By Ric O’Barry
It is no secret among the Dolphin Project’s supporters that SeaWorld is a nightmarish prison for animals, as well as source of constant danger for those who work with captive dolphins and whales (SeaWorld Trainer Dawn Brancheau’s recent death being an example of this). Unfortunately, many people continue to subscribe to the idyllic illusion that SeaWorld goes to great lengths to maintain – that whales and dolphins are happy in captivity.
Luckily for captive cetaceans everywhere, four ex-SeaWorld trainers have come forward with their personal accounts of the poignant suffering that is a prominent feature of captivity. The ex-trainer’s decisions to speak out forms an important contribution in uncovering the truth about captivity – a truth which forces us all to question the ways we treat animals in general.
Blue Freedom, an organization that works to free captive orca whales such as Tilly, conducted enlightening and damning interviews with ex-trainers John Jett, Samantha Berg, Jeffrey Ventre and Carol Ray. You can view the complete interviews here.
Each trainer told Blue Freedom about the food deprivation techniques that are used to ensure performance; they describe the painful dental surgeries that orcas are routinely subjected to (without anesthesia); and the list of abuses goes on.
One particularly poignant statement comes from Samantha Berg, who lays waste to SeaWorld’s argument that an indication of the whales’ happiness can be seen in their frequent breeding and births: “…to insinuate just because the animals are having sex they must be happy is ludicrous. People have sex with each other in prison all the time and that doesn’t mean they are happy!!”
Perhaps the most heart-rending portion of the interview is Carol Ray’s account of an orca whale calf being separated from her mother in order to be shipped to a different facility: “(The calf) was just 4 years old when we were told that she would be removed from her mother and her 2 half siblings… To watch her and her mother struggle to try and stay together while they were forcibly separated by nets, and then watch the calf hoisted with a crane, put in a truck and shipped away was simply heartbreaking. But the worst of it was after it was over, and I stayed on night duty to do observations. The mother spent the night alone in a corner of her tank, shivering and screeching, crying because of her loss, for the entire night.”
People have a difficult time imagining themselves in an animal’s situation. This lack of empathy and consideration is the source of animal suffering everywhere. The illusion that animals do not have emotions or are not ‘intelligent’ enough to experience suffering in the same capacities that humans do is a widely-held and, often, ferociously guarded belief.
Fortunately, it is also one that is increasingly being challenged. The recent symposium on cetacean rights in Vancouver, Canada demonstrates that more people, among them credible, respected scientists, are convinced that cetaceans should not be subjected to the tortures of captivity. As our understanding of cetaceans and other animals continues to grow, so to will the argument for their ethical treatment.
Carol Ray sums it up nicely when she says, “to claim love for these animals and yet to support them being in confinement, it’s a great hypocrisy really.” Indeed. It is a hypocrisy that SeaWorld continues to advocate for, because of the enormous profits they generate in doing so. This hypocrisy extends to every person who visits a dolphin and whale show although I’m sure they are mostly unaware of it. If you truly love dolphins and whales, you should not support their capture, confinement or killing in any way, and that includes imprisonment in dolphinariums where they do stupid tricks for us.