Few people are aware of the fact that:
In 1980 Sea World San Diego (SWC) had four young (untrained) Orcas in their petting pool where for over a year they interacted with thousands of untrained visitors to the park with no trainer oversight and no one was ever hurt. EVER
I had the privilege of getting to know these four Orcas (Kasatka, Katina, Kotar and Canuck II) through visiting every weekend for both days for almost a year without the restrictions of having to be a trainer or working for the park. I was able to earn their friendship and trust without the need of food to coerce the interactions as park staff does in/for shows, but just patiently waiting for them to come over and check me out. That is Kotar in my icon pic. His sad captive life is a story unto itself. Kasatka was featured in “Blackfish” and is the same Orca that, after much behavior modification by the parks, is shown repeatedly dragging one of their top trainers, Ken Peters, underwater in 2006.
Once we had gotten to know each other well, on more than a dozen occasions one grabbed my arm in its mouth up the elbow (in the same manner the final reports say Dawn was grabbed) as had been done to me many times before by the BNDs in the tank there and at other parks I visited back then and gently (for them) pulled on me inviting me into the water. Once two tried this at the same time, one on each arm and almost succeeded. Unfortunately, though I wanted to, I could not accept their invitation to get in the water and play and I was able to get across to them that while I was OK with the idea, the park would not have allowed it. Had there been *any* desire to harm me on their part for any reason, the opportunity was certainly there and yet I am still whole, alive and unharmed. As are the many other visitors to the park who had similar experiences with them.
I was under constant observation by the tank monitor and after the Orcas were consistently coming to me for interaction, by staff from the Orca show observing me from the far side of the tank, apparently wondering how I was so good with them without the use of food to coerce the interactions. Had I been doing *anything* wrong during these interactions, I would have been challenged by one or the other of these two, and even possibly ejected from the park. As this *never* happened, what I was doing was considered not dangerous or harmful to the Cetaceans or to me.
Strangely, whenever I attempted to walk over to them to ask them questions about the Orcas or the shows, they would quickly run off when they saw me approaching.
Now after over 3 decades of captivity, handling and conditioning with training and behavior modification, the latent effect that this type of interference in their natural state has shown its affect on them in their social, mental, and inter”personal” interactions. And, how having been subjugated has elicited obvious changes in them over this span of time.
This does not speak well towards Sea World’s handling of these highly intelligent/sapient individuals, nor about what Sea World calls the “special training” of the orcas or their staff who “have been specially trained to work with Orcas” when I, as well as dozens of other (untrained) visitors to the park at that time, interacted with these then, untrained Orcas and were *never* injured. This really debunks/disproves what SW, OSHA and other’s claim as to how “wild and dangerous” Orcas are.
Back then, I wanted to be a trainer myself. However after this unique and rare opportunity of open and unrestricted interaction, which likely will never happen again, I changed my mind about that and about keeping them in captivity.
I have also worked on three Interspecies Communications Projects including Dr. Lilly’s JANUS (Joint Analog Numerical Understanding System) project and have gotten to know dozens of other Cetaceans through thousands of hours of hands on experience, all without using fish to coerce the interactions. I have learned from this just how intelligent/sapient and sensitive beings Cetaceans are and that captivity, especially in it’s current form, is no way to treat an intelligent/sapient being like them. Working on these three different projects with their diverse approaches to communication has also showed me that communication with them is possible but not by using any method currently being employed.
Lilly recognized their intelligence/sapience and shutdown the research project because of this. The two dolphins, Joe and Rosie, who were (fortunately) never show trained, were shipped to Florida where Ric O’Barry taught them to catch and eat live fish again before they were released back in their home, the Atlantic Ocean after 5 years of captivity. The only other researcher that I am aware of has ever done something like this is Dr Randall Wells of the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program. They were freeze branded with the male and female symbols on their dorsal fins and were sighted many times over the next several years in the company of other dolphins as well as on their own.
People belittle and deride the former staff whistle blowers for bringing to light the problems with keeping Cetaceans in captivity that the general public is blissfully unaware of because of what they are led to “Believe” is going on by the fancy shows at these parks. Being a whistle blower is a good thing and these people are to be commended for their strong moral compass for being forced to leave a job they love to save the animals they love and work with from the poor living conditions in these same parks.
So I do not support their captivity, though I do acknowledge that without captivity I would not have had such an opportunity as this, I have not bought a ticket to SWC or any other similar park with Cetaceans since the time of those visits even though I still have several Cetacean friends there and it pains me to not visit them. I made a singular exception to this last year (2013) to visit Kasatka and her new calf at SWC. I was thoroughly disgusted by how much more commercial the park had become in the intervening years and the open interaction petting pool had been turned into a “Pay to Interact and Fake Being a Trainer for an Hour” income stream for the park. The smell of chlorine was everywhere in the park. It was so sad.
Why would a facility with stated goals like “Marine Life Awareness and Preservation” need a roller coaster anyway?
To attract visitors?
Isn’t that what the animal displays are supposed to be for?
I’ve seen Blackfish and IMHO I think it was fine. Sea World was asked *repeatedly* to participate in the filming and their input was requested and they *refused* each time. They can’t whine about it now. They had their chance and they ignored it. Like they also turned down helping Keiko when asked.
Keiko’s release was not a failure as some seem to think either.
Many people love and like Dinosaurs all without there ever having been one in captivity to instill this in people so the claim that captivity is necessary/required to create these same feelings towards Cetaceans is really not valid.