“Connect with animals and explore nature to recognise the important role kids play in the future of our world.” It sounds wonderful, doesn’t it?
Why is it then, that something which claims to mix conservation, kids and fun has seen one part of Richard Branson’s Virgin conglomerate; Virgin America, sever all ties with it?
On the 14th of October, Virgin America announced it would no longer include SeaWorld in its reward package options following a global online campaign from PETA, and only days earlier, Britain’s biggest and most media-dominating entertainment show; the X Factor, pulled an episode of its Xtra-Factor reflective supplement programme, after campaigners protested against airing footage of the contestants visiting a dolphinarium. It seems people are switching on to the plight of performing marina life – and with good reason, they’re not happy about it.
I was fortunate enough to be given the most enriched and positive education as a child from parents who never ‘pushed’ but always encouraged. When I was aged 9, during a holiday of a lifetime to Orlando, Florida – one which only came into being after the passing of my grandfather – my parents, knowing my love for animals and penchant for fast rides, took my brothers and I to SeaWorld.
Innocently, we clapped and cheered as we watched Shamu the Orca whale push his trainer elegantly through the tank, parting the water, like some Biblical force as the pair glided around the semi-circular length of the arena, splashing excited audiences as they went.
Fifteen years later, I sat in horror as I watched the acclaimed documentary, BlackFish, delve into the “amusement park”‘s dark history. And for those who haven’t seen it yet, believe me, it’s dark.
The undeniable, barbaric brutality in which orca male Tilikum is torn from his mother; his home; and plunged into a dehabilitating life of punishment and psychiatric torture in the confinement of a tank, resonates something of a war prisoner. It’s painful viewing, but I’ve never believed in turning a blind eye – denying knowledge for one’s own ignorant comfort.
The power of this documentary is that it not only brings to light a truth long-suppressed, but it starts conversations. Although the film was first screened at Sundance Festival in January 2013, the topic seems to have gathered momentum the last few months, appearing on social media aplenty, and I’ve even purchased magazines of late solely on the pre-tense that they contain an article on Tilikum, or SeaWorld at large. But beyond the shocking story of BlackFish, there is something else that peaks my interest about the institution of SeaWorld. Earlier in the summer, I sat in artist Pollyanna Pickering’s beautiful garden alongside Born Free Foundation CEO Will Travers. We discussed some of my musings on the legacy of ‘Wildlife Warrior’ Steve Irwin, and he told me that in March this year Steve’s daughter, Bindi, was named as SeaWorld’s Youth Ambassador.
Second generation ‘wildlife warrior’ Bindi, a Youth Ambassador for some glorified water circus that has ripped Orca’s from the wild and forced them to perform in tanks little bigger than the relative size of a large bathtub?
Under the guise of ‘Generation Nature’, SeaWorld’s crisis control PR strategy is a convincing one to those innocently not ‘in the know’ – just like myself and my family in those afore mentioned moments of enjoying Shamu’s ‘splash zone’ in the Florida sunshine as a child.Will Travers, in his own blog, recently suggested that the further PR strategies employed by SeaWorld (namely expanding some of their ‘enclosures’) is about as effective as upgrading your bathtub – except this is a bathtub you have to live in, and can never get out of!
A world without SeaWorld?
A far cry from the blaring megaphones in SeaWorld’s jam-packed auditorium, waving my hands and cheering out loudly when “those from England” were asked to “make some noise”; an adult version of myself bobbed back and forth in a small boat to the rhythm of the ocean’s current, chatting to an American tourist about our home countries and what we loved about them, like how they transitioned so beautifully between the seasons. “Guys!”, a tour guide on our eight-person sea expedition called out, lowering their binoculars and pointing. And we saw her, calf in tow pass right beside the boat, making her incredible journey.
Sign the petition here: http://action.sumofus.org/a/seaworld-orcas-captivity-california-ban-blackfish/