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!)
Good food, free medicare, mental stimulation, and exercise
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.
Good food, free medicare, mental stimulation, and exercise:
SeaWorld also claims it provides “restaurant-quality fish, exercise, veterinary care, mental stimulation, and the company of other members of their species.” Not to quibble, so silly is the claim overall—but a live salmon caught and swallowed by a wild orca is fresher than what is served in a restaurant.
What is more relevant is that the diet and all else experienced by the captive orca is contrived, alien, and fundamentally different from what is experienced in the wild, at all levels. In the wild, the orca is part of site-specific, complex, interactive, dynamic food chains. Choice of diet, which can include everything from small organisms to chunks of large whales, depends on a multifaceted suite of ever-changing, interacting factors that can never be replicated in a tank. Both the wild orca and the other species sharing its natural habitat affect each other.
The ability of the orca to feed is dependent on the energy derived from the food equaling the energy expended in capturing the food, and all other aspects of living. The less food, the greater the output of energy, until a state of diminishing returns occurs, with a subsequent decrease in orcas—manifested as a decrease in fecundity, immigration to more fruitful locations, or starvation. That is why, in a naturally evolved predator-prey relationship, it is the amount of prey that determines the survivability of the predator. None of this becomes evident from seeing captive orcas, who are simply fed via the same methodology that has done such a horrifically efficient job of destroying so many of the world’s fish stocks: the commercial fishing industry. Predators don’t deplete their prey; humans, being independent of the caloric value of the prey (by virtue of their unique access to technology), do!
We know that this is a rather esoteric point to be made, but we think it is important to emphasize that there is nothing natural about providing food for captive wildlife. While it’s true that wild animals don’t have access to veterinary care, wild orcas have less need (excepting those victimized by circumstances, such as the methodologies used to capture orcas, and, ironically, the methodologies used to obtain the food that is fed to captive orcas). Both fish nets and fish farms are shown to be deleterious to the environments orcas inhabit, the natural prey they consume, and, in the case of nets, perhaps directly to the orcas themselves. (Certainly, many other cetaceans have become entangled in such nets.)
And, as for providing exercise and “mental stimulation,” we doubt any but the most obtusely uninformed reader of SeaWorld propaganda would believe that what orcas can experience in captivity in any way resembles what is available to them in the wild. We will simply say that, in the wild, an orca can swim up to thirty miles per hour in a straight line for as long as he wishes, without crashing into a wall or anything else. While orcas tend to occupy home ranges of suitable habitat, there are thousands of miles of open sea available to them. How does that compare to a tank at SeaWorld?