Update: 11/9/15 SeaWorld San Diego has announced plans to phase out its orca shows. It will be creating a more natural habit instead, which it says will open in 2017. Read more at AlJazeera.com.
SeaWorld’s revenue has gone down 84% in profits since the debut of the film Blackfish. The film debuted in 2013 and portrayed a highly critical view of SeaWorld’s treatment of orca whales. The dramatic dip in profits pushed SeaWorld to attempt a massive image overhaul. This attempt didn’t come cheap. Ticket prices were cut and they spent $10 million on a major marketing move. I saw many of the commercials myself, and the trainers and vets talking about the whales came across to me as a cheap ploy to white wash the truth: captivity of wild creatures is wrong. Always has been. Always will be.
The fact that people responded to Seaworld so clearly and so swiftly be taking their dollars elsewhere speaks of a larger shift happening in our collective consciousness.
It wasn’t that long ago that a film like Blackfish would have appealed to only the most hardcore animal lovers. In 1993 one of the biggest films was Free Willy. The theme of the movie? Whales should not be in captivity. It’s cruel and done only for profit. The message was so obvious that even a child could get it, and thus, it was made into a family friendly kid’s film.
The very fact that Free Willy was such a huge hit speaks volumes about how unmoved we were by the sacredness of animals then. Despite the message of the film, there was no national uproar that the star of Free Willy, Keiko, should actually be freed in real life. For the most part, orcas were seen as sources of entertainment. Even when they were being used to entertain us with the message that they should be free.
Keiko was eventually released back into the wild. But even once free, Keiko was not really free. According to a 2003 article in The Telegraph, he remained dependent on humans until the end. Keiko was never able to thrive in the wild and eventually became too ill to eat. He died of pneumonia a year after being released, at the age of 27.
The average lifespan for an orca whale is 50 years, with many orcas living well into their 80's. Although you will find reports to the contrary, studies show the orcas at Seaworld have an average lifespan of 41 years. That's not much shorter than the average in the wild - but that's hardly any reason to pat Seaworld on the back. A life of imprisonment, no matter how long, is still a life stolen.
If the backlash to SeaWorld wasn’t enough to make us wonder if we’re changing, the recent reviling of Walter Palmer, Cecil the lion’s killer, is further evidence we’re finally waking up to what we should have realized long ago: animals are not here for our entertainment and selfish use. They aren’t here for us to keep in cages and tanks, and they certainly aren’t here for us to hunt down for trophies. The fact that there was an uproar, rather than a mass movement of looking the other way, is very telling of our changing attitudes.
As a comparison, Tedddy Roosevelt was a passionate big game hunter. He did this for sport, and amassed quiet a collection of rhino, lion and elephant trophies. There was no national outcry that he be shunned and treated as a pariah, a la Walter Palmer. Rather, he became our top leader and later a beloved member of our nation's history.
The question behind all of this is, why the change? What shifted us into feeling more compassion for animals and the natural world?
The answer seems to lie in the fact that we are becoming more compassionate in general. As an example, anti-bullying movements have been spreading across the country. Bullying has come to the forefront of our minds because so many of us no longer have tolerance for that kind of behavior.
Perhaps just as important as the compassion we are extending to others, is the fact that we’re learning to be more compassionate to ourselves. Self-love, self-forgiveness and self-compassion have become huge topics. It’s often said that how you treat yourself is how you treat others. So if we’re learning to treat ourselves with kindness and respect, than we’re going to project that outwards.
What I find most amazing about the SeaWorld story is it’s a reminder that each individual person does have power. We cast our opinions every day with the dollars we spend.
It’s wonderful and encouraging to see that not only are we becoming more compassionate and heartfelt, but we’re walking the talk. We’re withholding money from companies we know do not treat animals as the sacred beings that they are. This is hopefully only the beginning. We’ve made a big step as a society in our rejection of SeaWorld’s actions, but we still have a long ways to go in both how we treat animals, and how important it is to see all lives as sacred and worthy of our respect and love.
In a world where it’s easy to ask ourselves time and again, Why bother? it’s uplifting to finally be getting some assurance that change does happen. It’s easy to feel that as an individual we don’t make a difference. But we do, and we make that difference in all of our daily actions and choices. The more each one of us chooses kindness and compassion over something else, the more we engage in a positive ripple effect. Eventually, we reach something that is called a critical mass. A critical mass is a tipping point, a moment when we can see our collective energy and focus has shifted in a new direction. It’s a moment when a movie like Blashfish isn’t ignored, but instead results in a powerful response from society.
This isn’t a perfect world, but the fact that we are waking up, shifting, and choosing different is proof that we can have a better world.
A world full of kindness and love. A world where not only all people feel supported and wanted, but one in which all of the animals, from the majestic to the miniature, are treated as sacred and honored beings also. We're beginning to live in a world where we recognize everything really is connected, and every part of this world is important, valuable and divine. This is a world full of not only hope for a better future, but of actual belief that things are changing and improving, and belief is a powerful thing.