John Hargrove, a former orca trainer who left SeaWorld ten years ago, has been speaking out against the keeping of whales and dolphins in captivity.
He appeared in the 2013 documentary Blackfish, where he said, “Physical and psychological damage endured by human prisoners in solitary confinement is well documented. Orcas at amusement parks such as SeaWorld suffer the same fate. I can tell you from my 14 years of experience that I personally witnessed the orcas — as well as other dolphins and marine animals — suffer the same physical and psychological trauma. Imagine spending your entire life trapped in a small enclosure.”
Talking about Tilikum, the Orca who got so upset that killed the keeper Dawn Brancheau in SeaWorld 12 years ago, Hargrove said to PETA, Confinement causes not only chronic health issues but also extreme stress that leads to violent behaviour and deadly attacks. We could determine the levels of stress in their blood, which is why countless orcas were medicated. Tilikum was sold to the highest bidder and placed in grotesquely small tanks. The confinement made him lash out in frustration. He died in his watery prison cell in 2017 — having spent more than three decades deprived of any semblance of natural life. Some visitors, who wouldn’t dream of going to an animal circus, don’t think twice before paying to see dolphins performing tricks. I resigned so I could speak publicly to expose what truly happens to these animals in captivity — the only way to bring about change.”
Hargrove described the way Orcas are kept in Sea World as “prison-like conditions”, but any animal kept in a prison would be living in prison-like conditions. A sea horse in an aquarium, an eagle in a city zoo, or a lion in a safari park, are all kept in prison-like conditions as they are all enclosed against their will, fed food they don’t choose at set times, be forced to share living quarters with other inmates they may not like, be deprived of their natural stimulus they would encounter if they were free, and being unable to live in the habitat they were adapted to thrive in. the difference, though, is that they don’t even have a parole system that may give them hope for the future.