Since the release of Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s documentary Blackfish in 2013, the way that the world views orcas has undergone an amazing transformation. The documentary revealed the story of the late Tilikum, an orca who was responsible for the death of three humans while being held captive at SeaWorld, and it sparked conversations that many people had never had before. All across the United States, people began asking if creatures as highly intelligent and sentient as orcas truly belonged in captivity, where they are often forced to perform before an audience. As a result of the changing public opinions, not only has SeaWorld seen a steady decline in ticket sales, they have also made enormous changes, such as agreeing to end the captive breeding of orcas in all of its parks. Recently, SeaWorld San Diego officially ended their orca shows. There is no denying that these are huge victories for orcas, but there is still a long road ahead of us if we are to ensure a future for wild orcas.
Recently, United States Congressman Rick Larsen of Washington announced his cosponsorship of the Orca Responsibility and Care Advancement (ORCA). This groundbreaking act would put a permanent end to orca captivity and breeding in the U.S., the capture of wild orcas, and ban the import and export of orcas for the purpose of public display. According to Larsen, “orcas are an iconic and beloved part of Pacific Northwest culture. Passing the ORCA Act will ensure future generations of orcas stay where they belong: in the wild, not in captivity.”
We could not agree more. Captivity is no place for any animal, let alone orcas, who are one of the most intelligent, emotionally complex, and socially sophisticated creatures on this planet. Orca brains are four times larger than human brains and comparatively, the brain lobe that handles the processing of complex emotions is larger in orcas than it is in humans. Orcas in captivity, like Tilikum, have been known to suffer from zoochosis, a mental illness common in captive animals that is identified by pacing, stereotypic behaviors, self-harm, and violent tendencies towards others, including other orcas. SeaWorld has been fighting a losing battle since people began to question the ethics behind keeping orcas in captivity but should an act like ORCA pass, we can ensure a better future for all orcas, wild and captive. Way to go Congressman Larsen!
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