Orcas should not be held in captivity

by Agnes Constante

Imagine being separated from your mother at an early age.

That’s something SeaWorld does to orcas housed at its parks, according to the controversial documentary “Blackfish.”

The film, released in July 2013, has stirred up much discussion regarding the inhumane treatment of killer whales at these amusement parks, as well as the safety of its trainers. One aspect that received much focus was former SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau, who was killed by a killer whale, in February 2010.

“Blackfish” also cites that there have been 70 documented cases of orca attacks on humans at marine parks worldwide, including the death of part-timer Keltie Byrne in 1991 at Sealand of the Pacific in Victoria B.C. It is claimed that Byrne was killed by Tilikum, a male orca subsequently sold to SeaWorld, and the same one that killed Brancheau.

Compelling and emotional, the documentary effectively pulls at heartstrings and makes one think twice about further supporting SeaWorld. Killer whales are huge animals that don’t deserve to be held in captivity! And with a good amount of attacks on humans, why is the company still allowing such close interaction between humans and wild animals?

In 2012, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration made it mandatory for trainers and killer whales to have a physical boundary between them when performing shows at SeaWorld.

So that’s good.

Immediately after watching “Blackfish,” I passionately wished SeaWorld would go out of business as a result of this film. I paid particular attention to the floppy dorsal fins of orcas in captivity, versus the upright ones of those in the wild. Orcas in the ocean have so much more space to swim in and just appear so much happier.

The controversy it caused even led to the withdrawal of nine artists in an upcoming concert series in Orlando, Fla.

But I also did some research on what SeaWorld and other opponents of “Blackfish” had to say, because there are always multiple sides to every story, even though the fact that orcas shouldn’t be held in captivity is undeniable.

One red flag is that former trainer Samantha Berg, who was featured extensively in the film, worked at SeaWorld from 1990 to 1993. What makes this questionable is that she left about 20 years ago, which is quite a bit of time.

It was a bit more challenging to dig up information on the other former trainers who spoke against SeaWorld, but there were only about 10 of them. One website states that one of the former trainers in the film “got in trouble with management when he refused orders to start masturbating Tilikum every day to stockpile his semen.” There are many trainers who still work at SeaWorld, so what’s a bit questionable are the motives behind the production of this documentary, which is evidently biased since it relies heavily on emotion to convey its message.

SeaWorld released a statement in response to “Blackfish,” explaining how the film omits important details and spins Brancheau’s death. One aspect that stands out about the statement is that it doesn’t mention anything about the 70 documented cases of orca attacks against humans.

Brancheau’s family also released a statement clarifying that it is not affiliated with “Blackfish,” that it is not her story, and that “Dawn would not have remained a trainer at SeaWorld for 15 years if she felt that the whales were not well cared for.”

Despite all the little details, though, at the end of the day “Blackfish” is an eye-opening movie that will have viewers thinking twice about places like SeaWorld that hold wild animals in captivity.


Agnes is a resident of Los Angeles, Calif., where she has been living for more than five years. She was born on Saipan, the largest island of the Northern Mariana Islands. She moved to the United States to attend school and graduated from California State University in 2013 with degrees in political science and journalism. She enjoys running, taking photographs, traveling, and blogging about her travels.

Photo copyrights: P.Sachin.Nayak


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