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Free Willy Already! Looking at the Existence of Marine Parks

Free Willy Already! Looking at the Existence of Marine Parks

Nothing is more awesome for a child than watching a 12,000-pound Killer Whale jump vertically out of the water, extending its body skyward like a marine-based rocket, only to dramatically splash down into a tank of preternaturally blue water leaving a tsunami-sized wake to soak appreciative spectators. This sort of spectacle and showmanship occurs daily in marine parks throughout the world with highly trained whales (and dolphins) taken from captivity and given a new profession as celebrities and entertainers for the masses. I guess something more awesome than this (as in shock and awe) would be witnessing the horrendous tragedy that occurred late last month at SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida, where a killer whale snatched a trainer from a poolside platform and thrashed the woman around underwater, killing her in front of a horrified audience. That would be horribly awesome.

I don’t mean to make light of this tragedy, or even pretend that there is anything vindicating about a wild animal perpetrating an act of aggression on its captor. I am sure that the now deceased trainer, Dawn Brancheau, was exceptionally devoted to her animals and compassionate beyond requirement. However, these tragic events are an upsetting reminder that orcas are wild, strong and often unpredictable animals, and holding animals like these captive is not only unnatural, but also shameful.

These killer whales (the name says it all) are enormous creatures that travel in social groups, or pods, throughout the ocean searching for prey. The idea that swapping out the expanse and majesty of the ocean for a few thousand gallons of pool water in the middle of a noisy coliseum of spectators would be appealing is just folly and rationalization (on the human’s behalf). The whale involved in this death (Tillikum) has a well-documented history of violent behavior (The American Family Association, a religious right group is requesting that Tillikum be put down, preferably by stoning and is upset with SeaWorld for not listening to Scripture in how to deal with the animal). According to press reports, SeaWorld knew of Tillikum’s history yet continued to put the animal to work and endanger the lives of its employees, as the show must go on.

This horrible event illustrates how problematic and misguided our human desire is to interact and control wild animals. Of course we want to witness the splendor and wonder of wild animals and share such an experience with our children, but do we really want nature on a leash, especially if that leash may eventually snap and run wild (as it probably should)? Is there a way to keep animals like these in captivity, emphasizing education and research, over exploitation? Should we just consider phasing out marine parks in favor of something more humane?

Read more: Children, Family, Nature & Wildlife, Parenting at the Crossroads, , , , , , , ,

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.

133 comments

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10:24PM PDT on Aug 5, 2012

These magnificent animals should not be living in captivity, and unfortunately we will probably be witnessing more accidents like these in the future.

9:30AM PST on Feb 11, 2011

Phase out all these places,.Ric O'Barry who owned one of the first theme parks and had Flipper the dolphin, who became famous in films, until one day she closed her blowhole and died in his arms. He is convinced she committed suicide, he was young, ignorant and made loads of money out of these creatures. He did this for ten years until she died, but for the last 30 years has actively campaigned against these theme parks and tried to get them closed down. Now his main interest lies in the little cove in Taiji, Japan, where they lure them in and slaughter them in cold blood. Some of them are sold for thousands of dollars to the American theme parks, but the majority are considered "pests" and killed, their meat, riddled with mercury, is sold in the supermarkets even though there was a scare about this some years previously. Please look him up on his website and get involved.

9:57AM PST on Nov 25, 2010

I can't believe they want him to be stoned! :(

11:14AM PST on Nov 24, 2010

While this was a horrible accident, how could a group even ask to have him killed??? And through stoning?? Shame on them for making such a request.

5:42AM PST on Nov 20, 2010

I can no imagine why anyone,especially those who work with the animals, would think they would want to be in an aquarium. Sea animals live in vast oceans. It's like keeping an elephant in a small enclosure (which of course still happens), especially orcas who are bigger. Kids don't understand but grown ups should;certainly Sea World employees and other marine park workers who see them every day should know.

11:15AM PST on Nov 19, 2010

Thanks.

3:07PM PDT on Oct 15, 2010

Anyone who still visits SeaWorld , or any of the rest of these animal prisons like them , is either totally clueless or totally heartless . :(

4:08PM PDT on Aug 26, 2010

Let's let them be where they are supposed to be--free.

6:33PM PDT on Aug 25, 2010

What do you expect? they belong in the ocean, not playful pets, it's all for money.. let them free....

10:02AM PDT on Aug 25, 2010

I took my son and daughter to a Marine Land in France and it was the most depressing outing imaginable. My son wanted to know why the fish were floating on the water and not swimming around...Need I say, we never went back.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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