I used to live about a mile away from the (now closed) Marineland oceanarium in Palos Verdes California. It opened in 1954 and had as its main attractions a pilot whale (named Bubbles) and two orcas (Orky and Corky). The original orcas at the exhibit died, so Marineland just got two new ones and named them Orky and Corky too. The unfortunate orca replacements lived a lot longer. Their "home" consisted of a murky cement hole about 30 feet across. I remember thinking it was a horrible place for such majestic, intelligent animals to live. Even now when I think about it, I feel sick. Other large animals at the park had terrible environments as well. There was a walrus who had gone insane from his captivity, and found solace by lurching out of the filthy depths of his small tank suddenly so the tourists would scream.
I have not been to an animal water park in decades, just don't have the stomach for it. But the Sea World parks continue to thrive, charging Disneyland-type ticket prices and making millions off of orcas, their star performers. I think it's time for that to stop, and the movie "Blackfish" confirms my belief. This documentary focuses on Tilikum, an orca captured as a calf in the wild and confined to various Sea World pools his entire life. He's gone psycho (who wouldn't?) and has lashed out by killing some of his trainers. The most recent was Dawn Bracheau, who was dragged under water by her ponytail and drowned.
Orcas are the top ocean predators on earth. They are extremely intelligent and they hunt in packs. They are the only animal that has been observed attacking and eating Great White Sharks. If you can turn a one ton eating machine into dinner, you are absolutely the top of the food chain. And yet, there have been no recorded incidents of orcas fatally attacking humans in the wild. They have only done so in captivity.
So why are these amazing animals kept on display in tiny habitats, performing tricks like a poodle? It's the same reason humans have done horrible things to animals and other people throughout history: money. Orcas make a fortune for Sea World.
Blackfish aired on CNN on October 24th and will air again this Sunday. If you're planning a trip to Sea World with the family anytime soon, this movie will make you reconsider. A trip to Disneyland instead might cause less trauma to your conscience.