SeaWorld has unleashed a bitter attack on the new documentary Blackfish, which reveals the inner workings of the multi-billion dollar seapark industry [see post below New Film: Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s “Blackfish”], accusing the filmmakers of being “shamelessly dishonest,” and filling the movie with serious inaccuracies. David Kirby, author of the 2012 book Death at Sea World [see New Book: David Kirby’s “Death at Sea World”] offers his impressions of the brouhaha:
As someone who has followed the saga of Tilikum and deceased trainer Dawn Brancheau for years, I was happy to rebut SeaWorld’s various grievances. The inaccuracies, it turns out, are found in spokesman Fred Jacob’s “Dear Film Critic,” letter sent out today:
I’m writing to you on behalf of SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment. You may be aware of a documentary called “Blackfish” that purports to expose SeaWorld’s treatment of killer whales (or orcas) and the “truth” behind the tragic death of trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010.
In the event you are planning to review this film, we thought you should be apprised of the following. Although “Blackfish” is by most accounts a powerful, emotionally-moving piece of advocacy, it is also shamefully dishonest, deliberately misleading, and scientifically inaccurate. As the late scholar and U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously noted: “You are entitled to your opinion. But you are not entitled to your own facts.” The film’s most egregious and untrue allegations include: The insinuation that SeaWorld stocks its parks with killer whales captured from the wild. In fact, SeaWorld hasn’t collected a killer whale from the wild in more than 35 years; more than 80% of the killer whales at SeaWorld were born there or in other zoological facilities.
First of all, an “insinuation” is not an accusation, and Blackfish does not make this claim. It is worth pointing out, however, that the wild orca Morgan, who was rescued in waters off the Netherlands a few years back, now lives at Loro Parque, Spain; in its SEC filing there, SeaWorld claimed her as one of their own whales, just as they own the other orcas in the park.
The assertion that killer whales in the wild live more than twice as long as those living at SeaWorld. While research suggests that some wild killer whales can live as long as 60 or 70 years, their average lifespan is nowhere near that. Nor is it true that killer whales in captivity live only 25 to 35 years.
Because we’ve been studying killer whales at places like SeaWorld for only 40 years or so, we don’t know what their lifespans might be—though we do know that SeaWorld currently has one killer whale in her late 40s and a number of others in their late 30s. The research completed to date does not “suggest” average life expectancies and maximum lifespans, it methodically and scientifically documents them, at least among resident killer whales of the Pacific Northwest.
As I reported in Death at SeaWorld: “The average life expectancy for female orcas in the wild has been estimated at 45 to 50 years, with a maximum lifespan of about 90,” and, “the average life expectancy for a wild orca male is approximately 30 years, with an estimated maximum lifespan of about 60.” There is zero evidence to date to even suggest that captive killer whales live anywhere near as long as those in the ocean. Many orcas at SeaWorld have died in their teens, twenties, and often younger.
[. . .] The implication that unlike killer whales in the wild, killer whales in zoos or parks—and specifically Tilikum, the whale involved in Dawn Brancheau’s death—are routinely bullied by other whales. The word “bullying” is meaningless when applied to the behavior of an animal like a killer whale. Whales live in a social setting with a dominance hierarchy, both at SeaWorld and in the wild. They express dominance in a variety of ways, including using their teeth to “rake” other whales, in the open ocean as well as in parks.
First of all, in the open sea, if an orca does not want to be raked, rammed or bitten, the animal has an infinite variety of escape routes, in all three dimensions. Not so at SeaWorld, where they can be and sometimes are repeatedly attacked and harassed by more dominant whales, usually females. [. . .]
For full article, see http://www.takepart.com/article/2013/07/13/killer-whales-cruel-treatment-in-captivity