Monday, March 24, 2014

Killer Whale

Director: Gabriela Cowperthwaite
Released: Various dates in 2013 in select U.S. cities

I have never been to SeaWorld, even though I remember wanting to go when I was a kid, but after watching this documentary about killer whales in captivity, I'm so glad I never did! I hate SeaWorld so much now! I have never seen an orca in real life, although I did once go on a three hour boat tour when I was in Whidbey Island, Washington a decade ago. It was a whale watching tour and we had crossed over into Canadian waters by the time we even saw any sign of killer whales, but I don't know if this really counts because they were so far away and we only saw their tails.

They show footage from the early '70s when the first few killer whales were captured for captivity. While I assume now most whales who live in captivity are now born in captivity, they obviously had to get the whales from the ocean. They interviewed a guy who was part of the capture and you could tell he was still pretty distraught by the experience as he even admits it's the worst thing he's ever done. What they did was separate the males from the females and babies, then trapped the females and babies and caught the babies to be taken for aquatic parks. The guy interviewed said three whales ended up dead and they had to cut them open and put rocks in them so they would sink to the bottom. And that's not even the saddest part of this whole ordeal! No, the saddest part is when they showed a baby orca being hoisted by a crane and it was making these crying noises (a wailing whale?) It was so sad! The guy involved in that capture being interviewed started crying and with his beard and tattoos, he didn't look like the type of guy who cries much! I started crying too.

The documentary focuses on one particular killer whale, Tilikum, who has been involved in the deaths of three people. He was caught off the coast in Iceland in 1983 at the age of 2 and brought to Vancouver where he was put in a marine attraction park called Sealand of the Pacific, a place that actually makes SeaWorld look humane! Tilikum shared the pool with two female orcas who were older and let him know who was boss by biting him. To "train" Tilikum, they wouldn't feed him or the other two whales if he didn't do a trick properly so that was one reason he would get so abused by the other whales. Also, the pool was more like a least the whales look like they have some room to swim at SeaWorld (even though it's not much, you know, for a freaking whale! - (well, technically, killer whales are part of the dolphin family.)) At night they were kept in a small pen that was just barely longer than the whales and they couldn't even turn around if they wanted! It was pretty horrible and inhumane. This sea park did eventually close down, but not because of the awful way they treated the orcas. They closed because Tilikum claimed his first victim in 1991 when a 20 year old who worked with the whales, slipped into the tank and was snatched and thrashed around by Tilikum. Humans never got into the water so I'm sure the whales became very agitated when she entered their territory. Two women who were at the park and witnessed the whole ordeal were interviewed and they were still very much haunted by it to this day. They said for sure that it was Tilikum who instigated the whole thing, but the female whales were blocking any path for the young woman to escape.

The whales were sold to SeaWorld and Tilikum made his new home in Orlando where he still lives today. His main purpose was to get female whales pregnant. He wasn't really involved in the shows other than to do a big final leap. There were interviews with former SeaWorld employees who said they had no idea how dangerous working with these orcas could be and many of them realized that they really didn't know anything about the animals they were working with.

The second death caused by Tilikum was the most bizarre. One morning in 1999 they found Tilikum swimming around with a deceased nude guy on his back. They made it sound like Tilikum had stripped the guy's clothes off, but how could a whale do that? Methinks the guy (who was homeless and had snuck in after hours) decided to go skinny dipping in the orca tank because he thought it would be fun to swim with the whales. (Maybe he was a fan of Free Willy? But did that kid go swimming with the whale in the tank? I haven't seen that movie in ages, so I really don't remember...)The official reports said that he died from drowning and hyperthermia...which is technically probably true...but seeing as that his body was mutilated, it doesn't take a genius to realize that a huge killer whale aided him in his death. I want to point out that I do not fault Tilikum in any of these deaths. He is a wild animal! And a 12,000 pound wild animal at that! This is what happens when you treat wild animals like pets! Your tiger trained to do tricks may attack you or your pet chimp may bite off your face or those bears who you thought were your friends may maul you in your sleep or a killer whale might get irritated when you enter his space and may thrash you around and drown you! While the other two deaths were just really bad, horrible accidents, I think this guy is to fault for deliberately going into an orca tank.

The third death  happened in 2010 when 40 year old trainer Dawn Brancheau was attacked and drowned by Tilikum. There were some people who blamed Brancheau for it, saying her long ponytail was the trigger for the attack, but to me, it sounds like Tilikum was already agitated because he didn't get a treat when he performed a trick wrong and could tell that the fish bucket was almost empty. I don't think anyone knows the real reason why he attacked...other than that he is, once again, an unpredictable and wild animal! I do remember this being in the news, but the story I remember the most about an orca incident was when a trainer was pulled down by a killer whale in 2006 and submerged for a long period of time before the whale would bring him back up, then submerge him again. The guy survived and he happened to be a scuba diver so they think since he knew how to control his breathing underwater, that's what helped him.

One interviewee mentioned that there has never been a record of orcas harming a human in the wild, but if you put them in captivity where they're around humans all the time (and depend on them), it's bound to happen. I did happen upon a list on Wikipedia where they list orca incidents on humans in the wild, but it was a very short list and no one was killed or even harmed that much. The list, however, for orca incidents in captivity was quite long and mostly involved a bunch of injuries. I'm sure it's much easier to record the injuries that happen by captive whales, as I am sure it's easier for a human to get hurt by a captive whale for the obvious reasons!

This documentary make me tear up quite a bit. It was upsetting to hear that people were unnecessarily killed by one orca, but I think it's horrible that they keep the orcas in these tanks and feed them dead fish just so they can perform some cute tricks. It's really quite sad! They showed footage of orcas in the wild that were attacking a poor seal on an ice flow and that was more awe-inducing than any orca in a theme park jumping through a hoop. 

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