12,000 Pounds of Freedom

December 9, 2015

"They are not your whales. You love them, and you will think I'm the one that touches them, feeds them, keeps them alive, gives them the care that they need," said a tearful John Hargrove, the former SeaWorld trainer, in the film Blackfish, “They are not your whales. They are their own.”

 

Blackfish is a 2013 American documentary film directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite. It focuses on Tilikum, an orca whale held by SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida. Cowperthwaite began to work on this film after the death of Tilikum's trainer, Dawn Brancheau in February 2010. Although there have been many cases of death related to animal training in the past decades, Brancheau’s death brought about a big debate on orca whales. Cowperthwaite predicted that this would not be a simple story to tell.

 

This film discussed the debate from many different perspectives, and contains interviews from former SeaWorld trainers, testimonies from the director of Science with the Nonhuman Rights Project, whale researchers, the former whale hunters.

 

From the beginning of the film, the former SeaWorld trainers were talking about their experiences and careers with orca whales. You can feel the friendly relationship between the whales and humans. However, the tragedies cannot be ignored in this documentary, especially the three deaths caused by Tilikum.

 

Tilikum was first captured in North Atlantic in 1983. Then he has been living in “swimming pool” for 20 years. Weighing 12,000 pounds, Tilikum is SeaWorld in Orlando and performing the shows for the audience.

 

Since Dawn was a senior trainer, her death led the Sea World staff to question whether this tragedy resulted from Tilikum's dangerous attacks or trainer’s own faults. But why do people care the answer so much? Can it be proven that this death was an accident and Tilikum isn't the danger? If so, the SeaWorld could continue the shows and continuing profiting on these whales.

 

Then the question shifted to whether the orca whales have a better life in the captivity. SeaWorld claimed that lifespans of orcas in captivity were about 25 to 30 years, which are comparably longer to those in the wild. However, it was shown by the research that they can live much longer, as long as human beings, in the wild.

 

SeaWorld also claimed that it was very common for orca whales to have collapsed dorsal fins, and that the animals would be given medical care in captivity as opposed to perishing in the wild.

 

“If you were in a bathtub for 25 years, don’t you think you’d get a little psychotic?” said Jane Velez-Mitchell, a CNN anchor.

 

In the film, there were many clips showing orca whales’ attacks. The film did not claim that the animals were dangerous, and tried to convey that they were very intelligent and emotional. The film led me to ask the question, why don’t we start to reflect what we have done to them?

 

Just as what Hargrove said, “They are not your whales. They are their own.” The orcas can hunt for food themselves in the wild and get the care from their families.

 

Humans are always thinking from our own perspectives and considering what we feel that these animals need and what,but we never truly ask them what they desire. What we give them is not love and care, but our dominating power on how these creatures should live their lives.

 

This is not a protection, but a persecution; this is not freedom, but a prison.

 

The video showing that young killer whales were hunted and taken away from their mother was heartbreaking. The screaming and tears from orcas was greivous, and I realized the reality of our power as human beings.

 

Many fatal attacks caused by orcas were showcased in the film. Some people believe that the attacks resulted from the fact that captivity destroyed the lives of and psychologically traumatized the orcas, While others still argue that keeping them captivated and protecting them builds a friendship between human and animals.

 

As far as I am concerned, it is helpless to argue which part is right, but everyone need to face the truth that orca whales do not necessarily live happy lives in SeaWorld and many tragedies have taken place because of it. Some people have said that they love animals and have objected the whales training severely. Others have refused to go to the SeaWorld and some have posted their protests online. However, in terms of “loving animals”, how many of them are absolutely vegetarian or never went to the zoo to take pictures of these animals?

 

We do not need an answer for the question above, because even though some of us have done these things, we still cannot make a difference. According to SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. Report, the theme park suffered an 84 percent drop in its net second-quarter income due to the “blackfish effect.” Recently, SeaWorld announced that 2017 will be the last year of the orca whale show in San Diego.

 

Yet this was only an attempt to reverse declining profits and repair the company’s public image, SeaWorld was just planning to make the show featuring orca whales to not look like an actual show. This “ending” is only phasing out the current version of the show, and the orcas will remain in SeaWorld. The new show will be much more wild and natural.

 

The SeaWorld also announced that the new show “includes conservation messaging and tips guests can take home to make a difference for orcas in the wild.” But what can the audience do to help the orcas at home? Will repackaging the shows into a more “natural” way really make a difference?

 

This is a battle between the orca whales for their freedom, SeaWorld itself, and the animal activists. There is no winner in this battle, but the orcas will lose no matter what.

 

SeaWorld plans to build a much larger, $100 million environment for its whales in San Diego. For me, this luxury swimming pool will not serve as a substitute for the wild. Instead, this larger swimming pool is just an improvement of prison conditions. There is nothing different between building a larger jail cell and letting the prisoners live in a more comfortable way; they are still deprived of the freedom they deserve.

 

Some people have argued that those who supported SeaWorld were not interviewed, so the film was unbalanced and bias. The videos and interviews were highly edited to support the animals. activists. What we truly need to focus on, rather than the documentary, is the freedom.

 

If you believe we should protect nonhuman rights for animals, know that orca whales are just one part of a massive family. All animals, whether in SeaWorld, in the zoo, in the lab, or even on the table, should be treated as equally as every single human.

 

“It was not fair to blame Dawn because she was dead and couldn’t defend herself,” People said in the film. Similarly, how could it be fair to place the blame on an orca whale since nobody could understand its screams and cries for help?

 

This is a country fighting for freedom, but where is the freedom for orca whales? This documentary does more than cast a question on the controversial debate over animal training and inhumanities, but sounds an alarm for everyone to reflect on the freedom of animals.

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