Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Change in SeaWorld agenda proves need to investigate

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Three years ago, Gabriela Cowperthwaite released a documentary titled “Blackfish,” investigating the death of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau who was killed by an orca whale at the Orlando theme park. The film outlined the life of the orca responsible, a male named Tilikum, from his capture in 1983 to the eventual incident. The film raises important questions about the park’s treatment of the marine mammals, the continuation of SeaWorld’s theatrical orca performances, and its breeding program, which is built around Tilikum.

Altering the agenda of a billion dollar industry is a seemingly impossible task. Even Cowperthwaite stated in an interview with the Chicago Tribune that she “never imagined SeaWorld would stop breeding orcas.”

After the release of the documentary, however, public outcry on social media put pressure on SeaWorld parks. Protests were held, attendance at the parks slowly declined, and legislation was proposed to ban the captivity of whales. Finally, in an Op/Ed published in the Los Angeles Times last Thursday, SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby announced the parks would end their breeding program immediately and phase out the theatrical orca shows within the next three years.

The concession marks a huge success for animal rights activists and lawmakers, but it is important to note that without “Blackfish” the general public’s understanding about the issue would have remained low. Cowperthwaite made the story accessible to the public through an entertaining medium.

Executives at SeaWorld crafted a story about orcas, which portrayed the animals as content and willingly participating in the shows, and about the death of Dawn Brancheau, claiming it was due to her own error.

But Cowperthwaite discovered inconsistencies with the presented story. For example, SeaWorld employees told audiences that the collapsed dorsal fin, which Tilikum has, is seen in 25 percent of wild orcas. Yet research suggests otherwise, that it is rare and only seen in less than 1 percent of wild orcas.

There is great danger in only listening to one story, as we can be unknowingly ignorant and biased if our information comes form a concentrated source. One former SeaWorld trainer confessed in her interview for the documentary, “I learned to say what [SeaWorld] told us…I thought I knew everything about killer whales when I worked there … but I really knew nothing.”

It is vital that the results of “Blackfish” serve as a lesson for challenging our viewpoints. Complacency toward our perceived reality weakens understanding and subsequently provides the curators of the reality more power.

No, we don’t all have to make an investigative documentary, but we should try to stay well informed and ask questions about the stories being told, rather than resort to acceptance. Especially now, in an election year, where contrasting stories are being told from candidates, it is imperative to truly consider what we hear or read before ingraining it into our beliefs. We can be the gatekeepers who decide what is true or false, we can have the power if we investigate the information presented to us before approval.

Because when we do, we can disrupt the actions of major institutions and create a better functioning society.

Michael Agnello is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]

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