December 8, 2013

Sunday Science Snippet

So this week, I thought I'd do something a little different and share more of my opinion in the hopes to spark some conversations.

Monterey Bay Whale Watch
Several weeks ago I watched BLACKFISH - a CNN documentary about killer whales in captivity. If you haven't seen it, I encourage you to take a look. Foolishly (for me) I didn't know how that industry got started and that was, by far, the hardest part for me to watch.

I had an opportunity to work as a marine mammal trainer through an internship I participated in many years ago. I mean, after all, when you think marine biologist - you think about swimming with the whales and the dolphins! Although I wasn't sure if that was the direction I wanted to go, it was certainly on the list.

I'll never forget the very first question of my interview. It was asked by the head trainer and he'd cut right to the chase: "What do you think about having dolphins in captivity?" I gave my answer - kind of a combination of the need for education and the benefits captivity can provide to animals who can't be released. I believed in my answer at that time, and most of me still does. But killer whales in a pool? I'm having a harder time with that. Especially after this film.

These mammals (dolphins, whales, seal, sea lions) are intelligent creatures. I loved coming in early and being the first to say hello to the dolphins in the morning. We'd play peek-a-boo and they'd follow me around edges of the pool, talking to me as I checked in on them. They solved problems, threw temper tantrums, and played with toys just like humans. They got bored, frustrated, excited...and expressed emotion in their own way. I absolutely loved being around them every day.

The educational program (shows) at this facility taught the audience about marine mammal conservation and the need to keep our ocean's healthy and trash free. The entire program revolved around educating those who may not otherwise care because "it doesn't affect them". But once an otherwise apathetic person got to see a dolphin up close, I have no doubt that experience stayed with them. And that was something I greatly respected about the industry.

I fully acknowledge the biases that can drive a film like this, and for the most part it was pretty one-sided. However, it certainly got my attention seeing trainer after trainer discussing the same problems, the same issues with the industry, and the expressing the same concerns at facilities all over the world. Trainers don't get paid well - they simply love what they do and love the animals they work with. That's their reward. Yet here they were, speaking out about the industry. I understand the difficulty behind that, which is why I think I was so impacted by Blackfish.

The whale that killed a couple of trainers is still at SeaWorld, living in a tiny pool and having minimal interaction with the other whales and trainers (according to the film). But he's also worth a lot of money to the industry and has sired numerous offspring that are also in captivity. Again, I'm basing my opinion on what I saw in the documentary, knowing that's most likely not the whole story. But it still breaks my heart. In this day and age, there are other ways to learn about our fellow mammals. There is no need to rip a baby killer whale away from it's mother and we certainly don't need to breed them anymore. I am supportive of rehabilitation programs, and those animals that can't be released - well there's the opportunity to educate.

So do we keep supporting programs with marine mammals, and particularly killer whales, in captivity? It's a tough question with a complicated answer, I'm sure. And I'd be curious to know what you think.


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  2. I think it is one thing to help a whale or dolphin and that is a lot of the time what places like Sea World says it is doing but when you keep breeding in captivity that is not helping that is hurting. That makes a situation worse and then we do have a right to question motives because it looks like then the animals were never the important thing but the money was. That is just my opinion. I used to love going there and now it kind of sickens me to think how the killer whales have been put in those tanks and trained for enjoyment and then one kills a human and unlike a dog or some other animal that would be put down they decide lets have it make babies. Anyway that is my opinion on it!

  3. I love going to Sea World (Orlando).
    Animals in captivity live longer than those in the wild because they are not faced with predators (including man).
    About 15 years ago, my husband rescued a fresh-water otter that was in danger at our work place due to the many cars. Her name became Sheena, named after the lake on our property. The wonderful people at Sea World came and picked her up. We've been told by the trainers that she was one of their best show animals. They saved Sheena's life!
    As for the large animals - my biggest concern is that the pools are never going to be large enough to really give them the exercise that they truly need, but I think that the trainers do all they can to keep them mentally stimulated to alleviate the boredom for those few animals in captivity in order to improve the lives and longevity of those in nature.
    Just my opinions.

  4. Fallon Vaughn
    I have to say Amber I watched the video The Cove on how Dolphins are captured for sale to the states and I have not gone to Sea World or any park since. This is just my opinion my husband loves the sea life and wants to go but I cant brong myself to do it. I dont think that Sea World or Aquariums treat the animals bad, and yes they may live longer but it is the way the animals are obtained that bothers me. How many have to be killed to get a few to do tricks for us.

  5. And if they rescue a few that is great, why breed in captivity


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