In 2010, the shocking death of Dawn Brancheau was the subject of many national news headlines. As a senior orca trainer for SeaWorld Orlando, she was well known for her ability to foster lasting relationships with the animals, as well as the viewers. When the accident occurred. It was the first real public display of how far one aggravated orca could take out their actions, to the public and the trainers alike. Trainers often orchestrated relationship sessions with the orcas before or even during the shows, which helped strengthen the bond between human and whale, insuring the whale’s compliance in the shows and skills performed.
During one of Dawn Brancheaus’s seemingly heartwarming relationship sessions in front of the crowd, Brancheau was dragged into the water and drowned after an irritated Orca known as Tilikum, the largest Orca in captivity, expressed his growing annoyance all throughout the show.
It was a story that not only shocked the nation but left the population wondering how something so appalling could occur.
Gabriela Cowperthwaite‘s use of the accounts of retired SeaWorld trainers exposes the harsh reality of captured animals in her documentary Blackfish. In creating a piece focused on the life of one individual orca, Cowperthwaite allowed viewers to catch a glimpse of the lives of captive Orcas at SeaWorld, and the similar effects on other captured animals under this umbrella of issues. Even when the topic is centered, researchers on this matter have drawn inspiration and gathered evidence through the large following of SeaWorld’s accumulating issues.
This has nevertheless shown the greater social issue of animal rights, and the treatment of animals for research and the need for actions taken against these certain industries and practices.
Animal rights has been a topic of interest in society for many years, however, one must look at it from a certain perspective to clearly see which matter is currently being discussed. There is an extreme form of animal rights where some believe people should not own house pets and should not eat anything that comes from an animal. But there is a less subversive form of animals rights, “one movement is that of the traditional humane interest groups who feel that their goals embody an enhancement of the animals’ life quality. They care for stray animals, fight animal abuse… and generally concern themselves with ‘quality of life’ issues” and this is the type of animal right that will be dealt with in this paper (Silberman 161).
Quality of life is what the orcas in captivity are missing Sure, they are not being hunted and killed by fishermen, but they are basically being kept as pets in a giant bathtub. They live a scheduled life where they must work for every fish they get to eat. Tilikum for example, is not well liked by the other killer whales. He is often bitten or “raked” by the female killer whales leaving him in a pool of his own blood (Cowperthwaite). While violent conflict between groups accompanies the circle of life with any population of animals, these occurrences should not be stimulated by their human oppressors. One of the most unsettling facts from Blackfish is that 100% of male orcas in captivity have a limp and feeble dorsal fin, but less than 1% of orcas in the wild have a weak dorsal fin of the sort (Cowperthwaite). This alone proves that the quality of life for the animals in captivity is horrendous.
The physical traits of the orca whales being altered by their years of captivity are often the most significant proof and ammunition for the fight against SeaWorld and similar businesses. Although these orcas provide a bright and flashy facade to their audience, one can not deny the continuous issue of stunted and lacking development in mature and immature orca whales. These damages show physically and mentally. The idea of animal rights has been around for centuries. Even decades ago, people were taking action for the welfare of animals. Marc Bekoff and Ned Hettinger share this idea all the way back in 1994 when they said that there is evidence that scientist are concerned with animal welfare by acknowledge that they use the guidelines in place to protect animals during research, in order to have their work published (Bekoff 219). Guidelines are the basis for the moral and ethical treatment of animals.
Each person may have his or her own standard, but having a standard among the entire population ensures the welfare of the animals. Unfortunately, these standards are not at a level to where the animals are being protected. Many animals in captivity are treated in ways that would shock the average person. Orcas for example, are starved until they do the desired task (Cowperthwaite). This form of operant condition can lead to success, but often leads to resentment and hostility towards the trainers. SeaWorld is known for their invigorating shows of giant killer whales flying through the air, but many people do not know that SeaWorld is also the “world’s most respected zoological institution” (Burford). Some people might perceive that SeaWorld really cares for and loves these animals, treating them with cautious care. However, most people would have “ignored morally relevant differences between a field research and research on captive animals” (Bekoff 219).