To you I am nobody but I have a story that I hope will resonate with you, and maybe just maybe you will share it and it will help in some small way.
I am a twenty something from Australia and my favourite animals, second only to maybe my dalmatian Roxy, are orcas. They have been for as long as I can remember. As it did for many, my love for these gracious creatures began with one orca named Keiko. Like the world I fell in love with Keiko during his portrayal of Willy in the Free Willy movie franchise.
As a five year old I fell in love with the way that he obeyed Jesse but yet was so gentle. Growing older opened my eyes to much more,on screen Willy was portrayed as loving, misunderstood and lonely, something that is clearly visible in footage of Keiko prior to his death. Today over 10 years after his passing Keiko is still a symbol for the captive whale industry but also an example that wild rehabilitation is a possibility and an option for whales currently in captivity.
One of the contributing factors to the continuing intrigue surrounding Keiko, making him forever relevant was his condition during the time of filming. During the filming of the first Free Willy movie Keiko is in a horrible condition. The skin under his fins appears rubbery due to a fungal infection ( brought on by poor and artificial water conditions) and he is severely underweight. Although not shown in the movie, Keiko was unable to hold his breathe for periods anywhere close to what he should of been able to. Despite all this he was always happy to please and be in the company of humans. But is it this that makes our betrayals towards the species all the worse?
After watching the films I decided that all I wanted to do was fly to America and see these gorgeous creatures at Seaworld for myself. As a child, and this is hard to admit, I believed that if I just saw them I would be able to hold my arm up and they would leap out of the water ( I'll give you time to chuckle). I wanted and believed that I could make a connection with only a layer of glass.
A few years later A Whale of a Business aired over here and Mum taped it for me to watch. The first few times I saw it I viewed it as a look at the amazing efforts that people were going to ensure Keikos release throw in with interviews with Brad Andrews and other Seaworld employees to add background on the history of the industry. As I got older I began to see that Andrews and companions were nervous during interviews and at times blatantly lying through their teeth.
During more recent viewings I finally began to truly understand the film and what was truly happening. It was confronting to me how much these men (as mouthpieces for one of the biggest global businesses in existence) lied and denied elements of their business model to hide what was really going on behind closed doors.
Then the Blackfish trailer was released. Being in a country that gets pretty much everything last, I waited two years for it to be made available in our area. When I could finally purchase it I made my friends sit down and watch it with me. One of the things that hit me the most about it all was that although my friends were shocked and appalled ( and don't get me wrong I was for the most part) I wasn't shocked by the lies being told on Seaworld's behalf, how quick they were to not acknowledge ties with other companies and ignore the horrible condition that the animals in their care were. While my friends were sitting discussing how horrible the company was all I could do was sit and continue to comply Seaworld's ethical failings.
Even after all of this I sat back, and I actually thought you know what, maybe Seaworld as just bitten off more than they can chew by attempting to house and use so many orcas for the entertainment industry. Then I joined The Dodo community and began to read the past staff testimonials about the treatment of other mammals housed at the parks and the poor handling of situations by those holding managerial titles and positions. I have now hold the view that Seaworld management will forgo any form of animal welfare to ensure that patrons and money keep coming into the business.
Its time for Seaworld to recognise that their current business model isn't working and instead of reshuffles being used as bandaid solutions, start to make some positive changes. They have the potential to be a great name in the world of marine conservation once they sit back an recognise that they can make a positive contribution and get back on track. Sadly however, this dream is something I fear that will not become a reality. At best all we can do is hope that the latest baby girl born at Seaworld San Diego is the last born into the industry.