Monday, March 21, 2016

SeaWorld ends orca breeding; phasing out orcas altogether

Big news happened last week! SeaWorld announced a comprehensive program to ultimately end the use of live orcas for entertainment. Just as Ringling Bros. caved to consumer pressure last year and announced its plan to stop using elephants in their traveling circus shows, SeaWorld has seen the writing on the wall and is finally phasing out the exploitation of these sensitive sea mammals, in partnership with the Humane Society of the US. It will be a fairly long process, since they are not releasing their current orcas into the wild but they have committed to not grabbing new orcas from the ocean, ending their orca breeding program and not including orcas at any new parks. All really great news! (For orcas, at least.)

[See the HSUS article here]

Of course, this whole end result was a direct consequence of the documentary film Blackfish, and the amazing amount of public attention it received. The film uses a mix of anecdotal, factual, and emotional arguments to make its case that the use of killer whales in entertainment is bad news for both the people and the whales involved. The scientific evidence is what really spoke to me. One example is where the film mentions statistics on life expectancies of whales in the wild versus those in captivity. Wild female orcas have a mean life expectancy of 50 years, but most in captivity die in their teens or 20's. This fact is just appalling to me. (Unfortunately, the life expectancy of many wild animals - not just orcas - is drastically reduced in captivity. I'd like to see an expose documentary on for-profit zoos in this country next.)

The film included interviews and testimony from biologists and behavioral scientists as well. To me, this points to a growing paradigm shift in the way that logic and facts influence the decisions of American public. Perhaps much of the rest of the developed world is farther ahead than us, but I do think we're catching on. As of late, documentaries such as Cowspiracy, Blackfish, The Cove, Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead, and Forks Over Knives have been hugely popular with the general public. These all have an element of logical fallacy in that they employ 'appeal to emotion' as a main argument of each cause. However, they do all dedicate a significant portion of their run-time to scientifically-based facts and data.

Watch any one of the documentaries listed and compare to the most popular documentaries of 10+ years ago, such as An Inconvenient Truth or Bowling for Columbine. Al Gore may be a champion to some for inserting the reality of global warming into the public dialogue, but that movie was largely hype. Many of the facts presented were shown later to be grossly exaggerated, and some of the inflammatory statements made just sounded ridiculous, even at the time. (e.g. the tagline: "If you love your children, you have to see this film.") And Michael Moore's tongue-in-cheek style is entertaining (to some) but never carries a great, logical argument by any stretch. These days, I see less hype and more facts in the documentaries - and that's a very good thing. Maybe it's because of the Facebook and Twitter age we're now in. 140-character statistics are much easier to share online than the entire emotional tone of a film. But I also like to think that the internet is making us more interested in statistical data and real evidence for any given argument. Everyone can check facts now in a few minutes online. And everyone has access to photos and videos that leave very little room for interpretation when it comes to animal cruelty and exploitation.

For awhile there, SeaWorld was really pushing against the obvious turning of public opinion. They launched websites and campaigns to discredit the testimony and science presented in Blackfish.

SeaWorld's misguided attempt to rebuke the Blackfish claims

But they just could not escape the backlash of the film, and with the new announcement they have finally done what should have happened many years earlier. They realized that the trend of animal exploitation in this country is dying out; and the future is a much brighter and more compassionate one.

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