Five years ago, I visited the most magical theme park ever. At least that is what I thought. It was SeaWorld in Florida, a place where whales, dolphins and seals jumped, danced and performed astonishing tricks to entertain a laughing crowd.
Since then, I have learnt more about how those wild creatures find themselves in these watery circuses.
In 1983, a killer whale was hunted down in the North Atlantic. They called him Tilikum. He was placed in a Canadian theme park and immediately trained to do humiliating tricks, such as flapping his fins and diving out of the water for a couple of fish.
Being young, Tilikum did not perfect each stunt the first time. Keepers would withhold food from all the orcas when any performed incorrectly. As a consequence, Tilikum’s accompanying female whales soon resented him and started to harm him in a confined space. He became agitated. The constant lack of food and biting from fellow whales rapidly led to a disturbed upbringing. It turned him into a killer.
SeaWorld Orlando was quick to purchase the male orca, purely to reproduce. Once he arrived at his new home, the abuse by other whales continued and was inescapable in his enclosure.
Tourist Daniel Dukes ventured into SeaWorld, after hours, and took his clothes off for a secret ‘magical’ experience with the whales. The next morning he was discovered dead. He was found in Tilikum’s waterlogged prison. It was reported that he had ‘drowned’.
After Daniel’s death it became clear that Tilikum was not killing because he was savage, but because he was aggravated.
One trainer, Dawn Brancheau, seemed to connect best with Tilikum. That was about to change. One day, during a rehearsal prior to the show, Tilikum was not rewarded for his efforts. The trainer tripped and was killed by the whale she had devoted her life to. Ultimately, both deaths were caused by a refusal to supply food, used as sanctions. Finally in 2012 a law introduced barriers, which trainers have to be behind when with the orcas.
Today, I’ve learnt some harsh truths regarding the treatment of such majestic animals and the sad facts of human tragedy. Thinking back to when I was 11 years old, I am ashamed to say I helped SeaWorld make a profit. Since then, I have watched the documentary ‘Blackfish’. It has truly opened my mind to the awful treatment. Hatred has bubbled inside me concerning the wellbeing of killer whales. Despite common views, it is not a whale’s instinct to kill. There are no cases of human deaths caused by orcas in the wild.
These theme parks make colossal amounts of money from pure cruelty. Advising people to avoid such a famous venue is something I will try to do. Orcas do not belong in plastic tanks. They belong in the ocean.
Georgia Wisker is a student at King Edward VI School, Bury St Edmunds