Anyone who’s seen “Blackfish” can understandably voice a frustration and outrage against SeaWorld. Having seen it myself, I had the same reaction as when I sat down to watch “Super Size Me” :

There is an agenda here. They’re not as interested in fairness as in pushing their point of view.

Certainly “Blackfish” makes some good points. I won’t outline them here . . . I personally feel that there are plenty of others carrying that banner as to relieve me of that necessity. Instead, I’ll revisit an old adage:

Those who do not know their opponent’s arguments do not fully understand their own.

So how many of us have taken the time to explore the issues from SeaWorld’s point of view? Very few, I would guess. And why is this the case? What is so wrong, truly, with SeaWorld that we won’t give it a fair hearing before we condemn it?

I would suggest simply that we find it easier to identify with an Orca than we do a corporation.

dichotomy orcaWhich image evokes more sympathy?

Talk about an American business being driven out of business by some corporate sweatshop over in China, and we all keep scrolling. Talk about a dog being shot by a cop, and everyone cries foul.

Let’s introduce some perspective. What is SeaWorld: a company. Ok, how many people work for this company: 22,100 (according to its wikipedia page). That’s a lot of people who’s welfare we’re endangering by attacking their employer. There is this reason at least to be fair to SeaWorld.

You may want to stop reading now and simply do the research yourself (starting with SeaWorld’s own response to “Blackfish”), but in case you’d like my own thoughts, read on.

I personally won’t blindly accept anything alleged by either the “Blackfish” crowd, or by Seaworld. Their interests are simply too bound up in their arguments to avoid biases.

Nevertheless, there are some interesting arguments made by each side. For example:

-The “Blackfish” website points out that while SeaWorld no longer actively captures wild orcas, these and other animals may still be acquired through third parties, thus still participating in the separation of a wild creature from its habitat.

-The SeaWorld website points out that while “Blackfish” lays claim to authoritative statements about orcas, OSHA has dismissed many of their supposed professionals as having no relevant expertise.

So what does this mean? Perhaps the status of California Assembly Bill 2140 best sums it up: a bill designed to ban SeaWorld from breeding orcas and using them to perform, it has been tabled for a year in order to allow for further study into the issues.

Put simply, it cannot be said conclusively whether captivity is bad for orcas. For every argument to the affirmative, I have heard one just as compelling to the negative.

To give myself some peace of mind, here is the end point I have reached:

-I believe that human beings are superior in intelligence to all other forms of life on earth. We therefore have a duty to be good stewards of the earth and everything that lives on it. If we fail in this, then nobody or nothing else will do this instead. Regardless of SeaWorlds actual actions, we should oversee that they are being good stewards of the creatures in their care.

-I believe that I can never know whether it is inherently harmful to orcas to keep them in captivity. Physically? Maybe. Emotionally? Never.

A more interesting point of view, however, should also be discussed: is it beneficial to orcas to keep them in captivity? Surely we have a greater appreciation for these animals for having been in intimate contact with them, and heck, who wouldn’t want free, easy food and healthcare 24/7? I’m not saying that this would justify any alleged harms, but it certainly merits discussion.

-I believe that corporations should be afforded the same protection as orcas. Far fewer of us jumped to SeaWorld’s defense than joined the mob out to lynch a corporation responsible for over 22,000 people. Are all of these people responsible for orcas? No way. And if orcas have been mistreated, are all of their orca people responsible? Nope.

If SeaWorld has erred, the error has been in not being sensitive to the immense social and zoological weight that they took upon themselves in harboring orcas in captivity. It took “Blackfish” to awaken them to the fact that they need to re-direct the way they portray orcas: not as entertainers, but as creatures demanding care and respect. I don’t think orca shows, as demonstrating the intelligence and physical prowess of these creatures, are exclusive to caring for and respecting these animals.

If “Blackfish” has erred, it has been in pursuing an agenda which puts the welfare of orcas not only far above the integrity of being fair and professional in their treatment of the issue, but also above the welfare of SeaWorld’s employees as well. In compromizing the integrity of its arguments, it opened itself to the accusation of propoganda. It is not a documentary intent on exposing the abuse of orcas, rather, it is intent on villainizing SeaWorld. In villainizing SeaWorld, it has endangered the welfare of many SeaWorld employees who rely upon the brand’s popularity for their livelihood.

The lesson here is that compromise and moderation may be the only peaceful route through such issues. I think that “Blackfish” and SeaWorld should agree to undertake a joint, 5-year study of orcas in the wild as compared to those in captivity, and go public with the results. I don’t think this will happen, however.

Unfortunately, compromise and moderation do not carry as much weight as determination and sensationalism.



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