Captive Kingdom

This article is inspired by the film, ‘Deep Blue Sea’. Despite its Hollywood esq story execution and effects, I took away an important message after watching it; we as humans; with our need to entertain, study, research and experiment with these highly intelligent animals, threaten their natural existence, intelligence and freedom. By trapping them in what might as well be a small prison cell, and then asking them to perform for our amusement or to find out more about how they live, we cause them distress and harm as illustrated by documentaries such as ‘Blackfish’. The deep and vast oceans and the majestic plains are indeed grand for the very reason that they enable animals to live freely and evolve. It is the place these creatures call home. My question to you is, is our changing sociology and need to captivate our populations creating a natural imbalance? Although we are kings of the food chain, do we need a parliament to curb our enthusiasm in kidnapping these feeling creatures from their homes and trafficking them into a life of slavery and captivity?

Aged 9, I remember feeling so excited about visiting SeaWorld and being so close to these beautiful creatures. I remember standing next to this very small tank at a distance. I stood astounded by the number of dolphins cramped together in this one tank. There were so many that I couldn’t count. I couldn’t imagine the claustrophobia they must have been feeling. It was like placing an innocent person in a small prison cell that has committed no crime, then asking them to perform tricks with no room to exercise their muscles. Instead they are left there to die a slow and painful death. All every living creature wants is it’s freedom; do we not have a moral obligation to fulfil that?

Holding first rank in the food chain, we divide our world into the human realm and the animal kingdom; however we forget that some of these animals are mammals like us. For instance, during the Taiji cove slaughter a rare baby albino dolphin was captured, quickly removed from the ocean, and placed on display in the Taiji Whale Museum. It’s reported the mother frantically spy hopped calling out to her baby and in the end took herself down to the bottom of the cove and never resurfaced, and the fears are that she is now dead. I think that demonstrates how feeling and thinking these creatures are and not at all different to humans emotionally and mentally[1].

So why do we persist in this behaviour? Recent examples include 2 Orca Whales, the female named Narnia and her male companion; in addition to 6 others that were stolen from the Okhotsk Sea to perform at the opening ceremony of the Sochi Olympics. Despite thousands of signatures on petitions, these Orca Whales although stopped from performing at the Olympics, have been shipped to other marine parks in other countries such as China to perform circus tricks. Considering the difficulties these countries endured during their communist regimes as part of the former USSR, they still display a complete lack of compassion for life. In this gluttonous quest for financial profit, is the human heart entering an ice age? Documentaries such as ‘Blackfish’ have demonstrated the depraved mental state these larger than life animals suffer, shortening their life span. By taking these wild mammals from their natural environment are we not harming their natural populations and hence acting against conservation?[2]

Organisations such as Whales and Dolphins Conservation have recorded how countries such as Japan and China brutally remove these highly intelligent creatures either during live hunts or airlift them by commercial airlines to marine parks. In the human world when snatched from your home to be then sold into a life of entertainment for other people’s pleasure is classed as trafficking and even slavery. Why should we condone such brutality of our natural world, of creatures that it has been proved have an enormous intellectual capacity, and make a significant contribution to maintaining equilibrium of our natural environment? For me, such people who condone this behaviour or even enjoy it incapacitate human intelligence.  These staged shows and tricks are not a means by which we learn about these animals, but instead limit the potential these animals and we as humans have to evolve.[3] These creatures deserve to live in a world that allows them their freedom and safety to live, and there are many people that sacrifice their lives to ensure this.[4]

In his blog, Mark J. Palmer, associate director of the International marine mammal project, highlights that under the provisions of the federal marine mammal act in the USA at least, dolphins and whales are considered as part of the public trust and that SeaWorld and similar aquariums do NOT “own” the dolphins and whales that are performing tricks for the public. They are on “loan” to the facility.[5]

More recently seaworld has been found guilty of violating the animal welfare act, and keeping these ‘blackfish’ in conditions which are detrimental and potentially fatal to their health.  In my mind the only motivation companies such as SeaWorld have to keep Orca whales and other marine wildlife in captivity is profit making, what other reason is there? If it’s really about educating the public then why charge so much to watch them perform tricks in a tiny tank that doesn’t do any justice to their size? Why not take people out, charge them a fortune to see them in their own natural, wild environment?[6] We have already lost Marius the Giraffe, the latest victim of captivity, to Mr Bengst Holst deciding to take the process of natural selection into his own hands and kill a perfectly healthy and young giraffe[7].

Should we not be promoting life rather than taking it away? By allowing the children to watch the now dead giraffe being carved up for dinner, does this not promote a pro kill attitude? Why do we need to research these animals so much when we don’t even understand enough about the human mind? What are we, primitive beasts? Surely these institutions have a duty of care, especially taking these gracious creatures from their natural environment to work at our pleasure. It’s certainly not an education to hold these animals in restricted areas.

People such as Bengst Holst baffle me when they call themselves animal conservationists, or even just hold such roles, because conservation is about encouraging life not interfering with it. With all our human laws regarding human rights, euthanasia, abortion and honour killings, I don’t know why these institutions then act as if they are the exception and animals don’t serve or contribute the same level of importance to our natural landscapes. I believe that these attitudes do affect the evolution of humans and these barbaric acts suggest that we are reverting to primitive methods of existence.

In turn, these atrocities are making entire cultures vulnerable to heavy criticism and political upheaval in a world at constant war. Yoko Ono expresses this beautifully in a letter to the Taiji fishermen that have been criticised for blasé attitude to the annual capturing and slaughter of dolphins. She highlights how these acts can harm the reputation of an entire country and culture in a time when every country in the world wants to be a super power and is looking for any excuse to weaken another. She even goes as far as to say that celebrating such atrocities as seen by the west will make the children of the world hate Japan[8].

Again as with the case of Marius she points out that celebrating brutality and the unnecessary killing of these amazing animals is not an education for children. I agree, as I think all these centres holding wild animals captive, should not underestimate the intelligence of our younger generations. In the prime of their youth children are fearless, and able to think for themselves. Captivity not only threatens the animal kingdom but it also threatens the education and the views of upcoming generations.

There are so many cases that I wanted to highlight in this article to reflect the mighty scale of trauma that we put these amazing animals through; Tania the elephant stolen from her family in the wild as a baby, and held captive in a Romanian zoo for 37 years in solitary confinement[9], the animals dying of starvation at Kharkiv Zoo in Ukraine, victims of the fighting between Russia and Ukraine[10]

My conclusion is this…the welfare of these highly intelligent, feeling, living creatures requires a public response and organisations such as SeaWorld and zoos should be providing a means to maintain public trust. They’re not just animals as I feel I have demonstrated. They live in a Kingdom that we are still trying to understand, but I feel interfering with their evolution and standing so closely doesn’t allow anyone to grow or be educated. Upcoming generations can learn nothing from a thinking, feeling, knowing animal that exists rather than lives in a tiny tank or cage or being killed for entertainment. Like any human in this same situation, you will never see them flourish. Treating animals so barbarically has serious political implications upon individual cultures and countries. I write these articles as I want to give these amazing creatures a voice. They’re not just animals but part of what makes our world so great and beautiful so give them their freedom and you’ll be educated.


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