For many of us, visiting zoos as children was a fascinating, magical and wonderful experience. Most likely, during these visits we were not thinking about the well-being of the animals we saw and their treatment.
But I have now come to realize that zoos and animal theme parks can be sad places. It breaks my heart to see an animal trapped in a small enclosure when it should be roaming free in its natural habitat. Therefore, I feel that the orca performances put on by SeaWorld are immoral and I am very glad that they have been shut down at their San Diego Park.
While I believe that SeaWorld should discontinue the captivity of the orcas and work towards setting them free, cancelling the performances is definitely a step in the right direction.
However, I wonder if this was a stunt done to appease the media and animal rights activists. SeaWorld is a big business and the owner’s main goal is to make as much money as possible. The orca shows were very popular with families and generated a lot of revenue. As such, I find it hard to believe that SeaWorld cancelled the shows out of genuine concern for the animals.
Be that as it may, I think that SeaWorld’s new plan to convert the performances into exhibits that show the orcas in their habitat is a much better alternative. Visitors will be given the chance to learn more about the orcas and their natural environment.
Such an exhibit is preferable to having the orcas experience potentially abusive training for a mindless entertainment routine; it is always better to educate yourself about an endangered species than to regard them as a cheap form of entertainment. It would also be a great way to foster in young children and their families an interest in conserving the environment and protecting endangered animals.
However, just phasing out the orca performances isn’t enough. SeaWorld should think about discontinuing the breeding of captive orcas entirely. It’s very questionable that an animal as big as an orca is cooped up in a small enclosure. Orcas are very intelligent and emotional creatures that need a lot of room to roam. A confined space is damaging to the orcas, both physically and psychologically.
The documentary Blackfish clearly illustrates the problems of housing orcas in such small enclosures. The film details the dangers of keeping orcas in captivity for an extended amount of time and it’s not a pretty picture. They become temperamental, demanding and violent. In essence, it’s not only the well-being of the killer whales that we should be concerned about, but also about the safety of the park’s employees, trainers and guests.
Although I find it unlikely that SeaWorld cancelled the orca shows out of concern for the orcas’ health, I still think that it was a commendable decision and a good first step to finding a solution. Hopefully the orcas will be set free and the park will cease to breed them in captivity; however, that’s still a long way off. In the meantime, we can focus on making sure that our orca friends are treated humanely and with respect.
Conor Devlin ’17 (firstname.lastname@example.org) is from New York City, N.Y. He majors in English.