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Monday, August 12, 2013

Blackfish (The Importance of October 24th)

Seeing the movie Blackfish reminded me of a talk from my new favorite author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “The Danger of a Single Story.” I really hope people will listen to her talk and her wisdom, her power. She discusses the problems that arise when we just tell one part of a story. 

Blackfish works to tell a whole story about a killer whale (also known as an orca) at SeaWorld Orlando and, to the best of the documentary’s ability, uses the voices and pain of orcas captured for captivity.

I have known for decades how animals end up in marine “parks,” zoos, and aquariums (or, as Ric O’Barry calls them, abusement “parks”), and yet most people only know about these animals’ lives in the context of a visit to one of these places. No knowledge of how they got there and what they go through. Only the story of their visit.

I was one of those people. 

In 1988, SeaWorld San Antonio opened. Now keep in mind, I was a bit naïve. As someone who was bullied in middle school and whose life was full of financial struggles, I still consider myself naïve about certain things. I was more than just naïve; I was in denial. I was already an ethical vegan and a fairly new animal rights activist.

SeaWorld sponsored a contest where high school students in San Antonio would write an essay and could win a college scholarship. I had not planned on going to college until my animal rights “parents” encouraged me to. So I was a bit behind on any planning.

So I decided to apply for this scholarship. During the contest, you got a free pass to SeaWorld.

For me, this was incredible, as I love the ocean but lived so far away, and wanted to be a marine biologist. I only saw one of the orca shows, as I spent most of my time watching the sharks (one of my favorite animals). I’ll fast forward a bit to why I didn’t get the scholarship: I wrote in the essay about how I felt whole by becoming an animal rights activist and, well, I believe I even talked about wanting to set all of the animals at SeaWorld free.

Umm…yeah….maybe not naïve or in denial, maybe just stupid….or honest.

The folks in the animal rights group were patient with me and knew that I saw the truth about how animals were treated in every other industry, and I imagine they knew I would come to my senses.

Over the years, we held protests at the San Antonio SeaWorld and displayed signs with a message that seems to be standing the test of time: “Thanks but no tanks.”

And what is more incredible is the reality that you have any sea creatures at all in San Antonio. It is land locked. But all marine “parks,” near the ocean or not, have these animals living in small areas with small tanks. It just seems incomprehensible to me. Truly. Who came up with this idea? How could anyone think it would be morally acceptable? Oh, wait….profit. They are preying on the hearts of people who do sincerely care about animals – people who get blinded by a story that starts in the middle and don’t hear the beginning or the end. They see only a snapshot.

It is not that I can’t understand what people think when they go to places like zoos and SeaWorld – they believe they are getting to know more about animals and that these animals are treated well. Of course, that is not the case; they are getting to know how animals behave in captivity, how they behave when they have been taken away from their families, how they behave when their natural habits are deprived. But even if that were not the case, would it make it right? Of course not.

That is why I am so glad that a book like Bleating Hearts (full review later) is coming out this fall. It re-stirred the passion in my heart to fight for these animals. I learned things I didn’t know. Things which burn in my heart and make me wonder why I have not dedicated my life to getting them out of these tanks.* That the reality is just too awful to believe.

And of course there is Blackfish, which is getting the attention and critical acclaim it deserves.

It is a painful movie to watch, but so necessary. Much of the pain stems from the reality of how the captivity industry has destroyed and continues to destroy families. The pain of the mother crying and searching for her baby when SeaWorld takes her away. Unbearable, truly unbearable. There is a lot of crying in the movie – both on the screen and in the audience. And rightly so. I know that those images will probably haunt me for the rest of my life (no different than the beak trimming of chicks for the egg industry).

And of course the film itself is about a larger issue than just this one orca. Lolita, captured in 1970 from the wild, is in the Seaquarium in Miami, where she lives alone as she is the only remaining orca. And here she remembers the unique language used only by her family who swims freely in the Puget Sound, a pod she cries out for. She calls out by herself. Alone.

These are the types of things that I can’t think of for too long for fear of going crazy. The type of psychological pain that we put them through on top of the physical pain is just too much to bear.

As an animal rights activist, I feel that way about all of the issues we work on, but now is our time. With countries like Bolivia, Costa Rica, India, Peru, and others banning animal captivity in zoos, circuses, and/or marine “parks,” now is the time for us to work to end these industries.

I know I will encourage my family in San Antonio to watch Blackfish and hope that my niece and nephew have the opportunity to see for themselves what SeaWorld is all about.

We must make sure that we do not allow animals to be torn from their families and denied everything that is natural to them to end in a tank while we just watch. We must make sure that their story does not end here.

Please join me in making sure that everyone sees Blackfish. With CNN running it on October 24, there should be few excuses to miss it.

Update: Blackfish is now streaming on Netflix!

*Of course, Food Empowerment Project continues to do our good work for farmed animals, for workers, and for justice, but I will do what I can to join others who are pushing this industry to its knees.


  1. lauren - thanks SO much for bringing attention to another industry that continues to thrive due to its lack of transparency, which of course doesn't give people a chance to make better choices. Blackfish IS a must see so that everyone can be educated about what really happens to these beautiful animals when they are caught and and then held captive in these animal prisons.

  2. Lauren,

    I haven't seen the movie yet, but there is a local Whidbey Island non-profit that has been working toward Lolita's release to her pod. I wonder if they were mentioned in the movie. In any case- here is the link to their page with the details.