Two weeks after the anti-captivity documentary Blackfish premiered on CNN, elevating to the national discourse an issue that had typically been the purview of cetacean activists, students at Point Loma High School in San Diego have produced a striking video response to the film, methodically laying out their indictment of keeping cetaceans in swimming pools for the delight of tourists. They have vowed not to return to the amusement park until whales and dolphins are retired from show business.
Titled “Dear SeaWorld,” the video features articulate students taking turns speaking in front of an elegantly simple backdrop. It begins with the kids recounting their visits to SeaWorld San Diego, just three miles from their high school, and thanking the park for years of entertainment as they were growing up.
“Dear SeaWorld, thank you for all your amazing memories,” a young woman begins. “The Shamu show…,” says another student. “Dolphin point…,” another says. One student thanks SeaWorld for “all the cute, cuddly teddy bears.”
Then the narrative takes a big turn.
A student explains, “After watching the documentary Blackfish on CNN…” Then another student picks up the line: “…all of those memories have been totally cheapened.”
Then come the hard-hitting questions.
“Is it true the orcas in your exhibits were kidnapped from their families?” asks one student. (The film’s star orca, Tilikum, who killed trainer Dawn Brancheau in February 2010 at the Orlando park, was snatched from his mother’s side in the waters off Iceland in 1983. In the subsequent 30 years, the 12,000-pound marine mammal has sired 54 percent of SeaWorld’s current orcas.)
“Is it true their life span is shortened in captivity?” asks another student. (Annual mortality rates for captive orcas are two and a half times higher than for wild whales.)
“Is it true that there have been multiple attacks on trainers in your parks?” yet another asks. (The answer is a resounding yes, and it will be the subject of oral arguments in federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., on November 12.)
“Until these questions are answered,” the students continue, “there will be no more admission tickets…no more rides…no more teddy bears.”
From the mouths of babes, this video packs a wallop.
Nadeem Mayer, a student at the school, tells TakePart: “I believe that the captive holding of orcas at SeaWorld is more than abuse—these animals are active, smart and social. They require more living space and interaction; conditions such as those can only be found in the wild.”
The student’s adviser, Cinematic Arts instructor Anthony Palmiotto, also has no qualms about criticizing such a popular local institution. “Orcas weren’t meant to be kept in pools, and elephants weren’t meant to be kept in cages,” he tells me. “Deep down, everyone knows using animals for entertainment purposes is wrong. The time has come for SeaWorld to get civilized.”
The video ends with the same simple eloquence with which it began.
“We don’t expect SeaWorld to close its doors,” one student declares. “We just invite you to change its business model,” says another, “and stop using animals for entertainment.”