Monday, July 29, 2013

"Blackfish": The orca should not be kept in captivity for human entertainment; this "animal" is our moral equal

Blackfish”, a new documentary by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, examines the morally problematic nature of the entire marine mammal entertainment industry, particularly through the lens of one Florida company, Sea World, and a male orca (killer whale) Tilikum, who has killed three trainers, most recently Dawn Brancheau in February 2010.
The orca may be the most intelligent creature on the planet besides man, an "alien" among us commanding our seas, where we can sail but not live ourselves.  The “convergent evolution” of cetacean and primate intelligence in formerly separate environments on the same planet is seen as evidence that, in the right conditions, intelligent life will develop if conditions are right.  The killer whale is large because he is supported by water.  He or she does not have the ability to make tools with hands like man does. Instead,, the animal has the biological equivalent of wireless Internet (a concept developed in James Cameron’s “Avatar”) built into sonar, a capability that human underwater navigation sometimes interferes with.  We have two or multiple kinds of animals on this planet with about the same personal  "soul" sentience and intelligence, creating moral problems the likes of which we have hardly contemplated.  Capturing orcas for entertainment sounds like the moral equivalent of slavery.
This sort of political and moral dilemma is likely to be common on other planets with intelligent life.  Human beings are lucky that the races are all so similar biologically.

The orcas live in close family groups, and adults never leave their mothers.  Different pods also make different sounds that seem like the logical equivalent of human languages. 

Yet, marine mammal entertainment parks tear individuals away from their families and mix them with other animals with whom they cannot communicate.

The film covers an OHSA trial in Florida, which winds up requiring Sea World to keep the orcas apart from the trainers by physical barriers.

Many former trainers speak in the film.  They do have conscience pangs -- they had to believe in what they were doing, and couldn't bite the hand that fed them (figuratively).  The company is necessarily mum on the issue.  If you work in management in an adversarial situation, you don't have the freedom to speak publicly.

The Los Angeles Times has an interesting story about his movie here
Magnolia Pictures offers an official site here.

"CNN Films" has purchased the rebroadcast rights and will air the film Oct. 24, 2013.

I saw the film at Landmark E Street on  Sunday night, small auditorium, and it sold out. 

Wikipedia attribution link for Miami Seaquarium picture. This is NOT the same facility as the Sea World in the film, which also mentions and shows an affiliated facility in the Canary Islands, Spain. 

Update: Sept. 10, 2015

Check this article by Alva Hope Rutlin on orca intelligence and social behavior, here. Or this article, "Killer whales are non-human persons", here.  Cetaceans (descended from hoofed animals 50 million years ago, when they returned to the ocean for "free fish") have evolved, independently of humans, to about our level of brain power -- a strong case for intelligent life developing elsewhere in the universe. They are the closest thing to "aliens" we know -- and we barely really know how to communicate with them, in any kind of psychological depth. 

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