(Author's note: pay attention to the lies in "Blackfish." 1) Footage of Tilikum mixed in with footage of Trua, Tilikum's grandson, and no narration or graphics to indicate you're looking at different whales; 2) the myth that wild orca are non-violent and don't "rake" or hurt one another but "captive ones do"-- it's just that, a myth, as raking is a form of discipline with mothers and calves; 3) footage of an orca coming out "towards" a trainer during a show--this was actually a staged "slideout" action during the older format of the SeaWorld show, and not an attack on a trainer; 4) the SeaWorld-centric attack all but ignores the orca in Japan, Argentina, and France and skirts over Loro Parque.)
Thanks to the movie "Blackfish," SeaWorld is now under renewed demand to free its captive animals, particularly the orcas.
But has anyone, in this current "free the whales" hysteria based on a "SeaWorld"-centric documentary (which handily ignores dealing with the whales being kept in Argentina, France and Japan, and skirts over the Spanish Loro Parque captive orcas), actually looked at the practical side of release, and what it's going to take? Or are they so obsessed with the idea of dropping these creatures back into the ocean that the concept of long-term survival is irrelevant? Is it even remotely fair for them to "die free!" from starvation--and how can anyone propose such a thing with a clear conscience, and say that it's in the "best interests of the animal"? We've already made the mistake of pulling them out of the ocean. We have no right to simply dump them back in and abandon their needs--that is not compassion.
Okay. So, the big idea being thrown around is to find a sea pen, right? To find a bay in the arctic waters of Iceland, close it off by some fencing or netting material, and keep the orcas safe in that bay. So they can feel the natural rhythms of the ocean. So they can be rehabilitated for possible release. Right? Well, aside from the fact that it's just a dream and there are ABSOLUTELY NO SOLID PLANS in place (sorry, folks, you've been duped by an idea with no backing!), here's the question...
WHO IS GOING TO PAY FOR IT?
Ever think of that? Who is going to be paying out millions of dollars for this property--and that's millions of dollars PER YEAR for some twenty, thirty, forty or even fifty years--in order to care for the orcas?
WHAT ARE THE PROBLEMS?
1 - Moving the whales. It's estimated that it cost somewhere between $8 and $15 million dollars just to move Keiko from Mexico up to Oregon for rehab, and then to his new home in Iceland. There are some 42 whales in captivity right now. That's $630 million dollars, and that's based on the late '90s economic standards. Give me a name. Who do you know, Save the Whalers, that have that kind of money? And that's just the cost for MOVING them, never mind...
2 - Feeding the whales. Who's going to be providing food for the whales? They eat about 8-10% of their body weight every day. Who has the ability to provide them with a never-ending supply of food? Because in a sea pen, it will take no time at all for them to hunt out all the fish that swim there, and if they cannot be released due to medical conditions or an inability to adapt to their new environments, then they'll have to continue to be hand-fed. Who is going to pay for the transportation costs of shipping fish and squid all the way to wherever the animals are being held, year after year?
3 - Providing medical care. These whales will get sick. An animal can't be put in a box and a sling, shipped across the planet, then dropped off into new waters and expected to immediately thrive. There is going to be illness and disease among them, and who is going to pay to send a veterinarian or two up to Iceland? Who is going to pay for MRI and ultrasound equipment, for medications, for needles and plungers to give injections of everything from vitamins to antibiotics? Where is the billionaire savior for this task?
4 - Purchasing property. You think Iceland is just going to donate a prime fishing bay, out of the goodness of their hearts, for this purpose? No, someone with money is going to have to RENT or BUY the land. Once that land is signed over, then facilities for the trainers and staff at that location will need to be built. At the very least, there will have to be buildings to house orca-related items (i.e. toys), a building for a medical office (where veterinarians can have their equipment and concentrate on treating both orcas and humans), a dock for several boats for observation and transportation, housing facilities, etc. So who is going to build all of this, hmmmm?
5 - Providing rehab. The captive orcas will need extensive rehab--that's a fact. Keiko, in poor physical condition, needed to be taught how to hunt, and even how to hold his breath for a long time, and that took years. Who is going to purchase items for the orcas' recoveries? How many different personnel will have to be on hand to teach and study them as they're reintroduced back to the wild? What equipment will they need?
6 - Building the sea pen. That'll cost money. A pen will need to be constructed that will both allow water and smaller creatures in and out of the bay, and yet strong enough to keep the orcas in. You'll need to hire an architect to get it right, because this is an unprecedented creation. You'll need to ship materials and laborers to the isolated site, along narrow and unpaved roads and/or by sea, and that will cost as well; not many companies are going to be willing to take a trip to the middle of nowhere without adequate compensation. Bear in mind, the Keiko pen cost $3.5 billion dollars a year.
7- Supporting staff at the property. Who is going to pay for therapist/trainers to go up to live in Iceland? Who is going to provide those trainers with a paycheck, with overtime pay, and with vacations? Certainly you can't transplant people up there for the rest of their lives, away from friends and family. There are issues of providing them with plumbing, heating, computer technology installations, furniture... and again, this would require shipping personnel and possessions north to some isolated location... so c'mon, what's your solution for that one?
SeaWorld, for all their "evil" nature in the eyes of animal rights activists right now, is the ONLY corporation that is capable of doing this incredible feat of rehab and release. In the long run, years from now, when whatever plan is implemented in the care and feeding of the orcas that were once in SeaWorld's park, only SeaWorld will be able to provide for these beautiful creatures. I dare you to find another corporation or private backer up to the challenge.
Want to free the whales? Here's the key: START SMALL AND TAKE IMMEDIATE ACTION. And you know what it'll take to do that? It means you have to do your homework. Formulate a plan ON PAPER--budget EVERYTHING and work out the logistics of having all the above happen. Look past the current "Blackfish" furor and present a workable plan with a REAL LOCATION and a REAL BUDGET to prove that your theories can work. Move out of dreamland and into reality. And then focus on freeing those orca in France and Spain and Japan before you tackle the ones in America.
And the whale to start this mission with is in the theme park in Argentina. He is Kshamenk (father of Makani, in SeaWorld San Diego). He is alone, with only dolphins for company, in water that's too warm and a tank that is too small. Have him moved and rehabilitated. Don't hide behind your comments sections on computers and hate on SeaWorld and demand their closure, when there are worse facilities that need to be tackled first.
You give SeaWorld a working plan and show them how you can set up a sea pen and care for an orca in that pen, and then we can all talk about shutting down SeaWorld. And I say "show them" because that, in itself, will cost money to get expert documentation that such things can be done. But for now, SeaWorld is the ONLY ones with the cash to make this happen and the ONLY ones with the medical and training expertise to keep these animals safe for years to come. The end result is not ideal, in that some of the captive whales (like the toothless Corky 2) will remain in the parks and have to work to help the others (Tilikum, for example) be free, because it's SeaWorld ticket sales that are going to generate the cash needed to make everything happen.
Is it a pleasant scenario? No, but it's a realistic one. The hair-brained idea of having "whale-watching" trips pay for the whales' captivity in Iceland or Norway is NOT realistic. Do YOU have the money to visit two or three times a year, and keep that facility going based on your tourist dollars? Do your friends? I highly doubt it. In no time whatsoever, the sea pen facilities would be financially struggling. And, again, that's a DREAM IDEA. "Oh, once we get everything set up, we'll be able to have whale watching!"
It's time to IMPLEMENT ideas, not fling around scenarios and wanna-be circumstances. Get real, use Kshamenk as a test case and move him out of his inadequate facility, and show the world what it will take to arrange this whole whale-freedom process. In other words? Wake up and smell the krill.