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Monday, 26 May 2014

Whale Fest 2014- Killer whales should not be kept in captivity

Back in March, I went to Whale Fest in Brighton, which does exactly what it says on the tin;  it's basically a 3-day festival of stalls and presentations encouraging conservation of whales and other sea life. Guest speakers included Steve Backshall, Gok Wan(?!) and marine biologist Ingrid Visser.  They also had a special screening of the controversial documentary 'Blackfish', with guest speakers discussing clips from the film.


I was also lucky enough to bump into one of the stars of the documentary, ex-Sea World animal trainer Samantha Berg. Yes, I am tall and yes, she is short!

I watched 'Blackfish' a few months ago (someone recommended on Twitter) and was frightened by the way that Sea World continues to endanger the lives of its staff.  I was aware that there had been some incidents in captivity via Youtube but I hadn't realised the sheer volume of attacks/ dangerous behaviour from killer whales in captivity towards trainers.  You can get some idea of what I'm talking about from this list online. Sea World's response to these is to increase numbers of trainers present and limit some of the water work with some of the whales. Would it be too much to ask to stop these ridiculous experiences that endanger human lives for the sake of crap entertainment?

The term 'trainer' for the people who work with these giants is frankly quite laughable, if not extremely naive.  Ultimately, the killer whales have the power and worryingly, they seem to be reminding humans of that more and more.

The most famous example of the true danger that these captive killer whales bring was highlighted in 'Blackfish' and unfortunately made worldwide news; the death of experienced Sea World trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010.   She fell victim to a bull orca named 'Tillikum', the central character of the 'Blackfish' documentary. Prior to this tragic incident, Tillikum had also been involved in the deaths of two others.

One of the most shocking clips from 'Blackfish' is that of an attack on an experienced trainer, Ken Peters,  by a different whale, Kasatka in 2006. During a 'Shamu' show, Kasatka bit Ken Peter's foot and swam to the bottom of the tank.You can see the clip from the documentary here.  This attack resulted in puncture wounds and a broken ligament in Ken Peters' foot, but could have easily been fatal, if only for the extensive amount of time in which Peters was held underwater.

I recently watched the full 9 minutes of the attack (no sound) which shows you just how serious this incident was and how fortunate Ken Peters was to survive. How on earth did he manage to keep his composure and hold his breath for long periods of time, whilst being dragged to the bottom of a 36ft deep pool by a seemingly unpredictable 5000 pound killer whale? I found watching the clip of this incident really frightening so goodness knows what it was like to be that man in that tank during those nine minutes.

You can find out more about the circumstances that may have led to this attack in this article by David Kirby. He has also written a book 'Death at Sea World' which I have yet to read, but obviously goes into more detail about these types of attacks.

It is inconceivable to me that humans continue to work with these animals, Tillikum in particular.  It seems completely immoral and illogical that you would allow humans to continue to work with an animal which has been involved in 2 deaths. Sea World is aware of the dangers relating to Tilikum and have specific protocols which are only for when working with Tilikum.  How can they justify the continued work with this animal?

Sea World have released statements which imply that Dawn's death was somehow her fault ,which is deeply disturbing and ridiculous when you research how many 'incidents' of orcas attacking trainers in their marine parks and that there have been a number of eyewitness accounts which state that the whale grabbed her by her arm and pulled her into the water. By the way, he later swallowed her arm after ripping it off.

The next clip made my stomach leap, this is the training that goes on at Sea World. There's no way I would put my head that close to a top predator's mouth.The rocket hop also seems incredibly dangerous,  I can't believe they train the whales to take them to the bottom of the tank and encourage them to propel them through the water.  Isn't that asking for trouble?

Some animal behaviourists and psychologists attempt to give the reasonable explanations that these animals are incredibly frustrated.  You can see how bored the whales are in the 'Shamu-cam' clip below.  Ignore the crap music, mute it like I did! These are animals that are used to travelling vast distances and are bored out of their minds in their tiny tanks. They then have to perform unnatural behaviours and tricks just to be fed.

I know that 'Blackfish' is a rather one-sided documentary and that there are many who would contradict my viewpoint and what I've written. I would urge anyone to research these incidents in greater detail so that you can make an informed decision about Sea World and their associates.

With regards to the Dawn Brancheau incident, Sea World claimed that they had reduced the risk of any attacks from Tillikum by prohibiting trainers from interacting with him in the water.   The most probable account of events is that he grabbed Dawn Brancheau from the tank side platform by her arm.  Preventing 'water work' with Tillikum really didn't pay off, did it?

I know that there will also be those of you who think that I am jumping on the 'Blackfish' bandwagon. However, I have to say that I had seen clips of the animals misbehaving in shows some years before, but was completely unaware of the number and frequency of these attacks.  If anyone is considering visiting Sea World, you might want to give it more thought.
Do you really want to fund a company that is clearly negligent, unethical and responsible for several deaths?  Would you want your family to be witness to one of these horrifying attacks?  I doubt it.

Peebreeks xx

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