Shamu On You!

Posted by admin on August 12, 2013 in The Soapbox |

Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, I have always admired killer whales. As I kid, I read the Native American legends about these majestic beasts, which inhabit the waters of Puget Sound and the Straight of Juan de Fuca. When I was very young, I saw my first killer whale, Namu. He had been captured in the wild and brought back to the old aquarium on the Seattle waterfront.

He didn’t live very long, only 11 months. But he was a huge draw, some 100,000 people went to see him, and my dad made sure I was one of them.

Seeing dollar signs, other aquariums were anxious to cash in on the whole killer whale mystique in the 1970s and the hunt was on. Shamu was probably the most famous of this brood, ending up at SeaWorld in San Diego, made to perform cheap circus tricks in the name of “science.” All told, almost a hundred baby killer whales were separated from their pods during this dark period of time where we thought these animals should be tamed and treated like novelties and oddities instead of being the mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers they really are.

I never really liked the whole idea of putting these creatures in very, very small tanks. A killer whale in the wild would cover miles of open ocean in a single day. In captivity, they lived in a glorified bathtub, being bribed with fish to perform in shows two or three times a day, “trainers” riding on their backs like they were the king of their aquatic world.

It was inevitable that eventually these creatures would turn on us. Famously one did, killing and then dismembering its trainer in Orlando in 2010. And not just during training, but during a show with hundreds of spectators watching. For the first time in history, a killer whale had killed a human being. Well, that’s not really true. This same whale had killed before. Twenty years earlier, Tillicum had killed another trainer at the aquarium in Victoria B.C. I guess the whale had had enough and just went postal. I would too if I had been held in captivity all my life, far away from my family.

As we have learned in the intervening years, orcas do indeed have families. They travel in pods, the children never being far from their mother. They have their own unique language, they can recognize one another and they can remember each other, even years after they have been separated.

Namu never got to see his family again. What we have learned since is that Namu’s mom was designated C5 years later. She died, not in captivity, but in freedom in 1995. Namu’s sister, Koeye, is C10 and is still alive. They collectively make up the C1 Pod, one of the most well-known pods in the Pacific Northwest.

If only I had known before I plunked down my wad of cash to visit SeaWorld with my son. Like every other member of the audience that day, I enjoyed the performance, not knowing the dark secrets that lay behind these killer whale shows.

Imagine being Namu’s mom, C5, your son pulled from you by hunters in speedboats who dropped bombs in the water to herd you into large nets. Now multiply that by 90, for that’s the number of children harvested by “the hunt.”

As a native of the Pacific Northwest, it makes me sad to think that we still condone this heinous behavior. Long ago we decided that hunting whales was not something we as a civilization wanted to so we outlawed it. We continue to chase poachers and hopefully some day, those bastard Japanese “research” vessels will be exposed for what they are as well, fishing boats.

If you want a real eye opener, see the movieĀ Blackfish. SeaWorld is ripping it apart in their PR campaigns. It must be awfully close to the truth then. You know that something is dangerously close to the truth when an entertainment empire like SeaWorld takes it on, trying desperately to discredit a movie which includes some of their own behind the scenes footage as well as the insights of former employees and scientists.

I am still haunted by one interview with a former trainer. She quit after a four-year-old baby was taken from her mother, to be shipped to another theme park. She said the cries of the mother still haunt her to this day, the cries of anguish, loss and grief.

All in the name of entertainment and tourism. We should all take the trainer’s advice. Instead of giving the money to SeaWorld or any other marine park that exploits killer wales, take your kids out on a whale watching trip in Washington State. See these amazing creatures in their native habitat. Learn the truth about killer whales, not the myths. Certainly, don’t believe what a theme park wants you to believe about their major cash cow.

Namu and Tillicum, Shamu and C10, I am sorry. I feel like I played a part in all this, giving SeaWorld my money so they could keep you in captivity instead of returning you to the wild. And yes, I know that is a difficult if not impossible prospect. I remember that they never really did, or perhaps could, Save Willy.

But just as elephants are no longer a politically correct part of circuses and increasingly zoos, perhaps we can vote with our pocketbooks to get the SeaWorlds of the world to stop this exploitation of animals who are just as smart as we are. No wait, far smarter than we are, for they don’t capture other species for their own entertainment, which definitely makes them the more evolved species.

The slogan of the film rings clear: Don’t Capture What You Can’t Control.

Free the Willies of the world. Or at least stop this madness. Quite frankly, our children deserve much better than to inherit a legacy where we enslave other mammals for our own gain and entertainment.

In the Emerald City, knowing my next killer whale sighting will be in the wild, not some theme park,


– Robb





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