I loved chatting with Sharksavers about the upcoming JAWS benefit, but what really defined my day was seeing “Blackfish” the documentary about orcas in captivity. When I left the Arclight theatre I remembered something an activist once said about elephants in the circus. He’d been detailing the tedium experienced by these intelligent creatures that are chained for 20-some odd hours a day: “I still can’t figure out how they conceive of time.”
What of Tilikum, the killer whale featured prominently in “Blackfish”, an emotionally damaged animal who has killed three people, but who still performs for the delighted crowds in SeaWorld Orlando? While my days unfold with routine, but also stimulation, freedom, possibility, Tilikum with his defeated, collapsed dorsal fin performs humiliating tricks, swims in circles in a swimming pool, and listens to the delighted shrieks of school children through the glass. I imagine the only pleasurable moment in this whale’s life is when SeaWorld employees collect his sperm to produce more calves that will also be wrenched from their mothers if the price is right.
Torn from his mother at age three, does Tilikum ever dream of the brief time he knew limitless seas? Beyond frustration and despair, could these murders he committed be a subconscious wish for the ultimate punishment/freedom– his own death?
I feel haunted. And I should. Susan Sontag once said “Let the images of atrocity haunt us.” Sontag argued that we shouldn’t turn away from pictures of war or death–all the images that remind us of what men do to other men. Nor should we ignore the evidence of what human beings do to non-human creatures. See “Blackfish.”