The Whales of the World Need a Blackfish II

Well, I just had a very emotional evening. I saw the documentary entitled Blackfish, and a part of my childhood shattered like a crystal glass being thrown against a concrete wall. This documentary came out in 2013, and while I was aware of some of the controversy sparked by it, and saw SeaWorld scramble to repair its tarnished image in its aftermath, I didn’t see the film until just this month, so I had absolutely no idea how horrified I should be by the state of captive Orcas.

I grew up near Orlando, Florida, and went to its many theme parks dozens of times. After a while, Disney began to seem rather dated and repetitive. I frankly could care less if I ever go there again. But SeaWorld… oh, how I loved SeaWorld!

I love animals, in general. I love watching them and learning more about them. I really do believe, even now, that certain types of captivity have value in the aggregate. Animals that have been rescued after injury, that can no longer survive in the wild, who are housed in locations that are spacious and as much like their natural habitats as possible, and are given proper stimulation and care and are able to maintain social structures, while not being required to perform for our viewing pleasure, can act as ambassadors for their species.

I genuinely believe that seeing animals close up makes humans appreciate them more. I think the more we learn about them, the more we tend to care about the state of the planet. But this movie made me realize that we’ve crossed a line.

Whales should not be kept in concrete pools, with only 1,100 square yards of space, when they require a minimum of 300 times more than that to thrive. Mothers should not be separated from babies, which would normally stay by them for life. No one should be isolated in a pool with no stimulation, only to be called out a few times a day to perform like a puppet on a string.

I did not let myself see that as a child. I got caught up in the whole spectacular show. The good-looking, enthusiastic trainers, who obviously loved the whales, but in truth, had absolutely no control as to how they were treated. I chose to see joy, rather than angst. Playfulness, rather than desperation. I wanted those whales to love their lives.

But they don’t.

As I grew older, I saw other captivity red flags. Orangutans all alone in darkened rooms, looking listless and profoundly depressed. A dolphin with a broken jaw, at a swim with the dolphins place in South Florida. (He had never experienced a wall before his capture, and had slammed right into it.) A walrus, in a pool way too small, swimming in a vertical circle, over and over and over again. (I watched him for 20 minutes, with tears in my eyes.) Tigers pacing in tiny cages. And any creature at all, in a circus. Circuses should be outlawed.

The sad thing is that SeaWorld still has its Orcas, and they still have their shows. They’ve repackaged them to make them seem much more humane, organic, and educational, but those whales are still floating in those wretched pools, their lifespans 1/3 as long as their wild brethren.

What we need is another documentary, Blackfish II, to show how SeaWorld has attempted to rebrand itself, while not significantly changing the quality of life of its whales. Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad they’re no longer breeding whales in captivity, or capturing whales at sea. I’m glad they contribute to conservation causes, and do make some efforts to educate people. But they are doing so while holding these animals prisoner and profiting from it. There is nothing, nothing at all, that justifies that. We need a second documentary to increase the pressure so that SeaWorld and similar companies will finally do the right thing.

While all these Orcas, who have been in captivity for so long, would probably be incapable of being released into the wild, there are those who think that a whale sanctuary is the most viable option. They would still be enclosed, but they’d have 300 times the space, and they’d be in the ocean, with its natural ebb and flood. They’d have room to move and socialize and feel the sun and the rain and the most natural habitat possible, while remaining safe and cared for.

It’s not ideal. We can’t repair all our damage. It’s way too late for that. But it’s a heck of a lot better than what they experience now. If you agree, please join me in supporting the mission of The Whale Sanctuary Project.

Orca in captivity

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Playing God—Stem Cell Research vs. English Bulldog Breeding

Whenever I hear people react with outrage at the concept of stem cell research, I have to shake my head. “How dare we mistreat human embryos in such an outrageous fashion?” Never mind that it could result in cures for Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injuries, heart disease and diabetes. “We have no right to play God!”

Sigh. Before you get all bioethical, behold the English Bulldog.

bulldog

And here’s what the breed looked like 90 years ago.

historic bulldog

And here’s how their skulls have changed over time.

bulldog skull

What possible benefit could there be for a dental formation like that? And what do you think this does to their ability to breathe?

Through selective breeding, we have turned this once healthy creature into an abomination that can’t even breed naturally. No, English Bulldogs have to be artificially inseminated, because slot A no longer fits into fold B.

They also now have health issues that were not known a century ago. Over time, we have caused their shoulders and hips to spread, and their legs are now at odd angles. This causes elbow and hip dysplasia. The increased wrinkling of their skin which makes them look so cute has resulted in fold dermatitis. I have seen bulldogs with puss in their wrinkles. They’re also very sensitive to heat, and their nasal passages have been so deformed that they have trouble breathing. Due to their outrageous proportions, they are also completely unable to swim. They sink like a stone.

To what purpose have we warped and twisted the bodies of these poor creatures? We did it because we could. We did it because we wanted to. It’s sick.

In contrast, stem cell research has a very important purpose. It could save lives. It causes no one any pain, and would benefit the human race.

So before you start taking the moral high ground about playing God, before you decide to relegate generations of humans to the agony of preventable disease, kindly stop selectively breeding animals, and speak out when others do so. Maybe then I might take you seriously.