A Lot of Whitewashing When it Comes to Whales

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Photo by John Boyd

It’s difficult to read “Information about Whales Held in Captivity Helps Wild Orcas” by Gene Johnson, published April 22, and not shake one’s head in disbelief. Although Johnson’s article is well-written and informative, it appears to be an attempt by Sea World to cultivate good public relations and justify keeping orcas captive.

Basically, orcas were captured and put into super-sized swimming pools to amuse spectators and enrich Sea World owners. It’s well documented that many orcas died in the attempt to capture them. Babies were separated from their mothers. Family groups were broken up. Because of being captured, the native orca population of the Salish Sea experienced a tremendous blow from which it has never recovered, and possibly never will. The whales are now in critical decline and due to their capture and other human factors and interference we may see these incredible whales become extinct.

The orca is a highly intelligent mammal. These whales communicate with each other; in the wild they navigate using sonar; they have extremely close family ties; they feel pain and THEY ARE SELF-AWARE.

Almost NO ORCAS live beyond the age of 30 in captivity; even orcas born into captivity due to Sea World’s captive breeding program die prematurely – if they survive birth at all. In the wild these amazing mammals can live to be up to 80-years of age. To say, however, that the testing done on these captive orcas was done to help wild orcas is pure poppycock. If blood tests of captive orcas were taken for the past 20 years, why is it only NOW that Sea World is sharing test results, despite being asked for information many times in the past.

Indeed, it took public pressure and lawsuits to stop Sea World from breeding orcas and capturing them in the wild. Thank goodness for that.  Supposedly the whales are now used to provide “more educational experiences where guests can still enjoy and marvel at the majesty and power of the whales.” Can all that be seen in a super-sized prison of a swimming pool? Really?

There is a call for orcas held in captivity to be put into marine preserves where they can be in a more natural environment. Many orcas might then be able to transition to the wild. Of course, Sea World claims the marine sanctuaries are just ocean pens, as though their swimming pools are a better environment for a whale that’s considered to be the prime predator of the oceans. Shame.

It’s also quite shameful for Sea World’s vice president to claim, “Our stance is to do research with our animals to try to help this population now, and that’s what we’re doing. That’s why I got into what I do – to try to help animals in the wild.”  Really? It seems pretty obvious that whales have been big money for Sea World. To claim that Sea World is doing this out of the goodness of their heart is hard to swallow considering that some of the captive whales become so frustrated they have  killed trainers (something they never do in the wild); frustrated orcas beat their heads against the side of the pool; they grind their teeth to nubs…

When Robeck says, “It’s an example of how we are dedicated to participating in the well-being of killer whales in the Pacific Northwest and around the world, and how research with our animals is vital in answering some of these questions about how to address the needs of animals in the wild,” it’s stunning that he does not begin to acknowledge the horror of what they have done, and are doing, to the many orcas they’ve held in captivity. How to address their needs? Don’t capture them and hold them prisoner!

What more can be said? These animals do not belong in swimming pools. Sea World’s actions with orcas are prime examples of appalling animal cruelty.

(Read more about whales and the Southern Resident Pod in  Saving Our Oceans. Available after May 15 on Amazon)

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