Marine Mammals the Film Blackfish Essay

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Marine Mammals

The film Blackfish is a documentary from CNN that focuses on the case of the orca Tilikum who is captured and held at SeaWorld. The idea is that it is inadvisable to keep certain species in captivity since large and intelligent animals do not do well in small spaces. The documentary begins with the capture of Tilikum off the coast of Iceland, left in small dark tanks, and trained to do tricks that may also contribute to the animal's psychotic nature (Blackfish, 2013).

First, it is clearly obvious that orcas and other species have no business being kept in captivity. Research shows that orcas are extremely social and have stable groups that exist for decades. They are sophisticated pack hunters and some research even believes they have a kind of culture. The research also shows that the animals average from 20-26 feet long and weigh 6-7 tons. Wildlife biologists believe that there is no real threats to humans with wild orcas, who inhabit a larger portion of the ocean and are migratory in nature (Carwardine, 2001).

Within the documentary, director Cowperthwaite focuses on not only SeaWorld but on the idea of taking a social species with ties to its clan, capturing it in an aggressive manner and uprooting it from its surroundings, then putting it into a much smaller environment where it might be harassed by other orcas, forced to be in dark tanks for hours in solitary confinement, and then forced to do tricks to amuse humans that are not natural for the species. There is documented evidence that taking animals outside of their natural environment and putting them into cages without adequate socialization often makes these captives "psychotic." For example, many captive tropical birds, extremely social, become problems when put into a small cage and denied the company of their own species. This happens with elephants in zoos, apes and monkeys who pace and pace but are limited to concrete and bars, and most certainly, for orcas who are used to miles and miles of open ocean and are forced outside of that. Imagine, if one can, that a human child is taken by force and placed in a "zoo" in which the boundaries are only 10 or so times its body size, forced to mimic behaviors that are somewhat unnatural, punished by being placed in the dark, and in the company of other humans, but who may be from another culture or speak a different language. Would we then expect that child to never act out any aggression?

Part 2 -- SeaWorld, of course, responded to the film by indicating that it was not a true documentary and that they are a zoological setting. As in most cases, there is truth to both sides of the issue. SeaWorld is indeed a zoological park, and they do research and rescue marine creatures. In addition, they have been very successful in bringing knowledge and interest to more people than might have the opportunity to see and understand marine wildlife. However, that being said, SeaWorld is not just about conservation. The orca shows bring in millions of dollars in revenue, the ancillary sales in dolls and souvenirs millions more. The containers that hold the orcas are comparatively small, and while the animals are not overtly mistreated, perhaps there is a misunderstanding about the difference between existing and living. What SeaWorld does is valuable -- educates people about the intelligence of sea creatures -- but in what way?

The orca shows at SeaWorld, indeed the seal and other shows demonstrate training of animals to do tricks for food or reward. Pavlovian psychology tells us that most any creature, including humans, can be made to become… [END OF PREVIEW]

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