Nov 22, 2016
As it began nearing to 3:30pm, we made our way to the Shamu Amphitheater for the scheduled show.
People were flooding in and filling bleachers. A bee was after the glass of Sprite in my hand. As I tried to wave it away, forgetting I was holding the glass still, that Sprite fell on me. My niece was trying to escape onto the bleacher steps. Kids in the row behind us were using their brand new Shamu shaped bubble guns. It was all that a tourist could create. We sat and waited. Some lights started turning on. Some rehearsed lines sounded over the microphones. But the voices didn’t matter. The water’s appearance change, almost brewing. What the water announced drowned out the microphones.
And then, rising out from underneath straight into the air, appeared a black and white orca. My eyes and heart fused into one. My senses went numb. My face was skewed, not out of disapproval, but an overwhelming state. What I saw before me was magnificent, and beautiful. It actually did take my breath away. It was the kind of thing, had I any room or time to pace back and forth between the bleachers, I would certainly have been doing so, bewildering at the creation I was seeing.
I knew Blackfish was out there though. After I came back home that weekend I watched it. It was one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen in my life. The living conditions that were revealed were inhumane. But what I will never forget is the way Tilikum was captured as a child from his family, as his parents floated alongside the boats, wailing for their baby.
It’s very difficult to appreciate ‘good efforts’ after that. People argue that without places like zoos and sanctuaries, no one would know or care about any of these animals. The fact is santuaries, zoos, and Sea World are different things. How many sanctuaries can be boasted about around here? The few places I’ve heard of as anything truly ‘sanctuary’ were places like New Zealand where nature is actually preserved with great effort. I don’t mean to say they don’t exist here, but it’s also true that many zoos also have awful living conditions. Even for animals that were bred there and are taken care of well, some animals’ size naturally requires them a larger area to move around in.
As for Sea World, I don’t think I learned anything about Orcas. It felt like pure entertainment. I don’t deny that the people working there have great care and admiration for these creatures and that they know the risks involved. But the issue isn’t about the people, is it? The issue is that these animals are being kept in an area that would be analogous to us being kept in a bath tub. Often they’re starved until the show so that they will perform for the treats they receive during it. Often they get hurt in other ways.
Should orcas be put back into the wild? Obviously not. They couldn’t survive because of how they’ve been bred and raised. But what is the reason to take so many animals and keep them in these sort of places. Sanctuaries might be great, if they’re being done right. But from what I saw in Blackfish, SeaWorld doesn’t seem like that.
Unfortunately we live in the day and age where it’s hard to look at any piece of news or admonition, and know if it’s true or not. Blackfish for me personally, was convincing, and I think it serves as a powerful reminder to us regarding not just orcas, but the very many animals that are in captivity under terrible living conditions.
I do have to say though, without seeing an actual orca while visiting Sea World, I actually may not have seen Blackfish, not this soon anyway. So it’s all been a bit dichotomous, if that’s the right word.
And I’d like to end on a recommendation for anyone reading this post. Wildest India, on Netflix, is another one of the most fascinating documentaries I’ve seen. Even if you can only get to the first part about the Thar desert, try to see that episode.
It shows a relationship between humans and animals in the wild that raises another powerful reminder: we are capable of better.