Seven years ago, I went to SeaWorld. My family was visiting from England and they wanted to see some tourist attractions. There was something more than the usual muted British emotions when we witnessed Shamu breach his bathtub. Throngs of oblivious tourists whooped and yelled. I remember looking at my mom and sister with a grimace. I could feel how uncomfortable we all were.
“This is barbaric,” I remember thinking. You don’t need a documentary to teach you that a killer whale is a highly intelligent animal. These amazing creatures possess highly sophisticated communication and navigation abilities, as well as many human-like qualities, including language, intelligence, and emotional capabilities. You don’t need that knowledge to see that performing tricks for reward and sleeping in a bathtub is disgusting and unbecoming of such a graceful animal.
I watched the show to its end. After it finished my family and I had the same feeling. It was almost a feeling of shame. I remember my mother asking if we were still in the 1950s. “Why is this still happening?” we mulled over. We witnessed hundreds of other families leaving, all excited having just witnessed the performing fish. Were we the weird ones? Too British? Not fun? Why didn’t we enjoy the dancing fish like everyone else?
A few years later, the documentary The Cove was released. I watched it once. Once was enough. It broke my heart. Next was the CNN documentary Blackfish. Again, one viewing was enough. Blackfish showed what humans should have already known—we are mistreating and abusing these creatures for nothing more than entertainment and financial gain. Frankly, it disgusted me.
I decided to write this article after my friend told me a guy asked her on a date to SeaWorld… A date to Sea World in 2016!? I thought we were past all that. “What!?” I said to her. “You’re going to say no, right?”
I was baffled that people are still unaware of the barbarity of this business. There are plenty of great places to go and see animals in captivity, if that’s your thing. There are places that are designed to make a difference, are not for profit, and have worthy conservation and breeding programs. I may be on the extreme side of this issue, but I don’t like to see any animal in captivity, although I do accept that sometimes it’s necessary.
The effect those documentaries had was groundbreaking. Finally, people could see. Sticking an intelligent creature – or any animal, for that matter – into a tank or cage is animal abuse. But I couldn’t see why it should take a documentary for people see this? Why can’t they come to that conclusion when they witness it first-hand? But it’s not just orcas. This includes those who visit, for example, elephants at the circus. Don’t wait for the documentary to come out, open your eyes.
One of the answers to this unconsciousness is that we are sheep. We pretend to be individuals, but we don’t want to stand out too much. SeaWorld did, and still does a great job at making us think they care for animals. Everyone else seems to be cool with it. Why question it, right When my friend told me about the guy who asked her to SeaWorld I went on my rant about animal cruelty. I couldn’t help but think she thought I was a stupid hippy. But who cares? Don’t be afraid to speak up if it matters to you. No one put this idea in finer words than author Vera Nazarian:
A choir is made up of many voices, including yours and mine. If one by one all go silent then all that will be left are the soloists. Don’t let a loud few determine the nature of the sound. It makes for poor harmony and diminishes the song.
The truth is, SeaWorld is a theme park for entertainment purposes, not for conservation. Now, partially because of the pressure put on them by the public, falling attendance, and those documentaries, SeaWorld announced the end to their orca show. Great news, but it’s not just SeaWorld. There are many many other parks around the world still using orcas as entertainment.
As surfers, we can’t help but be sympathetic to this issue. I see dolphins almost every time I paddle out. We are extremely lucky in that respect. Maybe even spoiled. But it doesn’t take a deep connection with nature to see how smart and graceful dolphins are, nor to understand that keeping them in a tank and having them perform for us is wrong. SeaWorld, however, will continue the dolphins shows. No one has made a documentary about that yet.
I’m sure many will agree that there is nothing profound or shocking in this article. However, there are way too many people out there who have yet to take a stand and say no more. Even worse, there are still people who support those businesses. If I can encourage at least one of those people to watch the aforementioned documentaries then I’ve done my job. Let’s not pay to watch animals perform anymore. Instead, go for a hike, go paddle boarding in the harbor, go surfing, or go whale watching in the ocean. We don’t need it wrapped up and presented to us anymore. Get your adventure boots on and go and connect with nature for real. It’s right outside.