Thursday, 15 May 2014

Becoming More Feeling (and owning up when you mess up)

In Florida right next to Seaworld

The saying that you need to "get a thicker skin" is bandied about a lot in our society. There is an idea that people who feel "too much" (as if feeling should be moderated) are week, out of control or downright self indulgent.
There is also the notion that younger people tend to be more sentimental, more in tune with their feelings and that as we grow older we develop barriers, we intellectualise, we toughen up.
Here's the interesting part though I have found this to be the total opposite.
As I get older I feel I have far more empathy than I ever had in my twenties.
My ability to be compassionate and to understand how every action has a reaction grows everyday and never more so in how we treat all living creatures (humans, wildlife, pets) and I am learning that its important to recognise when you yourself have contributed to something really dark and unfeeling. 

I watched this by pure chance a few weeks ago

So a few weeks ago I watched a documentary called Blackfish. I was as is often the case riding the insomnia wave, looking for something to lull me to sleep
and what better than to watch something about whales. 
I'm a vegetarian, I love whales its all good.
This documentary was about the whales that are used for displays in the theme park Seaworld in Florida. 

Trainers standing next to  a tank with a whale in at Seaworld

Now I had visited Seaworld in mid 2010. I am always trying to show my little girl the wonders of nature and the claims that Seaworld make about their conservation work is amazing. I'm always a bit mixed about zoos or seeing any animal or mammal in captivity but it claimed to be really something quite special.
We went along and watched the one ocean show which features the wonders of the whale . Trainers rode on the whales backs, dived in the water with them, got them to spin around and perform tricks. Its was for me slightly uncomfortable watching, sure the whales looked well and fit and seemed to have a real connection to their trainers but gosh that pool looked small in relation to the whales magnificent size.
I would love to say I stormed out but I didn't. I sat there, struggling with my feelings  of discomfort whilst also enjoying the look of joy on my daughters face  as she saw the magnificent creatures close up. Hell afterwards we even brought a shamu toy.
having my snap taken as a shark swims by-literally holidaying in another creatures misery. My nasty sweaty hair is a testment to my bad juju

The thing that made me decide to never visit Seaworld again wasnt this disgusting spectacle (I'm being honest here) it was actually seeing  a beautiful polarbear looking as miserable as sin in a faux snowy enclosure. My heart broke and despite staying at the Doubletree Hilton a few more times after that (which gives you free admission to Seaworld)  we never returned.
It was actually this polar bear that made us all decide never to visit Seaworld again

So when I watched Blackfish made by the filmaker Gabriela Cowperthwaite I wondered what i would learn. Would my reservations be unfounded or was my initial ikky feeling right. 
The film focuses on  a captive orca named Tilikum.
Tilikum was stolen from his family and the ocean at only two years old. What I  hadn't realised was how important familiar bonds are to whales. Even as the boats with nets and helicopters chased the whales they were trying to catch the whales split into two to try and keep the fishermen away from the mothers and their babies but they of course stood no chance. 
It is always the babies they want to use and train in these kind of parks so we saw baby whales hoisted into nets whilst their mothers circled the boats frantically wailing in such a mournful way. It was basically heartbreaking.

Posing outside the Doubltree Hilton in Orlando Florida which offers free Seaworld tickets to hotel guests

The documentary focuses on Tilikum because it is believed the isolation and confinement he has been subjected to over the last 20 years have driven him quite mad and he has killed three humans.
Tilikum the whale the Blackfish documentary focuses on
Anecdote after anecdote from former trainers at seaworld, Marine experts and conservationists all told how they believed this use of whales to basically offer bread and circuses to sweaty westerners was a total travesty and the worst thing is I not only totally agree but I also contributed to this.

So what lesson have I learnt? well first of all to listen to my gut instinct. If something doesn't feel right, walk away. 
Secondly do your research. If you are going to any zoo, marine park or safari that includes animals, fish or mammals as entertainment really do your homework. 
In the big corporate world we live in to simply not contribute economically does have immense power.
I feel ashamed I was part of this but also thankful of the lesson I have received. Know your world. Tread lightly on it and have respect for all who inhabit it.

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  1. Beautiful post. I've been aware of Blackfish for a long time but haven't watched it as I know it'll upset me so much it'll affect me for a long time. I don't like any kind of zoo or water park where animals are kept in tiny enclosures. The best animal park I've been to is Marwell near Southampton which has quite huge enclosures for animals, but even then they're not free to roam as they would in the wild.

    I know with hunting being so rife some animals are facing extinction so it's arguable that 'conservation' work done by some zoos/animal parks is vital, but the honest truth is these animals are cooped up to entertain us the majority of the time, and it isn't right. All animals have souls, just like we do. I truly hope a more enlightened future comes about where we become much more aware of the terrible things we do to nature for our entertainment. x x

  2. I must watch it too, great post Betty, I too feel that as I am growing older I'm also more emotionally strong and able to share feelings better,xx

  3. I've seen Blackfish numerous of times, and I personally don't really support it not because I favour captivity but because the director wasn't as honest as she made out to be! I've been involved and am passionate about Killer Whales and Dolphins for like 20 years, I've been at Seaworld over a dozens of times, I've had the opportunity to go behind the scenes at Shamu Stadium plus several others areas and met Dawn and got to know, such a lovely lady!

    Fair enough, if it doesn't feel right walk away. But freeing any animals isn't a simple as people think! And I do think yes that the tanks are small compared to 'The Bay' at Seaworld Orlando but the amount we know about these animals is because of the animals in captivity. After all, if they were endangered, the public will be saying, 'What a great thing to do to ensure their surviveful' We are now trying to fix the problems that are around now because of what people have done in the last god knows how many years because they thought it was ok and didn't know what we know now! It's a very delicate issue!

    That's my say on the matter, because if someone isn't passionate about these types of animals and have a lack of knowledge and understanding personally shouldn't really stand up and start boycotting things because everything get blown out of proportion because they have no understanding of it!

    Toria (

    1. I'm sorry Toria, but you are wrong. Blackfish aside, even basic research tells us that scientists and conservationists do not believe we learn enough about captive animals to justify their captivity. And you don't have to be a marine biologist to realise that keeping a whale in a tiny pool while it performs tricks to the public is unnatural; that's just common sense.

  4. I watched it a while back also. I have never been and now will never go. I would rather my children one day go on a whale watch expedition one day with us rather than see them boxed up. And I agree about the feelings-people think I am nuts half the time bc I express my feelings and thoughts (in a mature and respectful manner) and that disturbs them. I find people don't want to know how you are feeling when they ask "how are you doing", they don't want to know if you are struggling or having a hard day. Most people are like that but there are people that choose not to be a robot and be their fully human selves in the way the need and want to be. Bravo on the changes you made ie Seaworld! xox

  5. Thank you for speaking out about this. I am from the west coast of Canada (famous for orcas) and have seen lots of orcas and other marine mammals in the wild. I honestly think that it would be much kinder to kill them than to put them in captivity. Fortunately, whales are now protected here.

    As a biologist, I do NOT believe that we learn enough about captive marine mammals to justify their captivity. Intelligent animals in unnatural environments end up behaving abnormally and suffering from stress-related disease, so we don't learn what they are really like.

  6. Like Leah I've wanted to watch blackfish for a long time but feel it would upset me so much :( I went to Tokyo zoo in 2010 & was appalled at the confinement of the animals. There were so many animals crammed into each enclosure. We saw a tiger which looked starved & was pacing manically. This upset me so much I don't think I want to visit a zoo again! X

  7. I actually hate the idea of going to this kind of shows... it makes me really feel bad

  8. The film is amazing it is just an example of the cover up that goes on in these places. I used to work at a zoo selling ice cream when I was in uni and the amount they covered up from the public was terrible.

    I have been to seaworld and the polar bear broke my heart too but we watched the show and my whole family kinda sat there horrified after. As the place cleared out we sat and watched the whale swim around and around for about 20 mins and it was one of the most heartbreaking things I have ever seen. There is no way that pool compares to the vast ocean and no human is meant to stand on his nose!

    Awesome post xx

  9. Betty, I couldn't agree with you more on this one. I went to Seaworld a few years ago and felt pretty uncomfortable with the whole thing. We saw Tilikum perform and it was really entertaining but it also felt really wrong.
    4 days later when we were back in England we saw on the news that he had killed one of his trainers.
    It's so clear that Orcas shouldn't be kept in captivity and I wish more people would boycott seaworld to send out a message that they have to change their practices.
    I wonder what percentage of people who go there feel the same way and don't go back.

  10. I'm not animal crazy (I'm not even vegetarian!) but I've never enjoyed seeing animals in captivity. I haven't been to a zoo since I was a child because seeing animals out of their natural habitats and in cages just makes me feel uncomfortable.... in an ideal world I would get to see monkeys or lions or whales in their own corners of the earth, but until then I get to see them on TV in HD with Attenborough telling me about them, and that is good enough for me! On another note though, I totally agree with you about the empathy that comes with getting older. I try to see both sides of an argument nowadays, which I think I was incapable of in my early twenties. It's why I find my twitter feed so stressful sometimes - I see such terrible bigotry and hypocrisy on there and it makes my blood boil and I have to move away from it. I am so glad that twitter wasn't about when I was young, it would be testament to how incredibly self important and apathetic I was back then. I think being able to put yourself in someone else's shoes and stop thinking about yourself for a second is one of the best things about the ageing process!

  11. I couldn't agree more and the concept that we learn more about them because they are in captivity is ridiculous. The BBC did a great documentary about how intelligent whales are called ocean giants


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