THE BLOG
07/29/2013 01:35 pm ET | Updated Sep 28, 2013

Is It Time to End Animal Slavery? The Real Story Behind the SeaWorld Whale Machine

This weekend I saw the movie Blackfish. If you have ever or ever intend to visit a SeaWorld-type theme park, or if you just care about the wellbeing of other creatures who share our earth, Blackfish should be mandatory viewing. The film is about orca whales and the horrors that they endure after they are captured from the ocean and turned into theme park slaves.

When we attend a SeaWorld-type theme park, we see "smiling" and "happy" Shamus, splashing us playfully, kissing their trainers, waving at us, rolling over and bellying up for fish treats. What we don't see, don't know however, is what these "smiling" animals are really living, so that we may have an afternoon of "fun."
Just to begin...
-- Scouts for theme parks combing the oceans, kidnapping young whales from their families. (In the wild, orcas never separate from their clans.)
-- Orcas held in small, dark, steel tanks, when not singing for their supper. (If orcas don't perform their tricks properly they are deprived of food and left hungry.)
-- Orcas hanging motionless all night and much of the day, confined in boxes that are too small for them to be able to swim in properly. (In the wild, orcas swim up to one hundred miles per day and are in constant motion.)
-- Orcas kept in solitary confinement for most of their lives. (In the wild, orcas are profoundly social animals and never alone.)
-- Orcas systematically attacking each as a result of being forced to live in claustrophobic quarters, in inescapable proximity to (non-family) orcas with whom they do not share a language and do not naturally cohabit. (The attacks are also a result of the extreme frustration the animals are forced to endure through the deprivation of food, movement and companionship.)
And perhaps most horrifying:
-- The removal of young, captive orcas from their mothers. More specifically,
a baby is born into captivity and lives its first few years inseparable from its mother, at her side constantly. When the baby is useful enough to be sold, something (I find) unfathomable is perpetrated on these creatures. The young whale is taken from its mother and sold to another theme park. The mother whale, having had her child stolen from her, buries her body into the steel corner of the swimming pool, convulsing and screeching at unheard-of sonar pitches, (seemingly) trying frantically to communicate with her abducted child.

Through MRI studies, we have learned that orcas have a part of the brain that even humans don't have, one that is specifically related to emotional development and connectivity. Orcas experience emotions, are attached to their families, and have a developed sense of self. So too, orcas communicate with each other through a shared language, which appears to be specific to each clan. In the ocean, their life span is similar to humans and they can live up to 100 years, while in captivity they live between 25 and 35 years.

I wonder, in what universe is it okay for us to kidnap peaceful, self-aware and intelligent beings... to steal them from their families, wrench them from their natural environments, for the sake of our entertainment and profit? How could anyone be so arrogant as to believe that they have a right to do this to another living creature? I wonder too, would SeaWorld executives be okay if we took their children from them and sold them into slavery? What rationalization could possibly justify the kind of suffering that such actions create?

When I left Blackfish I was horrified. I still am. I did not sleep for days and I am still haunted by the sound of that mother whale screeching into the sky, a sound of suffering that is no different than the wail of a human mother having her child wrenched from her arms, never to be seen or held again. That mother whale screamed for hours unending, for her child, who was now strapped to a stretcher on its way to a theme park thousands of miles away, so that some corporate executive could take a nicer vacation.

Interestingly, following the film, the friend with whom I had seen it was quick to inform me that there was nothing I or we could do to change the system, that SeaWorld was way to big to go up against. We had to just accept that this kind of thing happened. Corporations would always trump individuals; Goliath would always defeat David. I wouldn't believe it, and was up all night obsessing about what I could do to help these intelligent and self-aware creatures that, as we speak, are hanging motionless in dark tanks, separated from their families, their oceans, their everything. I turned to the internet and what I found allowed me to start breathing again. All over the internet and social media, sites addressed the hostage whales. The movie was being dialogued about everywhere. The petitions were already in the pipeline, the letters already written, the copy already fashioned and addressed to the CEO of SeaWorld, public officials, and other power sources. The wheels were rolling... the train already filled with so many haunted like myself. What I realized was that where was something I could do, a place to enter, a channel to reach other like-minded people, a way to create change.

Those of you who follow my blog know that I often write about technology and the ways that we are changing in response to it. While I am frequently disturbed by the changes I witness, I am occasionally struck by the positive effects that technology is having on who we are and how we behave in the world. As a result of technology, we as individuals are becoming more empowered in our relationship with the big machines of the corporate world. Technology is opening up our voice and our courage; it is inspiring our sense of possibility, teaching us that we can make a difference in this world if we choose to. Social media and its partners are giving us the paths through which to create change, the "How-to-s" in a world full of "How can this be-s." As a result of technology's capacity to unite many small personal voices into one collective and powerful movement, who we are is changing and at the same time, we are more able to change the world. Technology is reshaping our sense of identity from isolated and powerless to collective and powerful -- a synergistic entity with the rolling stone force and volume to carve out its own path.

But my intention here is not to get lost in an intellectual commentary on technology. Rather, let me make use of the aforementioned benefits of technology and ask for your assistance in this movement for change. Technology has given me the power and privilege of your attention so let me use it mindfully -- to encourage you to stop patronizing SeaWorld-type theme parks, and to teach your children that it is in no way okay to enslave non-human self-aware creatures for the benefit of our own entertainment and profit. Please see Blackfish and join us in uniting our individual voices and ideas into one large, unified and inescapable force. Together, let us put an end to the barbaric and abusive process that is orca whale slavery. Together, let us liberate these giant mammals and their giant hearts, and release them back into their world, the world in which they belong.

Is the giggle that we enjoy on an afternoon outing to SeaWorld really worth the suffering that it creates for these animals? Is it a fair trade... their lives, their wellbeing... all so that we may delight in a moment of entertainment? Are we personally willing to participate in abducting a child from its mother in order to watch a whale turn on its side and wave at us, because this is what we are doing when we buy a ticket to such a "show." I hope you join me in saying no, and in making this no actually happen.