SUFB 012: The Science Behind Blackfish and Captive Orcas

By September 2, 2015 January 30th, 2017 Listener Starters Guide

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Speak Up For Blue Podcast

Blackfish opened the eyes of the public to the fact that orcas, also known as killer whales, were suffering in tanks controlled by Sea World and other parks that hold orcas captive. The movie states that these suffering orcas are more likely to cause humans harm and backs the statement up by profiling various whales and there interactions with their human trainers or anyone brave (or in one case dumb enough) to share a tank with these large top predators.

As you read the above, you might be surprised to hear me write those words. You may be wondering if I want to portray orcas as human killers, using people as there play things. That is not the case at all. What I would like you to know and be made aware of is that the animals belong in the wild. Their life histories and physiology require it. There are many people who agree with me; however, there are many people who don’t.

After I watched Blackfish, I went online to see what people were saying about the documentary. There was a clear division in the arguments for and against captive orcas. The people for captive orcas would say that they are a great way to connect the public with these majestic animals. They might be right; however, there are really only 2 questions that we have to ask and answer (in my humble opinion) to determine whether these whales should be help in captivity:

1) Are the whales being harmed physically and mentally?; and,
2) Is it really safe for people to interact with captive and/or wild orca populations (when I say interact, I mean be in the water with them like Sea World Trainors)?

In all honesty, I did not have the expertise to answer that question, but I wanted to find out quickly. I want to ask last week’s guest Dr. Chris Parsons about his thoughts on Blackfish, but we ran out of time talking about marine mammals and the policies that are in place to protect them (it was a great conversation!). After the interview I told him my intentions about what I wanted to ask him. He immediately suggested that I speak to his wife, Dr. Naomi Rose, who is an expert in orca and works for the Animal Welfare Institute in Washington, D.C. Naomi said she was happy to give an interview and we scheduled a time to meet.

I must admit that Naomi gave a great interview discussing wild orca populations and captive whales. In this interview she tells us the science involved in assessing the health of captive orcas as well as wild orcas. We discuss social structure, health, feeding commitments, how SeaWorld’s secrets were unveiled through a court process that resulted in SeaWorld trying to defend itself against OSHA (Occupational Saftey and Health Administration) and more! We even discuss what our ideal SeaWorld would be should it give up its practices of holding orcas captive to create a show for the public.

This is one of the best interviews on the Speak Up For Blue podcast. It’s also the longest; however, I would like ot to listen to the full interview, especially if you like to hear information on orcas.

Enjoy the podcast!!!

Resources Mentioned During this Podcast

Animal Welfare Institute

From The Dolphin’s Point of View

Animal Welfare Institute’s Facebook Page

Blackfish Website

Naomi’s Twitter Account

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Join the discussion 6 Comments

  • Teresa Greenwood says:

    Loved this interview with Naomi Rose….she is amazing. Yes this may have been long, but I enjoyed every minute of this and learned so much.

  • Matt says:

    Just finished this episode after 2 days of commuting.

    I do like the idea of the sanctuary for the Orcas due to it being difficult to release them. I watched Blackfish a while ago, and it does seem obvious that the Orcas (as clever as they are) are fighting back.

    Great interview and keep it up!

  • Andrew Lewin says:

    I’m glad you enjoyed the episode Matt. It does make sense that the orcas would “rebel” as they were not raised as they were suppose to be. I just hope that these wonderful animals get put in a santuary so they could have the taste of the Ocean before it’s too late.

  • Heli Vuorisalo says:

    It’s hard decide where to start saying thoughts about Blackfish or captive great (or small size) marine mammals in general but I believe after even learning so much from classes at university when studied marine mammals in order to learn anything one should really read and learn later from field where these species actually are living . These days it’s quite unnecessary to put a large species in a bowl of water and make them do some tricks the way human expect them to behave or would react just for some wanted way or for worse amusement purposes (it’s purely ill way of learning old stuff). We can read from books all of it without consuming more lives of others if one would just want to. At least that’s noting about leaning about them in captivity – you could study marine mammals (and all species) if one must by observing them in wild especially this size species and protecting their home environment in order to have chance to do so. Just saying humans should be a bit smarter by now at 21st century after having all great access to published research literature and using home computers to access info and some real field trips if one really must “learn” anything and finally take classes about all from evolution to behavior of different species. Separately from every man out there professional researchers could short periodical time have some captives but the point is the gained knowledge goes back to them benefiting marine mammals later for example foraging studies etc. I just had to write this.

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