When Tilly was two years old he was captured in the wild-- just swimming with his mother in the ocean one minute, and the next he was literally being chased down by boats and pulled away from his mother's side by a net. In the movie, an orca hunter expresses his deep regret over capturing numerous whales years ago. (see below).
Baby Tilikum-- scared, confused, terrified-- was hoisted onto the boat with other babies and shipped to a shoddy marine amusement park in Canada. His life changed forever from that day forward, and he never saw his mother or anyone else in his family again. And he never will. This was 1983, and Tilikum is still in captivity. It's been 30 long, miserable years. It reminds me of the recent horrible case where three girls were kidnapped and held hostage for years in that house of horrors in Cleveland. Just like them, Tilikum was also kidnapped.
Whales are one of the most social animals on the planet. In the wild, they live in close family pods-- the adult offspring stay with their mothers forever. They can travel up to 100 miles a day, so can you imagine what it must be like for them to live in a tiny, concrete pool at SeaWorld day in and day out? Just like humans, whales have a limbic system in their brain that's responsible for emotions, however in whales the limbic system is extended, so scientists believe that they possess emotions that we can't even begin to understand. The complexity of their emotions goes way beyond what humans even feel. The suffering they must experience in captivity is inconceivable.
When Tilikum was first captured thirty years ago, and sent to a Canadian marine park, he was bullied by the other whales. Whales in captivity have no relation to eachother-- they're just thrown together in unnatural groups. This causes stress and confusion, so often the whales engage in a behavior called "raking" where they aggressively bite/scratch one another, causing bloody wounds that resemble long rake marks. Tilikum was severely raked while at this park. I think the most heartbreaking part of the documentary was hearing about (and seeing) where Tilly spent most of his time....for many years. Everyday when the park closed (from 5pm to 7am the next morning) Tilly was put into a small, underwater steel box where he couldn't even turn around. It was pitch black. A torture chamber. I can't imagine the frustration, stress and loneliness that he must've felt all alone at night?
A former SeaWorld trainer in the film remembers one of the babies, Kalina, being separated from her mother, Katina in the tank in the middle of the night. She was shipped to another park where she'll likely spend the next 40 years living in a concrete pool and performing for visitors, just like her mother. The trainer remembers that this mother whale was always so quiet, but on the night that her baby was taken and the days following, he heard noises come from her that he'd never heard before. Screeching, screaming, crying. After that, she floated for hours every day in the corner of the pool just shaking.
If you are a mother or a father (or grandparent, aunt, uncle, or any human being), please don't support this industry that treats animals as mere property, with no regard for their emotional (and physical) well-being. Don't buy a ticket or give your money to places like this. SeaWorld tears families apart, and deprives one of the most social creatures on the planet a natural life in the ocean. By taking kids to places like SeaWorld, we teach them that it's OK to use animals for our entertainment-- and to forcefully take them out of their wild environment, separate them from their families, imprison them in tiny unnatural enclosures and force them to do tricks for paying customers by depriving them of food. If we want to teach our kids how majestic and wonderful whales are, take them whale-watching.
My Friend Whale by Simon James
Here Come the Humpbacks by April Pulley Sayre
The Whales' Song by Dyan Sheldon
The Secret World of Whales by Charles Siebert
Baby Whales Drink Milk by Barbara Juster Esbensen