In California I visited a certain 'theme' park that houses various animals normally found in the sea. The main attraction are the immense, but loveable, killer whales (or orcas).
On arrival at the killer whale tank, we quickly realised that the whales were putting on a bit of a show of their own; much to the embarrassment of the park staff member who was sticking firmly to her script and talking about other, non sex related, whale facts.
The whales are spectacular, I have seen them before, but I was 12 and can't really remember it. We were at the tank for quite a while, watching them swim around. They are so huge, but graceful.
I'm not sure which particular whales these were (I know there are people that can identify individual whales from the parks). I am not sure if they were both male (one clearly is), or if one was female and I don't know if this is normal behaviour for them.
The Official Performance
We watched the 'official' shows where the whales splash the crowd and jump in time to music, they were impressive, but I did find them uncomfortable. I preferred watching the whales in their normal tank.
It made me think about captivity, education, entertainment and conservation. SeaWorld push the 'one ocean' message throughout the park and happily talk about their animal rescue and rehabilitation efforts, but what about the animals in the parks, trained to entertain the crowds?
Since then I have been trying to read more about these kinds of parks and marine creatures in captivity. I find most articles to be fairly polarised and either take the view that they are completely evil, or that that they are amazing and do lots of wonderful things for the world (I suspect, most of this is fuelled by a highly trained PR team).
I want to find more of a balanced view, if there is one. What do SeaWorld and other parks really do for research, conservation and education? Have they made a difference? They are, after all, a profit driven organisation. Would it be better for purely charitable organisations to do this work? Or would they not be able to create the same impact that SeaWorld does?
I did find some websites if you are interested in reading more:
The Orca Project
Tim Zimmerman (who has written quite a lot on Sea World)
Sea World Website - link to the killer whale reproduction page