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By Joanna Georgiev. April 29, 2014 - 10:47 am
Last month SeaWorld marine animal park celebrated 50 years of business.
The establishment, known primarily for its orca (killer whale) shows, was the first to bring a killer whale to its park in 1965.
Up until today, SeaWorld relied on the orcas’ performances to bring guests through park doors, and Shamu the orca whale has become known as the park’s mascot. However, in the past year, SeaWorld has received increased pressure to end killer whale shows.
At the beginning of this month SeaWorld announced that since the first of the year, attendance sank nearly 13 percent.
The reactions to “Blackfish,” which reviews how SeaWorld treats its captive killer whales, could be linked to the sudden drop in attendance. The 2013 documentary directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite has fueled activists and admirers of the sea to push SeaWorld and marine animal parks of its kind to stop shows.
Since the airing of the film on national television on CNN in October 2013, musicians such as Martina McBride and Willie Nelson have cancelled shows and schools have opted out of fieldtrips to the park.
In a visit to the Capitol on April 2, SeaWorld San Diego said that SeaWorld’s orca shows are “not only safe for human trainers, but they also help ensure the highly intelligent killer whales are healthy and happy.”
The documentary, however, shows quite the contrary. It traces the life of Tilikum, a killer whale that was captured off the coast of Iceland in 1983. Tilikum was repeatedly harassed, and it is believed that this is what contributed to the whale’s aggression that lead to the deaths of three people.
There exists a rigid dichotomy of animals of such great size and power living in captivity verse natural habitat. Orcas remain a powerful and aggressive species that are known to kill viciously in the wild and should not be subject to perform in a circus-like environment.
Cowperthwiate debunks claims by SeaWorld, which state that their whales live as long in captivity as they do in the wild.
SeaWorld refused to take part in the making and once it was released deemed the film “inaccurate and misleading” and “paints a picture that withholds key facts.”
SeaWorld struck back stating they spend millions of dollars annually on conservation and scientific research and rehabilitate and return animals to the wild.
As seen in the documentary, animals like Tilikum spend nearly 25 years in the entertainment industry, which strips them of essential instinctual and survival skills that are necessary to thrive in their natural environment.
Faced with growing backlash, SeaWorld has made attempts paint themselves as true animal advocates and denies claims that they capture whales or separate calves from their mothers.
But viewers see that this is not true in the film through footage and interviews with former SeaWorld trainers.
With the built-up pressure from the documentary, SeaWorld is urged to change its business model and shift its approach. The San Diego Zoo and The Monterey Bay Aquarium focus more on the creatures themselves than on animal shows.
The documentary has changed the way many people look at performance killer whales.
Of 118 reviews on popular rating site Rotten Tomatoes, critics gave the documentary a 98 percent and an average of 4.3 out of 5 stars. The movie is disturbing and awakens viewers to see a different side of these parks.
The film serves as a catalyst for change and a movement to ensure freedom for these animals. On April 7, 2 million signatures were collected by schoolchildren to petition against killer whale shows at SeaWorld.
“There is always much more to the story than can be portrayed in one movie, so it’s a challenge for someone to know whether they are viewing a balanced portrayal of the issue or not” said Brenda Jensen, associate dean of the College of Natural and Computational Sciences at HPU.
On Friday April 11 the U.S. Appeals court panel upheld an Occupational Safety and Health Administrations ruling that SeaWorld’s safety program as inadequate and violates its duties by exposing its trainers to dangerous situations.
This ruling prohibits SeaWorld trainers to enter the water during whale shows, which eliminates many tricks such as jumping and diving.
It is interesting that last week the courts upheld the Occupational Safety and Health Administrations ban on trainers getting into the water with the whales.
“It might be interesting to explore that case in light of the many dangerous jobs that many people can choose to have,” Jensen added.
Photo courtesy of The Times.