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Animals in Confinement

Trapped, lonely, scared, and bored: everyday, thousands of animals feel this way and are developing emotional and mental problems. Also everyday, visitors pass these animals and think their acts out of stress are simply normal. VeganPeace says this about a family passing by an elephant who was pacing out of stress: "I also overheard a little girl ask what the elephant was going. Her mother answered that the elephant was 'dancing.'" Many people have no idea what animals go through each day in zoos, circuses, and marine parks. It is not fair to these animals, because they have no say in how they are treated or where they are placed to live.

Orcas in the wild are awe-inspiring creatures; they are simply fascinating. They have far more complex emotional systems than other mammals, including humans. In the wild, female Orcas live to around 100 years old and males live to 65 years. Orcas stay with their parents for their entire lives. Orca researcher Howard Garrett says there is every indication that orcas use a language of their own. These 8,000 pound creatures gracefully swim about 100 miles a day! These gentle giants are known to be friendly when spotted in the wild, and have no record of injuring anyone. In captivity it is a different story, one that a male orca, Tilikum, had to face. Tilikum's story is just one example of how animals can be treated in a marine park.

Tilikum was captured from the wild in 1983. John Crowe, former diver and orca capturer for SeaWorld, tells the story of how they would go about taking the baby whales in Washington. The males would try to swim off in another direction from the mother and babies, in hope to distract the people. The females were spotted in a bay, and separated from their babies with nets. Knowing the emotional complexity of these animals and their life span, this would be like a kidnapper stealing a young child. The pod could have left, but instead they stayed as close as they could be to their babies. John recalls the sounds the female orcas had made to their babies: “I lost it, I just started crying… It's like kidnapping a kid from its mother."

In 1976, Sea Land was told not to come back to Washington to take orcas. They moved on to the North Atlantic, where they found Tilikum. He was moved from the wide open spaces of the ocean and away from his family to a 20 x 30 x 30 ft. high, dark metal pool. The whales were there for ⅔ of their lives. Former director of Sea land Steve Huxter says “It didn't feel good, it just didn't, it was just wrong." This unnatural setting caused the females to gang up on Tilikum and attack him, causing many rakes to Tilikum’s body. “It probably led to psychoses... Triggery to kill,” said one unnamed trainer.

On February 20, 1991, headlines went up at Sea Land of the Pacific. Kelty Burn, an orca trainer, was killed by Tilikum. Corinne Cowell and Nadine Kallen visited Sea Land of the Pacific that day. They said they saw her boot dip into the water, and then she slipped in. Tilikum grabbed hold of her foot and held her under for long periods of time.

The incident led to the closing of Sea Land, but the orcas were worth millions of dollars. Tilikum was sold to SeaWorld for a breeding program. His new cage was 100 x 50 ft. and 50 feet deep; this was a bathtub compared to the ocean. Again, he was immediately attacked by female whales, and because of this he was isolated. Sadly, he has taken the lives of two more people while at SeaWorld. Just as you would not breed an aggressive pit bull, Tilikum should not have been bred, but he was. Now 54 percent of orcas in SeaWorld have his genes.

Tilikum remains at SeaWorld today despite his history, the size of his cage, and his unhappiness. He is trapped and has not seen his home or his family for over 25 years. He fights stress, depression, and loneliness. These giant, gentle, beautiful, and graceful creatures have turned into massive, stressed, unpredictable, and depressed prisoners. They may speak to other orcas, but they can not speak to humans. Or can it be humans were never listening? Orcas have been screaming in any way they can. Tilikum, Corky, Packy: just three names of the thousands of animals in zoos, aquariums, marine parks, and circuses. They are meant to be in the wild and free. We will never fully understand the extent of emotional and social capabilities of these creatures, so we do not know how badly it can harm them when they are in confinement. Many people pay to get in to these places, but the animals pay the real cost.


Black Fish. Dir. Gabriela Cowperthwaite. Perf. Tilikum. BlackFish. Gabriela Cowperthwaite, n.d. Web.

Embar, Wanda. "Zoos." Vegan Peace. Wanda Embar, 2004. Web. 05 Jan. 2017.

Newkirk, Ingrid. "Tilikum, Subject of 'Blackfish,' Is PETA's Animal of the Year." PETA. Ingrid Newkirk, n.d. Web. 05 Jan. 2017.

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