Why Did Captive False Killer Whale Leap from Show Tank?

After a number of days of ocean exploration and technological seclusion  along the Mendocino coast, I returned to find myself once again shaking my head in disgust.  Good guess, but it’s not about the current environmental calamity in the Gulf but an ocean tragedy that has perpetuated for decades in the name of entertainment.   My disdain for the practice of keeping incredibly intelligent creatures confined in tanks that are the epitome of ‘small’ just keeps growing with each instance that makes its way to the surface.

I first discussed this topic on April 23, 2009 in the post “Ocean-going Genus,” and I am wondering when society will see the light.  Apparently not soon enough as it was not all that long ago when a trainer was killed by a captive orca.  And on July 4th the latest captive marine mammal mishap occurred in Japan (Okinawa) and just so happened to be captured  on a series of videos. 

According to the Associated Press, “The startling footage of the dolphin, a species known as the false killer whale, shows the animal suddenly leaping out of a tank during a July 4 marine show at Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium, in southwestern Japan. An American tourist who was among the spectators shot the footage and sent it to Ric O’Barry.  O’Barry, 70, a former trainer for the “Flipper” TV show who now makes a career out of setting the animals free, made the videos available to The Associated Press.

O’Barry says the videos show a dolphin under stress.  “The habitat of that false killer whale is so unnatural it leaped out in desperation,” he said in a telephone interview from Florida. “It wanted to end it. Why does a person jump out of a building?”

Every documentary I have seen shows nothing less than incredible intelligence as members of a pod utilize teamwork to raise their young and ensure the survival of the group. Plus, most ironically, these are the same characteristics that trainers pass along to cheering crowds as if morality dictates 5 tons of sophisticated ocean-going genius must be confined within concrete walls and rollercoaster backdrops solely for our entertainment.  Yes, I see the Victorian era pseudoscience logic (i.e. money), but shouldn’t we officially abandon a thought process that exterminated the great auk?  Scott Artis on captive orcas (Ocean-going Genus)

I’m not here to pretend that I know or debate the reason why the false killer whale leaped from the tank, but I am steadfast in my belief that the practice of keeping marine mammals in captivity is undoubtedly cruel.  We might be able to meet their physical requirements and sustain life, but we are not at all prepared, informed, or capable of feeding their mental and social needs.  So until Dr. Doolittle gives me a transcript of his one-on-one conversations with captive orcas, false killer whales, etc., I will err on the side of caution that O’Barry’s reasoning makes perfect sense; for humanity’s sake.

About The Author

Scott serves as Director of Development & Communications for Audubon Canyon Ranch (focusing on preservation, education and conservation science) and has almost fifteen years of experience spanning for-profit and nonprofit sectors in biotech, wildlife conservation and management, communications, and philanthropy. In addition to a strong track record in organizational growth and leadership, he is the founder of Urban Bird Foundation and Burrowing Owl Conservation Network, and presided over ECHO Fund, a coastal protection and restoration organization, as President for four years. Scott holds an M.A. in Environmental Studies with a concentration in Sustainable Development and Policy, degrees in Micro & Molecular Biology and Environmental Sciences, and has complemented his studies with a Master's certificate in Environmental Resource Management.

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