After seeing the documentary Blackfish I felt very strongly that I needed to write a letter to SeaWorld. The movie really made it strike home that at water parks like SeaWorld, whales – yes, those multi-ton mammals – are living in what are essentially swimming pools. Not in the ocean, in swimming pools with other whales. It struck me as so obvious: this is wrong and it needs to stop. So now in this letter I formally bid farewell to SeaWorld and hope this situation changes soon. (Note: The following letter applies to all animals in captivity at SeaWorld. The word ‘whale’ can be replaced with any other animal, such as dolphin or polar bear, and still have the same moral conclusion).
UPDATE: 11.1.2013 My letter to SeaWorld has been cited in this recent article on digitaljournal.com: Op-Ed: Bombed by Blackfish, Fallout Continues for SeaWorld http://www.digitaljournal.com/article/361261
In protest of keeping whales in captivity, I am boycotting all SeaWorld parks, and I am encouraging every compassionate person to join with me. The documentary Blackfish is what has caused me to reach out to you and let you know that I, in solidarity with millions of others, object to your keeping whales in captivity. As someone who truly loves animals, it saddens me to know that a whale has to live 35 years captive in a swimming pool.
It’s not right.
If an institution is going to be in the whale training and performance business, then by doing so they are inserting themselves into the debate of whether it is ethical that a “highly intelligent” and “social” mammal (SeaWorld’s words) be taken from its natural environment and brought to live in an artificial one that is infinitely smaller. Not everyone agrees this is right; critics of SeaWorld believe that it’s wrong, but SeaWorld’s actions show that they believe it is not morally problematic enough to not do it.
In SeaWorld’s written response to some of the criticisms in the film (SeaWorld’s comments can be found in full on Blackfish‘s website, www.blackfishmovie.com) we read such comments like, “SeaWorld does everything possible to support the social structures of all marine mammals, including killer whales; It moves killer whales only when doing so is in the interest of their long-term health and welfare; SeaWorld has never used punishment-based training on any of its animals…” In these comments SeaWorld defends its position by expressing concern for the whales, and by showing an interest in understanding them in their natural environment.
All controversy SeaWorld faces because of what Blackfish has brought to light, such as the death of SeaWorld trainers, the injury of trainers, or the treatment of whales, are related to the fundamental question – Is it right to keep whales in captivity at all?
I would like to briefly answer that question.
SeaWorld does have a right to take the position that it is morally justifiable to keep whales and dolphins in captivity. But it’s not clear that is actually SeaWorld’s position. SeaWorld’s position is more to avoid addressing the issue, and even the opposite – to show concern for the whales’ well being by downplaying the accusations of critics. If SeaWorld is truly concerned about the well-being of their whales, as are many of us, then they must also conclude that it is in all whales’ best interest to live in their natural environment instead of concrete pools.
Since both humans and whales are mammals, taking a whale out of the ocean and putting it into a swimming pool is like taking a human out of the world and putting them into a jail cell. When we take a human’s freedom to roam the world away on purpose, we call it punishment. It’s a punishment not a reward. Therefore, since it harms a human to take away its freedom, we know it harms a whale, especially when it has no reason to be punished.
Because I truly believe that it is only a matter of time before public pressure forces SeaWorld to release whales back into their natural habitat, I encourage SeaWorld to seriously consider establishing a new business model, one that is not supported on intentionally keeping whales separated from their big world. Exploitation is not a platform to true success. SeaWorld can still work to teach children and adults about the beauty of whales, dolphins, and other marine mammals by giving tours, inventing new underwater interactive viewing things, by being creative – but building it on an ethical foundation.
Just by looking at the growth in animal advocacy over the years we can see that people are advocating on behalf of animals in increasing numbers. I believe it has come to the time in the moral evolution of the human species when we can no longer maintain conditions where these majestic animals live in swimming pools for their whole lives, and not the ocean.
At some point SeaWorld will need to face its day of reckoning and defend its position against the public-at-large as we demand the release of whales back into their natural environment. May I suggest that it’s better to take action now and plan for this future, than to hold to the belief that more of the same can last forever. Good luck in the transition, and we will visit you as soon as the whales are released.
It’s the right thing to do.
Until then – goodbye, SeaWorld.
Los Angeles, California