WELL NEITHER CAN A 22-FOOT LONG, 10,000 POUND ORCA WHALE
Not one orca at SeaWorld has ever died of old age or been released back into the wild.
Few would argue that keeping dolphins and whales (cetaceans) in captivity is outdated and no longer defensible by science and should, without a doubt, come to an end.
No amount of money can ever recreate a marine animal's natural environment. The animals/victims of this multi-billion dollar industry suffer from cramped and unnatural living conditions, have incredibly shortened lifespans, and develop abnormal behaviors that have been proven unsafe for both the animals and humans.
Jane Goodall recently joined the call to free captive whales and dolphins and in a recent letter to the Vancouver Aquarium pleaded for the freedom of all cetaceans in captivity:
"Those of us who have had the fortunate opportunity to study wild animals in their natural settings where family, community structure and communication form a foundation for these animals’ existence, know the implications of captivity on such species
In captivity, these highly vocal and complex communicators are forced to live in a low-sensory environment, which is unable to fully meet the needs of their physical and emotional worlds."
Their physical worlds, which once consisted of the vast open ocean waters, are now barely twice the length of their body size (as required by law). In the wild orcas swim up to 100 miles a day. In captivity, in a typical tank, an orca would have to swim 1400 repetitive laps. Even if they did this, the many missing elements of natural sea life leave these animals unhappy and unhealthy. Due to boredom and limited space many dolphins and whales abuse themselves; they often chew on their gates and bang their heads against tank and aquarium walls.
Along with not being able to swim the appropriate distance during the day, orcas cannot swim to depths they are used to either. Tanks are typically only 40 feet deep. This unnatural state keeps them near the surface and unable to get away from the harsh elements which results in chronic sunburns. These sunburns are covered up with black zinc oxide. Also, many tanks have water full of chemicals -- like chlorine -- and bacteria; this results in blindness and various skin problems.
The emotional world of a marine animal in captivity can be incredible trying and stressful. Both whales and dolphins are highly social and intelligent beings who, in the wild, live in tight knit families (pods) which stay together for life. Captive marine animals are kept in tanks with only one or two companions, companions that are strangers and may not even speak the same language.
In the worst of cases they are kept alone. At the Miami Sea Aquarium, Lolita -- a 42-year-old orca captured in Penn Cove near Seattle, Washington, on August 8, 1970 -- is housed all by herself. And has been for the past 34 years after her former tank-mate Hugo died on March 4, 1980 after repeatedly smashing his head into the walls of the tank in what is described as an act of suicide. Lolita has been alone ever since.
When 125 whales were first captured in the 60s and 70s, marine "cowboys" use to kill their kin, or any animals that were rounded up but not captured. Tilikum, a famous captive whale linked to three human deaths at SeaWorld, saw his mother killed in front him during his abduction when he was only two-years-old. Ever since Tilikum has suffered from debilitating psychosis. He is now 32-years-old.
Goodall says, "The phasing out of such cetacean programs is the natural progression of human-kind’s evolving view of our non-human animal kin."
However, SeaWorld’s Vice President of Veterinary Services says they have no intention to phase marine animal "entertainment" and captivity, and defends the practice, saying humans would miss out if there were no orcas in captivity, as “we’re deeply transformed by them, the killer whale is an animal that does that.”
And it's true, these are massively spiritual animals that do easily transform the human spirit. But so did Ghandi and Mother Teresa, and we still let them roam free. Sometimes it's hard for humans to just enjoy things found in nature without trying to possess it. There are many ways to enjoy cetaceans in their natural habitat, such as whale watching and boating adventures. These are intelligent, complex creatures and we have found that left to their own devices are just as curious about humans as we are of them. Many times dolphins swim alongside the boat or approach you in the water. Orcas have been known to get quite close themselves and even mist humans with water from their blow hole.
SeaWorld Vs. Zoos
SeaWorld really needs to catch up with the enlightened state of the nation, they are falling way behind the curve on this one.
A major reason that zoos have escaped major criticism from animal rights groups is because zoos made decisions years ago to phase out entertainment programs. It wasn't so long ago that zoos resembled circuses more so than rehabilitation and breeding hubs for endangered and threatened animals. It is apparent that many feel SeaWorld needs to, at the very least, begin to restructure their cetacean "entertainment" program.
SeaWorld isn't entirley without redemption, however.
Since its inception, SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment has rescued or helped more than 22,000 animals, including ill, orphaned or abandoned and injured manatees, dolphins, pilot whales, sea turtles, and birds. As part of its animal rehabilitation program, SeaWorld has claimed the first birth of a killer whale in captivity, the first birth of a marine mammal via artificial insemination, and the first hatching of captive green sea turtles. These programs are valuable, but all their educational and conservative practices are undermined by the immorality of the captivity of intelligent, complex creatures and their commercial activities they so heavily participate in. Also, theses "breeding" programs are stressful and far from normal. After performing numerous shows per day whales are "milked" by trainers for their sperm. And because of the high mortality rate, calves are often taken from their mothers until a certain age.
SeaWorld's main use for orcas in captivity is entertainment based. And the captivity breeding programs are rarely, if ever, successful. SeaWorld holds most of the world’s captive killer whales and not one orca at SeaWorld has ever died of old age or been released back into the wild.
It's time SeaWorld realizes this is not and will never be morally justifiable. It's time to pull the plug SeaWorld.
Ghandi said it best when he mentioned, "The greatness of a nation and its moral process can be measured by the way its animals are treated."
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