We went to marine parks because we didn't know better. Well, now we do.
I was one of those children that were taken to a marine life park of the likes of Sea World in the late 80s, early 90s by my parents. At the time we lived in Argentina, so we visited the park called Mundo Marino (Marine World) located in San Clemente del Tuyú, on the east coast of Buenos Aires. I was only about 3 years old so I don't remember anything about that visit, but what I remember is the inflatable orca named Belen after one of the orcas at the park, the other one was called Milagros, that my parents bought me and that I kept in my paddling pool, because apparently I went totally bananas about them.
Years later when I was around 8 years old, we went back. Upon entering the park, my first thought and concern was finding the orcas. I couldn't wait. We sat down in the stadium and I had my mum's photo camera ready, one of those that made a clinking sound when you took a picture and whose film you had to scroll manually. You had 36 shots available at the most, so you had to make them count.
The orcas appeared and the show began. They did everything you remember they do in such performances: jump up to touch a ball with their mouth, swim with their trainer "surfing" on their back and splash the audience with their tail. Yes, it was great. I even took a picture of the 9 ton whale, posing on the platform. I went beyond the safety line, because my heart was pounding out of my body.
But then I noticed something that changed me forever. I asked my mum:
'Why is the dorsal fin bent?'
'Orcas can have a bent fin in captivity.' She replied.
I thought in silence. 'Is that because they are sad?' I asked her.
That was the moment my life changed. I never saw marine parks the same way again. And every time I looked at my inflatable orca Belen floating on the surface of my paddling pool, aimlessly, or decompressed in the shed, a wave of anger flushed through me and I couldn't understand why a plastic version of it was free and the real wasn't.
Then Free Willy came out and a lot of attention was brought to the matter. A huge movement to set the real orca in the movie Keiko, free began. He was put into "rehab" in a bay so he could learn to catch live fish on his own and get used to the vastness of the ocean. But once he was released, he never made it into a pod and he cruised the oceans on his own, until his death two years later. There's footage of him approaching a pod, but turning back around soon before, maybe out of fear or shyness. He had been away from a pod for so long that he didn't know how to behave with them anymore. At least he was free, and in that perspective, the mission was a success.
But human greed denied him the life he was born for. And there are many other stories like Keiko's.
Orcas are very social and they have very strong family bonds. Separating them is torture to them, like it would be to you and your family. It's been found that they have a part in their brain allows them to feel a huge range of emotions that we can only dream of. We don't have that "part" installed in our brains. We don't have it.
They tell us it's natural for an orca to float in a tank for hours straight, without doing anything. It's not. A free orca pod travels at least 100 miles daily.
They tell us it's normal for them to go around in circles, to sit with their head against the tank's wall or to actually bite the concrete it's made of.
They tell us they live 30-35 years. They don't. They live much longer than that, they can live as long as an average human being. Their average lifespan is of 50+ years, females can live up to 90 which is explains why their societies are matriarchal and the oldest orca ever recorded was 101 years old!
They tell us they live longer in captivity (up to 35 years) because they have veterinarian care.
They tell us collapsed dorsal fins are common in male orcas. It's not. Only 1% or less of wild male orcas have a collapsed or partially collapsed dorsal fin, and it's mainly due to injuries or health problems.
They tell is normal for them to gnaw their teeth, grinding them down and breaking them because they chew the tank's wall. It's not. In the wild, orcas may lose teeth in an accident or when catching prey.
They tell us it's normal for orcas to attack each other sometimes. It can be, BUT, in the wild, the males swim around the perimeter of the pod. In the case of tension, they have thousands of square miles to get away until the waters come down. In a pool, females can attack the male but he has nowhere to run. He can be put into solitary confinement, but that it's just not life.
And these are just some of the main facts, that I believe to be the tip of the iceberg.
We have been told everything's fine and all is well with them. That they are happy to perform and that they love their trainers. They don't. They are only after the fish, and once the fish has run out, because they can tell by listening to the sound of the ice in the bottom of the bucket, they have lost all interest in performing and their trainer.
More importantly, there are no recorded attacks on humans by a wild orca, all attacks have happened in captivity.
I never call them killers whales, I refuse to.
They are not killers just because they have to kill to eat. In which case, that makes all animals, including us, killers. Mosquitoes are the highest cause of death in the world, yet I don't see anyone call them killer mosquitoes. The term killer works for establishments like Sea World, because killer sounds evil, frightening. Therefore, humans are safer with the orcas out of the ocean and in a tank, where they can't harm anyone, right? Wrong. Besides, a lot of people will be happy to pay to see how trainers work face to face with one of the most dangerous animals in the world.
Orcas are worth a lot of money to companies like Sea World. Which is why the only way to make them release them is to stop buying their tickets, to stop visiting the park and to spread the word around.
Every day I wake up thinking, what can I, from my flat, miles across from them, do to help them? I watch them live through Explore Oceans on Youtube every morning and for a moment I feel happy to see them emerge through the surface of the water in British Columbia or slam their tail, until I think of the 33 (to my knowledge) still confined.
I don't want to live in a world where kidnapping young marine mammals from their families, taking them to another country, training them to do shows against their will and keeping them in a pool is thought of as normal and OK. It's not education. For them it's a prison.
It's 20 minutes of show, worth their freedom? I'll leave that to you.
My future goal is to offer a percentage of the revenue of my orca art work to organizations that research, protect and fight for the freedom and well-being of these amazing animals.
UPDATE (15/07/2017): I am very pleased to inform you that every time you purchase an ocean themed piece from me a percentage of it will go to ORCA: http://www.orcaweb.org.uk/
I might never have the chance to see them in the wild, but I rather see them through a live camera on Youtube, than in the flesh within the confines of a tank.
How can you help?
Don't buy a ticket to Sea World or other marine parks that exploit marine mammals and cetaceans.
Spread the word in any way you can: starting up a blog, signing and sharing petitions on social media, telling your friends and family, etc.
Watch documentaries, read articles and books about marine mammals to better understand their biology, and the differences between animals in the wild and in captivity.
Sign up to websites dedicated to the study and monitoring of marine mammals like www.orcaweb.org.uk or www.orcanetwork.org or visit them regularly to keep up to date with news.
Donate your time and/or money to organizations like the ones aforementioned so that they can carry on with their work.
Report any sightings of marine mammals, whether they are stranded or not, to local authorities and/or dedicated organizations.
Report mistreatment of these animals by humans if you happen to witness it in any facility or in the wild.
It doesn't matter how little you can do to help, a little everywhere, makes a lot of difference.
Don't let Tillikum's Death be in Vain, Empty the Tanks, Sea World:
Free the Disney Dolphins: https://www.change.org/p/free-the-disney-dolphins/naftaExp1/FB_share_copy_2?recruiter=56757031&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=facebook&utm_campaign=autopublish&utm_content=nafta_share_post_copy_en_5%3AFB_share_copy_2
It costs you nothing to sign, but if costs them their freedom if you don't.
Websites that I recommend:
New Zealand: http://www.orcanetwork.org/Main/
Orca Research Trust: http://www.orcaresearch.org/
Blue Freedom: www.bluefreedom.org
Documentaries that I recommend:
Blackfish from £2.49 on Youtube.
Inside The Tanks: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hy9gt-f3I6Q
Call of the Killer Whale: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PCh0ApRqakk
The Free Willy Story, Keiko's Journey Home: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5k64Y8YZ_ec
Dr. Visser speaks about orca Lolita: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kvYc2o__uz0
I am Morgan, Stolen Freedom: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S2QoQZAqxEs
"Voiceless" - A Blue Freedom Film -Official Documentary 2016: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CWg3wA1FloI
There are many more on Youtube.
Youtube Channels that I recommend:
Dr. Ingrid N. Visser, Marine Biologist: https://www.youtube.com/user/orcaingrid
Explore Oceans: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSyg9cb3Iq-NtlbxqNB9wGw
Here's where I watch orcas in the wild live:
Explore Oceans: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GI-m1Tgc5YQ
Other live wildlife cameras available.
Places you can visit:
Hebridean Whale Cruises: http://www.hebridean-whale-cruises.co.uk/index.php
ORCA (Portsmouth, UK): http://www.orcaweb.org.uk/species-sightings/
They offer a three day sea safari where you can sight dolphins, whales, orcas, seals, sea lions and more and which I hope to do soon. If you live close enough you can even train with them to become an ORCA Marine Mammal Surveyor. Check out their website, there are so many other ways you can get involved.
Cornish Seal Sanctuary, Gweek. UK: https://www.visitsealife.com/gweek/
I have personally visited this establishment twice. The Cornish Seal Sanctuary specializes in rehabilitating seals and sea lions and releasing them back to the wild or caring for them in cases where the animals are not physically able to look after themselves and survive in the wild.
You can watch part of my visit here:
I do what I can angels, be with me.
My Orca necklaces are available for purchase in my Shop. Two styles are available, a two dimensional pendant that rests flat on your skin (below) and a 3 dimensional pendant (second picture).
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