Learning the language

You may or may not have seen Black Fish, a documentary that looks at the serious issues surrounding training killer whales at Sea World.

If you haven’t, you should.

In a nutshell, the documentary follows the tragic life story of Tilikum, a whale captive since youth, all the way to the point where he killed a trainer.

Interestingly, the documentary does not label Tilikum as inherently dangerous, but rather warped by years in tough, constrained environments. It is equally interesting that the trainers are depicted as caring, and having deep emotional connections with their whales. This is not a documentary about placing blame, but about giving facts, even when not everyone wants them to be spread about.

Two killer whales jump above the sea surface, showing their black, white and grey coloration. The closer whale is upright and viewed from the side, while the other whale is arching backward to display its underside.
Killer whales jumping

I agree with the message of the documentary; keeping such large animals captive in those conditions is detrimental to everyone involved. As we see, multiple trainers have been injured or killed and the pods from which the whales are taken mourn the loss of their young ones.The whales themselves suffer because we still do not understand them completely.

This is the aspect I’m most interested in: understanding the whales.

In one part, the documentary talks about how each whale pod uses an entirely separate language to communicate with others in the pod. It also speculates that this might be the reason whales in captivity do not get along so well, often physically harming one another. If they cannot understand each other, they cannot get along.

I tried to do my own research on killer whales, and to my surprise, there isn’t actually a whole lot to be found. They are still relatively unknown creatures, particularly in the wild. So how could it ever be assumed safe to take such a large, mysterious animal out of its natural environment and put it under high amounts of stress?

Unfortunately, our lack of understanding of animals is not restricted to killer whales. If you look hard enough, almost all our interactions with animals are plagued with incidences of harm caused by our inability to understand them, even though we think we are showing care. Examples include race-horse whipping and poorly equipped zoos with good intentions.

What’s the solution?

More research. Lots and lots of research. The more we know, the better we can interact. As much as Black Fish shows us a terrible situation, it does also represent progress. Our understanding is ever increasing. We have higher standards for abattoirs, an emphasis on free-range foods and wildlife parks whose emphasis is solely on conservation and research. Much of the world is against whaling.

The more we understand, the better we can treat the animals in our world. And the fact that we are starting to realise that is a very good sign. 

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2 thoughts on “Learning the language”

  1. Hi Ainsley, great post, it was really well written! 🙂 I too found Black Fish highly confronting and informative.
    I really like how you linked the film to the solution of ‘Research.’ Knowledge is power! Hopefully there is more research and stories on animal rights violations so these abuses can be stopped and we can start to change the way animals have been represented and treated.

  2. Hi Ainsley,

    You’ve written a great post that incorporates some great ideas and suggestions about animals in captivity. I agree that more research and understanding into animal behaviour is required but hopefully our first step can be treating animals like they matter, and to recognise and act when we (the trainers) see signs of stress and/or unnatural behaviour like Tilikum showed in the film. Hopefully this will change in the future, and we can find better ways to accommodate and treat animals in captivity.

    I liked how you highlighted that the key of the film is not about passing the blame but making people aware of the facts, no matter how negative or horrible it may be. This is so important and can be said about a lot of issues in the media at the moment.

    I would have liked to see more theories and research (maybe some facts) incorporated into the blog post, but overall, you did a fantastic job. Your choice of words, use of pictures and YouTube videos were visually interesting and encouraged me to read on. Well done!

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