Saturday, March 15, 2014
Are we ready to Empty the Tanks?
Think about your first visit to Sea World or a marine park; what did you think? What was the moment that captured your heart? For some of us it was Shamu’s first leap out of the water, for others it’s feeding and petting a dolphin. When I was a little girl I dreamed of being a trainer and caretaker for Sea World. I was the biggest fan of Sea World of any person on the planet and could draw a detailed map from memory and know the grounds better than the owner of the company. I grew up near Palm Springs and we didn’t have an ocean nearby of course. When my mom moved down to Florida, she knew I craved to be by the ocean so she bought me a season pass to Sea World every summer. We went almost every day and I was obsessed with the park; especially the animals. Sea World gave me the ability to pet and feed dolphins right in front of me. I could be feet away from orcas and manatees. I knew from my first visit that I would always love these animals. I knew I would always do what I thought was best for them.
For years I would go to each exhibit and watch blissfully for hours at the manatees, dolphins, and of course Shamu stadium. I always quietly wondered about the orcas in particular. I thought their aquariums seemed a little small but they seemed to have endless gates leading to other pools. I did think it was weird that all gates weren’t open at once so the whales could swim through the entire enclosure but I was young and in love with them so I didn’t pay enough attention to the tanks. That is the trick with Sea World, they bring an experience you can’t get in most places that entrances your emotions so your eyes look beyond what is right there. The problem is the lack of accommodation of such species and the replication of their natural habitats. What the ocean provides is something man doesn’t seem capable of producing nor should it. When you were young and visiting Sea World, did you have any outward or hidden concerns about the park or question any enclosure you saw? How about the Wild Arctic exhibit? I felt it could never be real enough, because no experience could ever be cold enough for the animals or humans to emulate the arctic regions, so how can those animals survive as long in conditions their body wasn’t designed for or feel at home in such small pools and temperatures that must feel hot to them? An exhibit of the arctic could never be real because it would be too cold for any human to visit with children. I had more questions each year.
Cutting to the present, I have taken my son to Sea World once and he loved it. He found the same love that I did and to harvest that love I am trying to steer him from the commercialized marine parks and show them all the amazing places in nature you don’t see on every other commercial. For his sixth birthday we are taking him to Catalina Island for a week to whale watch, snorkel, walk on the peer, and watch the ocean from the cliff edges. I understand the appeal of Sea World, I love the animals so much and I feel sad now that they aren’t with their pods in the wild. The dolphins were always my favorite but after a few years, I noticed that the dolphins in the encounter were hit and miss during feeding times. They didn’t always like being pet or people around, and the busier it was, the less enthused they appeared to be. I noticed on slower business days and later in the afternoon, I could feed them more easily and they would come up to me and stay still for me to pet them. During these visits, the dolphins acted happier and more eager to spend time with me. I came to the conclusion they are friendly creatures willing to accept us but like humans, need their space; and they don’t like a bunch of kids running around screaming and slapping the water! I don’t blame them. They don’t mind a little attention but most of the day being in a busy park is stressful and depressing for them.
I cannot express how much I love these animals and want them to be happy in the wild. I love them all with all of my heart but the older I am the more I wish Sea World would be the first to correct their legacy, to free the long captive whales and dolphins, and truly become the rehabilitation facility they market themselves as. Rescuing injured animals to release them within two months in good health is a great cause, but no animal needs to be held for years or decades. It has been said that when the Anheiser-Busch family sold their beer company which owned the parks, the new company did not want the parks; but they were a part of the deal. I hope one day some rich person with a caring soul turns this company around for the best health of these animals so we can still appreciate the experience but also let them quickly go back to their home. Sea World should be looking into whale watching tours and more rides in the park like the Orlando location next, instead of enclosures. I hope one day to awaken to a headline stating Sea World has taken a drastic turn in their policies and all other marine parks will follow suit. Changes can be made to keep the unique experiences and the jobs in a kinder harmony.
I continue to support the efforts for Sea World to change their mission and the public to voice their oppositions of the park’s current practices. I believe in the power of the people and that every single voice matters. I have always said that if someone does not believe in the significance of one’s voice, they should go away and be quiet because their negativity is the voice that won’t make a difference. They are also not a true friend to you if they believe your voice is weak and irrelevant. If you know it’s right, never hesitate to stand up for the cause.
One of the things we can do now for future generations is start our children young. We can take them on whale watching tours and places where they can see animals in the wild. If we expose them to the beautiful reality of nature and what is normal for our ocean’s creatures, they will better know the difference between the wild and the sad truth behind killer whales in swimming pools. Orcas and dolphins are not meant to be captured and bred for money, they are meant to amaze us for life in the open ocean. Other resources for our children are nature shows and books that help them understand why it is so important animals remain at a safe distance in the wild, away from humans.
A few years ago I self-published a children’s book series about keeping our oceans clean, respecting the beauty of the wild, and saving marine animals from aquariums and Sea World. That book is now the message I use to help my young son learn about captivity and choosing observation of these creatures in the wild instead of parks. While writing this piece, my son watched The Whale, a documentary about an abandoned killer whale named Luna who befriended a small town in Canada in order to receive attention. This whale broke down the barriers of people and ocean predator. Even in the wild, the constant interaction with people initiated by the whale made officials assume this was bad for him. Why is it bad for whales in their own habitat and dangerous for both us and him, yet in captivity it is fine and legal? If interacting with a whale in the ocean is bad for him and us, certainly a pool and a group of trainers with thousands watching is far more damaging to the physical and mental health of orcas. The growing evidence and increase in incidents is showing millions that it’s time to let these animals free and let them remain in the open ocean.
This is a movement we have to keep alive if it is to change anything. Support is growing for these animals to be saved, but watching Blackfish won’t be enough to end the captures. To save them, we have to be conscientious of our wallets and not be afraid to say something. Let’s help them all go home healthy. Spread the love and it will eventually travel where it needs to be.