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Exposed: Blackfish Documentary Affects Big Business and How Anyone Can Help Make a Change

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By Donald Julius Rapier, 17

Donald Julius Rapier is a 17-year-old junior at Lindblom Math & Science Academy. He is a participant in the Youth Narrating Our World (YNOW) through the OpEd Project.

Blackfish, a documentary directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite has resurfaced the issue on dolphin and whale killings.

The 2013 documentary covers the 2010 incident at SeaWorld where trainer, Dawn Brancheau, was killed by a killer whale.

The controversy now is that SeaWorld employees may have skewed the poll results when asking visitors to its theme park if the movie affected their feelings about SeaWorld.

This is not the first time the ethics involved with the handling of marine mammals has been questioned in a documentary film.

The Cove, an Academy Award-winning documentary released in 2009, exposed to the world of the 20,000 plus murders of dolphins and porpoises that occur in Taiji, Japan each year. Some of these marine mammals are auctioned and sold for as much as $200,000 to aquariums and marine parks around the world to perform in marine shows; these are the "lucky" ones.

The majority of these animals, which are not selected as show worthy, are slaughtered and sold as mislabeled premium meat that is contaminated with mercury.

Since the documentary's release last summer, the movie has caused great controversy towards SeaWorld. So far several artists have pulled out from performing at the park and Delaware L.P., one of SeaWorld's major stockholders, have sold 18 million shares of their stock.

But does it matter, seeing as people are still visiting the park?

SeaWorld ended their third quarter bringing in $538.4 million, despite the controversy this documentary has created. The revenue brought in by SeaWorld is actually up from previous quarters.

Blackfish, unlike The Cove, really targets the negative effects that happen to killer whales rather than just dolphins when they are placed in captivity. The documentary tries to convey that, as of right now, killer whales have never harmed a human being... in the wild that is.

As I watched Blackfish, I noticed the documentary stresses that whales and dolphins that are placed in captivity experience great deals of hyper aggression that not only threatens the lives of humans, but of the marine animals as well.

Knowing this, why are dolphins and whales still placed in captivity?

In the United States, dolphin and marine animal parks, like SeaWorld, have become a part of an $8.4 billion industry. Accustomed to living in the ocean, and having an infinite amount of space to swim in, dolphins and whales are actually faced with several health problems that shorten their life span and cause insanity when they are placed in captivity.

The lack of social activity and constrained space stresses dolphins out. Dolphins and whales too, unlike humans, navigate by sonar waves that reflect off of different objects that tell them where everything around them is; this is called echolocation.

However this method of navigating doesn't work in tanks. What actually happens is that the resonance from their own sonar waves, as well as the noise from large screaming crowds reflects off of the sides of the tank, and cause extreme mental stress.

In addition to mental affects that come from being in captivity, there are also several physical affects as well. Typically aquariums tanks are also filled with chlorine, and although there are no definite side effects to dolphins swimming in chlorine; there was a case reported at Clearwater Marine Aquarium in Florida were the dolphins struggled to open their eyes, and trainers began to see skin peel off their bodies because of high levels of chlorine in the water.

I am not a scientist, but it does not take a scientist to know this is not right.

Former trainers such as Ric O'Barry, who starred in The Cove, have also admitted that a "good" technique to get dolphins to perform tricks is to place the dolphins by themselves as well as to not feed them until they cooperated.

Because of this treatment, research has shown that 80 percent of dolphins and whales that are living in captivity only live to be about 20 years old, compared to the animals in the wild that can live up to the age of 50.

This is a serious problem that is not getting the attention it deserves. The U.S government has made it illegal for anyone to buy a dolphin that has been captured in the wild. However these regulations are un-enforced and in many cases it isn't hard to trace the dolphins captured in Taiji to the dolphins here performing in America.

There have been many petitions and movements started to enact laws to save these tortured creatures; however this process could take years, and enforcing the laws will take even longer.

Despite that, I believe as a society we can make an even bigger change. And even though I am a teenager in Chicago, I believe I can make a difference. And that's to stop feeding into this multi-billion dollar industry. If I cannot buy a ticket to SeaWorld and ask my parents and their friends not to buy a ticket either, and our behaviors spread and multiply around the country, there can be an impact felt by the industry

Though it's not directly our fault for these killings, we all have gone to an aquarium at least once in our lifetime, and the reason that more and more dolphins are captured each year is because of the demand we have created for them.

To be sure, I am not a marine biologist or even a marine trainer. However this issue is something that I care deeply about, and ever since I first watched The Cove, I have researched the issue and I have followed people, such as Ric O'Barry, who are experts on the issue; to figure out how people like me can help.

The key to this issue is support, and that's what is lacking; not many people know about this issue, and not many people care. It not just about being an animal activist, but its about being a humane person. Nothing about this process is right. There are no quotas placed on the amount of the dolphin's Japanese fisherman are allowed to kill, the meat the fishermen sell is poisoned and the dolphins placed in captivity die 30 years prematurely.

Young people, such as myself, also can make a big difference. When looking back on the past five years, I look at the power of social media. YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are platforms we have access to and where we can make statements and show evidence.

People have started to use social media to combat serious issues. For example at my school we use a hashtag on Twitter called, #protectthenest, which is supposed to be used to stop bullying or acts of intolerance inside school as well as outside school.

When looking at this issue on marine animals I think that if enough people were to talk about it online, then that would put more pressure on both SeaWorld as well as the fisherman in Japan.

This massacre will continue until we as a society decide to take action. Every citizen can do further research on the issue and spread the word to educate friends and family. Only when people are aware of this issue will we start to see change. These marine animals cannot fight this battle alone.

You may not be a die-heart advocate for animal rights, but that does not mean you have to be a supporter of animal cruelty.

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