appealed its case again, to the U.S Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Eugene Scalia, son of United States Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, will represent SeaWorld. Ironically, Mr. Scalia served previously as the Solicitor (chief legal officer) of the Department of Labor, having been appointed by U.S. president George W. Bush. The Department of Labor oversees OSHA. The case will come before a three-judge panel of the on Nov. 12.
I see a couple of issues here: 1) we do not have dominion over the Orcas such that we can capture them and subject them to torture and 2) Seaworld is aggressively attempting to dodge the safety issue to workers, to protect their practice of exploitation. I reject any arguments that the Orca captivity industry is for the greater good of whales, or that the practice reflects a good faith interest in conservation, and I think it’s extra disgusting that trainers at these shows flat-out lie to the paying audience about how wonderful the Orcas’ lives are, and how much longer they live than their counterparts in the wild.
SeaWorld’s delay-delay-delay aggressive pursual of this case indicates that they want to get rid of any regulations or accountability whatsoever or anything else that might get in their way of making a living by ripping people off and causing suffering in the Orcas.
If we cared so much about the health, well-being and survival of these gorgeous and graceful whales, we’d clean up the damn oceans and give them a clean house to live in.