Empty the Tanks

Regarding the recent announcement by the cetacean incarceration corporation known as SeaWorld, that they would no longer breed Orcas in captivity, we urge careful consideration of a response made by Paul Watson, excerpted below:

For 30 years, Tilikum has been committed to an asylum of despair and deprivation.

For years we have clung to a hope that once again he might feel the embrace of the living sea. We maintained hope that a shred of decency would arise within the cold corporate heart of SeaWorld and that they would grant Tilikum, the one gift he most desired and deserved. Freedom! That hope is now all but gone. Tilikum is dying.

The recent announcement by SeaWorld that Tilikum is nearing the end of his tragic life was spun with a major lie.

“Despite the best care available, like all aging animals, he battles chronic health issues that are taking a greater toll as he ages,” SeaWorld said on its website.

Tilikum is 35 years old who should be in the prime of his life. Orca males live an average of 70 years in the wild and females can surpass a century. SeaWorld wants us all to believe that Tilikum is dying a natural death from old age.

This statement is a deliberate lie crafted by the public relations team at SeaWorld. Tilikum’s life has been one of tragic abuse ever since he was torn from his family pod in 1981 at the age of two. As they hauled him from the water and brought him onboard, his pod were visibly disturbed. His mother followed in the wake of the fleeing boat and she continued to follow helplessly as her baby cried piteously until she could hear nothing more. The capture boat sped away leaving Tilikum’s family pod and mother behind. He would never see them again.  […]

During the 19th century asylums for the criminally insane and even the not so criminally insane were institutions that the general public knew little about. Behind guarded walls, humans were punished and deprived of food as a form of behavior modification. Electro-shock therapy and lobotomies were used with great frequency and the patients were primarily exploited like laboratory rats for the purpose of investigating, understanding and manipulation of human behavior. In some cases these institutions offered tours where for a price, members of the public could gawk at inmates restrained in strait jackets, chained to their beds or given electro shock therapy. Captives were sometimes marketed as entertainment like those poor individuals featured in freak shows.

The modern socially acceptable freak show is the aquatic asylum where for a price the public can gawk at one of the world’s most intelligent and strongest sentient beings and feel superior as the Orcas are forced to perform tricks for their amusement. It really is not much different than feeling superior while watching another human convulsing as electricity fries part of his brain. These monstrous institutions were gradually shut down but I remember participating in an anti-lobotomy demonstration on the Berkley campus in 1977, so it was not that long ago.

Such institutions of horror, pain, and death are not abolished overnight. It takes time, patience, courage and commitment to tear down such walls. We have been fighting to empty the tanks in aquatic asylums like Sea World for decades and just like the movement to tear down the asylums for humans, we have been ignored for many years. But once that formidable door is forced open, enlightenment quickly illuminates the consciousness of society and progressive change begins to happen.

Our years of battering at the doors of such places as SeaWorld with demonstrations, articles, petitions, and lawsuits weakened the fortress doors enough that when Blackfish was shown to the public it was like a battering ram of enlightenment. When I look back over the years, I see that we have made steady progress in bringing the abuses of these asylums to the eyes of the public.

The first captive Orca named Moby Doll was actually deliberately shot when it was captured for the Vancouver Aquarium back in 1964. The Vancouver Aquarium purchased a second Orca in 1967 named Skana. I came to know Skana quite well primarily because my biology professor was the wife of the curator of the Vancouver Aquarium, Dr. Murray Newman. In the early days of marine aquariums, not much thought was given to conservation. I still remember the Aquarium selling sperm whale teeth for $5 each that came from the whaling operations on Vancouver Island. When I spoke out against whaling to staff at the Aquarium they looked at me like I was crazy. There was not a shred of empathy for the animals they were displaying for profit. […]

We won’t be able to save Tilikum and many of the other abused inmates of the aquatic asylums but we do have an ever growing movement that will prevent new victims being snatched from their families and committed to the horrors that places like Sea World represent.

It’s been a long time since Skana was captured off British Columbia and Tilikum was torn from his mother’s side off Iceland. It’s much more difficult now to do live captures and even breeding operations have been discouraged like the recent decision of the California Coastal Commission to oppose the Sea World’s breeding program in San Diego. Most recently, SeaWorld announced the end of all captive breeding in their parks.

The movement to free captive Orcas and other dolphin species gets stronger every year. But there is still much to do before we can say we have delivered justice for Tilikum and the hundreds of Orcas that have been enslaved and killed simply to entertain humans for profit.

The tanks must be emptied and if possible the captives released, at least to large open sea pens where they will not be forced to perform for the amusement of human beings. Sea World is a façade, pretending to be educational, pretending to care for the intelligent sentient creatures their facilities holds captive. Humanity does not need Sea World or these other aquatic Asylums anymore. We have evolved as a society and we need to recognize that there is an alternative to Sea World and that alternative is the real sea world, the place where Orcas and dolphins are free to be what they are, free to roam the sea with their own kind, free to communicate without their voices rebounding from concrete walls, free to not be tormented and not sexually molested by being masturbated by humans to harvest their sperm, freed from the abusive slavery that we have subjected them to for so many decades.

Like the 19th century asylums for insane humans, these aquatic asylums need to be closed and their facilities abandoned so that only the haunting cries of Orcas will echo from tanks drained of water amidst the ruins of something that we are coming to realize has brought ignoble shame to our entire species.

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