The changing attitudes towards the use of captive animals in travel-related theme parks is, to me, a fascinating subject, and one for which I have a deep sense of shame. Some years ago, I attended the show at Sea World in Orlando, Florida, that featured the antics of a giant orca whale called Shamu. I was mightily entertained and affected by that animal's performance, and actually wrote that the Shamu show was one to which parents should bring their children. It provided an educational insight. I claimed, into the secrets of nature.
In the same way that many Americans have changed their attitudes towards same sex marriage, I now believe that to keep these large mammals in captivity is an immoral act. And that practice will be brought into renewed public awareness by a class action lawsuit that a shareholder of Sea World has brought against the theme park corporation in which he holds stock. The captivity of orca whales will soon be widely discussed as a result of this litigation, even though the lawsuit involves not the morality of the practice but the claim that Sea World wrongly concealed the damage it sustained because of growing public opposition to shows involving orca whales.
The orca whale (sometimes known as a killer whale) is a giant marine mammal, 3 to 4 tons in weight and sometimes as large as 26 feet in length. In its natural habitat, the orca whale inhabits a sort of community structure, and engages in highly intelligent patterns of foraging for food with its companion whales. Orcas often live with their mothers throughout their life, and exhibit other characteristics that some biologists believe show they are social, thinking creatures. The brain of the orca whale is the second largest in any maritime animal.
Orcas perform in daily shows at Sea Worlds in San Diego, San Antonio, and Orlando, Florida. Animals that swim as many as 100 miles a day in their natural, ocean environment, are kept in small pens at these theme parks, in close proximity to other orcas.
Slightly more than a year ago, a documentary filmmaker released a work entitled "Blackfish" (orcas are sometimes called "blackfish"), claiming that to keep orcas in captivity is an inhumane and outrageous act. The film attracted a large audience of people, who subsequently became vocal in their opposition to such captivity.
Now it should be pointed out that the positions taken by "Blackfish" are forcefully denied by the Sea World organization. Sea World disputes many of the factual allegations in that film, and controversy has raged ever since between defenders of orca captivity and opponents of it.
But aside from the specific points of controversy, I now feel instinctively that orca captivity is an obvious cruelty that should be banned. And I, for one, will no longer visit any Sea World as long as the practice is continued. To keep a giant marine animal confined to an area so radically different from its normal habitat, is something that civilized people should not countenance (the same applies to the captivity of other advanced and large animals in the world's zoos).
This is a travel issue, because orca whales are the key attraction in theme parks catering in the main to travelers visiting those parks. And I would hope that other travel writers will endorse this vote of outrage against such obvious cruelty.