So You Want to Free Willy, Too

Written by Nate Green

After watching Ric O’Barry in The Cove, it’s hard not to want to free any dolphin you come across in captivity. O’Barry has been at the forefront of dolphin rescue since the ‘70’s, after watching Kathy, one of the five dolphins who played Flipper, commit suicide in his arms. O’Barry is now working to free the largest member of the dolphin family: the orca. Along with a former SeaWorld trainer, two other marine mammal experts, and PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), O’Barry is listed as a “near friend” of Tilikum and Katina from SeaWorld Orlando; and Corky, Kasatka, and Ulises from SeaWorld San Diego. The five orcas are named as plaintiffs in PETA’s lawsuit against SeaWorld. Tilikum is the orca that grabbed and killed his trainer in 2010.

PETA is asserting that the whales are, in effect, involuntary servants: held in captivity, ripped from their families in the wild, subject to sperm collection and artificial insemination, and forced to perform; all for SeaWorld’s profit. PETA is arguing that this is illegal… under the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery in 1864. PETA claims this is the first suit of its kind: seeking to apply constitutional rights to animals. Continue reading

Keep wild animals wild – they’re not circus freaks

The death of Dawn Brancheau in Orlando was tragic and my heart goes out to her family and friends. I understand it was her dream since the first time she visited SeaWorld to train marine mammals and I imagine she loved what she did. We get dozens of emails from our MarineBio members and other readers who talk about their dreams of becoming marine mammal trainers. They love whales and dolphins. I do too. I love them so much I’m willing to give up seeing them up close in an aquarium. Because I know they are happiest in the wild where they belong. When they’re contained in an unnatural environment they cannot follow their inborn instincts to swim long distances, hunt for prey, travel in pods and enjoy a healthy social life with their families in the wild.

orca or killer whales, Orcinus orca

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Should humans interact with wildlife at aquariums?

Twice recently, stories have appeared in the news about humans being bitten by animals at human/animal interaction exhibits. In one instance, almost a dozen people were bitten by sharks at a shark petting exhibit in Newport, Kentucky. Shark petting!? Granted these aren’t tanks full of bull sharks, and the concept of shark petting certainly dispels the myth that sharks are mindless maneaters, but do humans really need to pet sharks? Do the sharks enjoy being touched? I doubt it.

At $eaworld in Orlando a young boy was bitten by a dolphin. Everyone wants to pet dolphins, or swim with dolphins – we all do. So $eaworld stated that they plan to send the dolphin off for some behavior modification – the poor thing was probably only defending itself against relentlessly poked and prodded and teased with fish. I think humans need to modify their need to interact with animals that belong in the wild. I had the privilege of interacting with dolphins last year in Honduras (see photo), they were friendly and curious – and I was in their environment. So they were free to check me out and free to take off when they wanted. I would much prefer that experience over being one of thousands of people lining up to “pet” dolphins in captivity.

If the animals are in need of veterinary care and rehabilitation, then I’m all for keeping them in captivity until they can be returned to the wild. But it just seems unnatural to me to keep them as puppets for entertaining humans.