Sunday, October 27, 2013

Call for Freedom

Somewhere in Spain, at this very moment, a Killer Whale called Morgan is floating in familiar circles in a dingy amusement park tank. The people who captured her were given permission to do so only under the condition that she would be rehabilitated and released. But since she is a lucrative tourist attraction and viable breeding machine, she was never returned to the ocean. 

As you read this, dolphins are performing tricks and swimming with high paying tourists in the same waters where Japanese fishermen captured them and killed their families. 

A few miles from the desk where I write this, just a 20 minute drive down I-4, the great beast Tilikum waits. He grew large and old in the confines of an artificial bowl, and with him grew the red frustration of a creature caged, unable to run from pain, to hide, to swim, to explore, to feel the comforting warmth of his family pod or hear the sounds of the wild ocean he was created for. Memories fill his brain, as they do mine and yours.

All of the captive dolphins and whales that fuel the multi-billion dollar Sea Park industry are thinking, feeling creatures, with thoughts, memories, and desires, and quite possibly a more emotionally complex experience of the world than ours. The problem of captivity is not only obvious, it is urgent: there is presently and immediately a need to help these animals.

My heart filled up with hope last night, as the Blackfish documentary showed up on my TV screen. Over night, a generation was exposed to the perils of whales held captive by entertainment industries. The reaction was strong and loud. People were in shock. When I walked into work this morning, all my coworkers asked me about it. 

"I was watching TV last night... I never realized any of that stuff about whales. I can't stop thinking about it." 

"That's so messed up, to separate them like that ." 

"I'm definitely never going to SeaWorld again."

"How do you stop something like this? What can I do?

This cultural shift in thought is what will eventually lead to freedom for dolphins and killer whales. There must be a general, public awareness of the devastation captivity causes; a cure to the delusions created by marine parks. I am personally of the opinion that if people knew the harm SeaWorld causes, no one would be vacationing there. The problem is not that people like the idea of  capturing, confining, and shortening the lifespans of whales- its that they're not even aware any harm is being done. 

And that's why its so important to raise your voice. Now that you've seen Blackfish, or been introduced to the controversy it covers, have conversations that explore the topic of cetacean captivity. 

Read books like Death at SeaWorld 
and articles like Killer in the Pool 

Speak out about this to friends, family, and people who don't know better- heck, write a letter to SeaWorld themselves! Let them know that you want to see their whales swim free. Here are some things we should be calling for:

1. Call for an end to the breeding program 

This is where the problem is bleeding out. As long as Orca Whales are born into captivity, the industry will survive, and whales will lives out their lives in tanks. 

SeaWorld points to animal reproduction as a "proof" of animal contentment. But their breeding program includes keeping males and females in close quarters for extended periods, as well as manual extraction of sperm and artificial insemination. 

2. Call for animals to be retired to Seapens 

Ideally, we to see captive animals reunited with their families and returned to the ocean. But realistically, many of these animals would have trouble readjusting to the wild and to predation. In most cases, whales' teeth are so badly damaged from gnawing on metal bars that they would be unable to naturally catch and eat food. A sea pen is a good alternative- a large cove blocked off so that retired whales could receive food and medical care while still experiencing wide swimming space and the simple joy of their natural ocean waters. 

But why would a marine park throw away all that money, putting them in a sea pen? Blackfish director Gabriela Cowperthwaite points out that they could be lucrative as well:

"A sea sanctuary is a way for previously captive killer whales to live out their lives in a dignified, sustainable manner. It could be a profit-making enterprise. Who wouldn't pay to go see a killer whale actually being a killer whale—something infinitely more gratifying than watching a killer whale do goofy tricks in a pool?"

3. Call for Rehabilitation and Release 

There are a few cases that inspire tremendous hope- whales which are excellent candidates to be rehabilitated and released to the ocean. They include Morgan, a female at Loro Parque in Spain, and Lolita, a female in the Miami Seaquarium in Florida. These and a few other select animals are still relatively healthy, with undamaged teeth. We know where their families are. They could be reintroduced to their own pods.

In a super sad and revealing experiment, Lolita was made to listen to recordings of her family pod's calls. Her reaction was touching: she lovingly leaned in and jumped in and out of the water with excitement. It broke my heart to watch. Shes been called "the loneliest whale in the world," but she lives with her memories.

For all the pain, fear and exploitation humans inflict on the animal kingdom, there is another, better part of our souls quietly rejoices when a defenseless creature is set free of its pain, free to taste the simple joys all living things know and long for. Educating yourself, communicating with others, not buying a ticket, signing petitions and raising your voice those in power are all great steps to take.

There is a lot of hope hanging in the air these days. Together, we can make a difference for these animals.

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