Undoubtedly one of the most horrific stories this week was the death of an Orca handler in Orlando’s SeaWorld during a public exhibition of the whales. As one of the most intriguing and majestic mammals, the Orca or “Killer Whale” show has captivated audiences all over the world and this week’s tragedy puts the negative spotlight on sea creatures held in captivity. From Disney’s classic “Free Willy” to Academy Award nominee “Cove,” highlighting the multi-billion dollar captive dolphin industry, makes us question the notion of capturing marine livestock from the wild — no matter if its a simple damsel or a majestic whale or shark — for personal or public display. Louie Psihoyos, the director of “Cove,” recently appeared on CNN with the message that this death could have been prevented.
“We join people in mourning this tragedy while keeping in mind that these animals don’t belong in captivity,” he said in a statement issued Thursday. “Our film ‘The Cove’ reinforces this notion that placing dolphins and whales in captivity is not an acceptable method of educating the public about these magnificent and normally peaceful animals.”
The whale in Orlando’s SeaWorld show made famous by Shamu, grabbed the handler, 40-year-old Dawn Brancheau by her ponytail and pulled her under water in front of the shocked audience. The park was closed immediately following the incident. shocked onlookers at SeaWorld’s Shamu Stadium, according to police. Psihoyos pointed to the fact that in 1999, the same whale Tilikum was blamed for the death of a 27-year-old man whose body was found floating on his back in a tank at SeaWorld, the apparent victim of whale “horseplay,” authorities said then.
“The Cove” won best documentary at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival and is competing for the Best Documentary at this year’s Academy Awards. It depicts the annual butchering of the sea creatures near the Japanese coastal town of Taiji where dolphin hunts have been carried out for centuries.
Upwards of 2,400 dolphins are captured or killed each year in the cove in Taiji, but more than 20,000 dolphins are killed in Japan annually, according to Psihoyos who is also co-founder of the Oceanic Preservation Society. Some of the dolphins captured at Taiji are sold to aquariums, parks and zoos, while the rest are killed for their meat.
As hobbyists, we ride the fine line of preservation with our captive inhabitants. Through the work as hobbyists, we have helped advance the understanding of marine specimens including both fish and corals. Despite this growth of understanding, we are plagued by unscrupulous capturing practices, poor husbandry practices as hobbyists and a myriad of other factors that make us question our own involvement in the trade at times.
Tragedies like this only strengthen our convictions as hobbyists to put more effort in captive raised and captive bred livestock and coral propagation. Our goal is to enjoy a sliver of the ocean at home but in a respectful and responsible way.
Photo courtesy of winkeyintheuk from Flickr