by Barry Kent MacKay,
Senior Program Associate
Born Free USA's Canadian Representative
Barry is an artist, both with words and with paint. He has been associated with our organization for nearly three decades and is our go-to guy for any wildlife question. He knows his animals — especially birds — and the issues that affect them. His blogs will give you just the tip of his wildlife-knowledge iceberg, so be sure to stay and delve deeper into his Canadian Project articles. If you like wildlife and reading, Barry's your man. (And we're happy to have him as part of our team, too!)
The following blog series is a point-by-point rebuttal to SeaWorld, following SeaWorld's critical reaction to the controversial 2013 documentary, Blackfish. Each blog entry will present an argument made by SeaWorld and a rebuttal by Barry MacKay.
SeaWorld has stated that it does not separate mothers and calves, explaining, “SeaWorld recognizes the important bond between mother and calf. On the rare occasion that a mother killer whale cannot care for the calf herself, we have successfully hand raised and reintroduced the calf. Whales are only moved to maintain a healthy social structure.”
This is horrifically ingenuous. The fact is that orcas, somewhat like elephants, have what is called a matrilineal social structure. Put simply, calves do not voluntarily leave their mothers’ company. Orcas may leave the mother upon maturity to the degree that, via mechanisms not yet understood, “inbreeding” is avoided—but the “society” in which an orca is raised is multi-tiered, with small groups associated with larger assemblies. If an animal is forcibly put in a place where there is no more contact with its mother, its “pod,” or its “clan,” this is “separation” by any conceivable definition of the word.
SeaWorld is not only misrepresenting itself, but it is abusing a 'teaching moment' that would allow the public to better understand the orcas, and learn that pods of interacting matrilineal-related individuals can help each other (with pods inhabited by two or three generations).
And, we also know that if breeding, infant mortality rates, and overall survival rates of orcas in the wild were the same as they are among captive orcas, the species would have become extinct long ago!