07/23/2013 07:15 pm ET Updated Sep 22, 2013

Orcas: Inhumane Confinement

Whales and dolphins are in a class by themselves when it comes to being unsuited for captivity. That conclusion is conveyed in a new documentary, "Blackfish" which has the marine amusement park, Sea World up in arms. The film portrays captive killer whales leading miserable, truncated lives within the Sea World facility.

However conscientious Sea World is in its handling of these massive migratory marine mammals, it cannot undo an indictable reality. Killer whales' (and other cetaceans) natural habit simply cannot be recreated inside a manmade enclave.

In the wild, killer whales, also known as orcas, routinely travel as much as 100 miles a day in their perpetual wanderings. The size of the tanks or artificial lagoons in which they are incarcerated amounts to a minuscule fraction of their natural oceanic habitat. Is it any wonder that despite the care showered on them by the likes of a Sea World, the orcas are less healthy and don't live nearly as long as they do in the wild?

The marine theme park industry counters that captive orcas create tremendous opportunities for research and public education. Perhaps, but we all know that the main reason these parks covet the whales is for the revenue the creatures bring from crowd-pleasing shows in which they perform as glorified circus animals.

As for education of the public, killer whales in captivity become shadows of their counterparts in the wild. Visitors flocking to the parks can gain a greater understanding of what orcas really are through exhibits using outdoor film footage to create extraordinary virtual reality. Sea World has already done this with polar bears by simulating the flight of a helicopter landing on an Arctic ice floe to observe the creatures. Having monitored polar bears in the wild from an actual helicopter, I can testify that the simulation comes darn close to the real thing.

Regarding actual face to face contact with orcas to gain some appreciation of their physical presence, marine parks could provide this experience by displaying animals temporarily in captivity for rehabilitation from injury or disease. Eventually, these highly social creatures, who ordinarily live in extended families, would be released into the wild where they would hopefully rejoin a pod, with luck--their own.

Even large land mammals linger in one place enough during the course of their lives for zoos and entertainment parks to create some vague if cramped semblance of a natural habitat. But when an intelligent animal roams incessantly over thousands of miles of ocean, condemning it to a tiny pen on a permanent basis is inhumane confinement.