Who are the animals that have most inspired people in 2013 to add their voices to the growing movement for animals? Leading up to the end of the year, AWP is celebrating the causes, campaigns and characters that have been at the forefront of helping make history for animals. Each day until the end of the year (apart from Christmas Day and Boxing Day) we’ll be focusing on another story. Please share far and wide to help spread the good news for animals.
Day 2: Tilikum the Orca
It may be that 2013 is the year when documentary film-making in the aid of animals came of age. While the incredible Earthlings has been around for nearly ten years, it was in 2013 that a phalanx of new and powerful films advocating for animals really took hold of people’s imaginations.
While the incredible The Ghosts in Our Machine has yet to reach an international audience, and Extinction Soup (about shark finning) is still in production, no film has had greater impact this year than Blackfish. It is a documentary directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite and tells the story of Tilikum, an orca held by SeaWorld, and the impact on wild, social mammals held captive for entertainment.
Tilikum was captured as a two-year-old calf by hunters off Iceland in 1983 and sold to Sealand of the Pacific in Canada. Instead of swimming 100 miles a day in the ocean with the rest of his pod, Tilikum was kept in a small pool with two unrelated, bullying females.
He has been implicated in three deaths of trainers, including that of Dawn Brancheau, 40, in front of an audience in February 2010.
The film graphically illustrates the mental and physical suffering of such a social, large creature, kept in the equivalent of a bathtub for thirty years and forced to do tricks for human audiences, all to make his ‘owners’ at SeaWorld a profit.
SeaWorld has refused to accept the claims of the film—although an American court has now ruled that, following the incidents, SeaWorld cannot put trainers back into the water with orcas. And the backlash from the film has been unprecedented, with a number of acts due to perform at SeaWorld cancelling their shows, as well as falling visitor numbers.
In the UK it is not illegal to keep cetaceans such as orca and dolphins in captivity. However, there have been none since 1993. The latest guidance from the government on modern zoo practice came out in 2012, and would allow their captivity if managed under strict guidance. This is obviously something the Animal Welfare Party strongly opposes (see our manifesto).
The UK has one of the most populated waters in the world for cetaceans – of the 85 known species, 25 can be found in UK waters, including orca and occasionally, as with this year along the North East coast, the humpback whale.
But their populations are under threat from climate change, pollution, overfishing, huge fishing nets, marine noise from ships, and strikes from ships. A number of charities are working to support marine mammal conservation in the UK, including Whale and Dolphin Conservation and ORCA Your Seas.
Orcas are themselves classed as ‘endangered’ by the IUCN.
Most importantly, whales and dolphins need political representation to help strengthen legislation, and in particular create more Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs). Although an initial 127 were proposed around the coast of the UK, only 27 have been brought into existence in England. Similar policies exist in Scotland and Wales.
For Tilikum in America the story continues. He is still held in captivity for entertainment purposes – 21 of the 42 orca kept in captivity are in America. In 2014, the story could get worse, as Russia plans to take orca from the wild for entertainment purposes at the opening of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics.
Can you make 2014 an even safer place for whales like Tilikum by becoming a visionary for animals? Support the Animal Welfare Party’s campaign in the EU Elections in May. If you live in London you can PLEDGE TO VOTE, and if you live anywhere and care about animals you can support us in our campaign to raise funds. Fundraising is crucial in our efforts to make history for animals. Make the difference now.
Image of orca © Andrew Reding