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Blackfish is a critically acclaimed 2013 documentary by Gabriela Cowperthwait, a film following the controversial subject regarding the captivity of orcas and its perils for both humans and whales. The film centres on a killer whale, Tilikum who has attacked multiple people through his years in captivity. This issue not only concerns the individuals related to SeaWorld but is also an ever-growing concern in multiple countries due to the continuous use of animals as tourism baits, performing for crowd and for their “owners” to earn money. In this essay I will discuss how Blackfish raises suggestions regarding how morally correct it is for mankind to capture wild animals for the sole purpose of public entertainment.
Aquariums and marine-mammal theme parks like SeaWorld, Loro Parque’s Orca Ocean and Canada’s Marineland are part of a billion-dollar industry built on the suffering of intelligent, social beings who are denied everything that is natural and important to them. The issue regarding the captivity of wild animals for public entertainment does not only challenge the values and standards set by marine parks but also challenges the ongoing mistreating of animals in Asian countries such as Indonesia,
The cruel entertainment known as dancing monkeys or topeng monyet (meaning masked monkey, in reference to the doll head masks they are often forced to wear) was not so long ago a common sight in Jakarta. Wearing chains around their necks and taught to do silly tricks, they often entertained small children who laughed at their antics. The monkeys are chained up, restraining them from exploring the wilderness like they’re supposed to, this is really no different to the orcas in marine parks, forced to swim around their tanks endlessly.
The animals, if not bred in captivity, are captured from the ocean by the aquarium industry. The animals are cruelly ripped away from their families and friends to endure a terrifying and stressful journey before ending up in a tank. This results in the captive animals to be psychologically damaged and eminently aggressive towards trainers and their own kind. Tilikum, the orca who lashed out and killed SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau and two other people, has been in a cramped tank for more than 30 years since he was taken away from his Icelandic family. Lolita, was torn from her family when she was just a baby, has resided in the same tank at the Miami Seaquarium for nearly half a century. Lolita is the sole survivor of a horrifying capture in 1970 (over 90 orcas were stalked and lured into a net, 7 were sold to marine parks) and has spent almost all her life in the smallest, oldest orca tank in the U.S., one that doesn’t even meet the federal Animal Welfare Act’s antiquated and inadequate minimum size requirement and that fails to provide her with any shelter from the blistering Miami sun. Orcas in nature spend 90 percent of their time underwater and dive to depths of 1,000 feet, but the tank confining Lolita is just 20 feet at its deepest point, the same length as her body. She has been without the companionship of any member of her own species since 1980, when her tank-mate, Hugo, died after repeatedly ramming his head into the tank wall. Not only is Lolita deprived of her rights but is also directly and indirectly abused.
Many of these killer whales would swim thousands of kilometres a day and possess senses which guide them through their aquatic habitat, but instead they are frustrated in tanks where they are condemned to spend their entire lives in. Through the glass of the aquarium we do not see the full picture. We do not see the boredom, the monotony or the suffering endured by the animals behind the scenes.
Animals are constantly mistreated, whether they’re hunted, captured or forced to perform or fight each other, all of us have taken part in watching or participating in at least one of these activities. We take part, considering them fun, entertaining, artistic or cultural, but none justify the forcing of animals into confinement, to suffer and die for our benefit. From the tiniest primates to the biggest of sea mammals, no species of animal can escape the scrutiny and cruelty of humans all around the world.
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