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2015-12-12 - 11:57 a.m.

Watched Blackfish last night. Very well done story of the serial killer orca & how they passed him around much like the Catholic Church used to pass around the pedophile priests. It really makes you stop & think.

But I do have a quibble. I don't buy the segment about how the orcas are more highly evolved than humans because they have an extra bit of brain. I suspect the extra bit of brain is for getting around in three-dimensions and "flying" through the water, whereas all we have to do is walk around or run on the ground... to me, "Tilly's" story is a very traditional story we've heard many times about human serial killers.

In many ways, the killer whales as presented in this movie sound just like a bunch of less evolved humans-- racist, sexist, capable of taking it out on the guy in the same trap with them instead of figuring out a logical response to their situation. For instance, it's stated that in the wild, the females dominate the society & push the males to the edges (much like with elephants, I suppose), and since the ocean is wide, the males just go through life as sperm donors & outcasts. They also state that each tribe is its own nation with its own language-- to the point that when different orcas from different tribes are put together, they can't get along... so, they're racists, basically. They are marvelous because they are large, beautiful, & alien... but, up close, it seems they have the same problems we all do.

So the story of "Tilly." Essentially, he's ripped away from his mother as a child & put in with two older females for training. Every night, the cheap-ass place that originally bought him (NOT Seaworld) put all three animals in the same "cell" & so... no wonder the poor guy is being beat up every night. It would be the same if we put a young girl in a dark cell with two older men every night. What do you think is going to happen when the older, more dominant, & probably fairly angry old-timers get a small, vulnerable individual to take it out on? So eventually the dude flips, kills somebody he can actually kill (a vulnerable human trainer & not one of the female orcas picking on him), & this place actually has the decency to shut down out of respect for the worker's loss of life.

But instead of just dumping Tilly back in the sea where, presumably already dysfunctional, he would probably just be chased away by everyone and die out of sight... they sell him on to the next guy. It isn't clear to me what Seaworld paid for him, but I'm guessing it was too much since they become overly invested in this animal. So this old boy keeps getting bigger & more angry, & the doc makes a good case that he has racked up three more human kills by the end of the movie. The last trainer he kills, it's just so over-the-top. He misses a cue & "overperforms" the trick & think he's entitled to fish he doesn't get... so the minute they're alone, he kills her. Is that the theory? If so, this guy is a truly dangerous animal, on a hair trigger that can't be fixed. His past is sad, & we understand why he's broken, but he is broken. So what do you do? I'm surprised he didn't end as fish steaks, frankly.

Seaworld clearly shouldn't have been shopping this guy around, but does it mean that every performing orca is a potential killer or that there is no safe way for people to see the intelligence in these animals? It is easy to picture a world in which marine performances never took place, the average person thought a whale or a dolphin was just another fish with no higher brain function at all, and entire species quietly disappeared to become sushi. Seems like there has to be some ambassadors for a species, and seems like there are trainers who are drawn to work with these animals & would still work with them even knowing the risk. The classic example being Siegfried & Roy, of course, with their tigers...

Roy put his life on the line every day knowing the risks. For him, it was worth it to get his message out there. But he didn't hire some younger person who didn't know the risks to get on the front line with the tiger. He made an informed choice, and he put his own ass on the line. I think you have to respect that.

But anyway. Thought-provoking. Well-done. Workers should be informed of the risks they're taking. Animals should be held in kindness and provided safe places to be-- I wouldn't even put three random finches in an enclosure, much less three killer whales. But all this seems like this is a problem that can be solved. And if they are as smart/emotional as humans, which evidently they are, I think it's OK for us to point out it isn't an OK "cultural difference" for orcas to pick on those who are less powerful or speak the wrong "dialect." It isn't cool when we do it, it isn't cool when killer whales do it. Now maybe they are not really evolved enough that they could understand that. Maybe this is just a natural pecking order we see in chickens, finches, etc, and it's we who have to adapt how we care for them to keep them safe & happy because they can't think it through & change their own heads. I'll accept that answer.

But nothing in this movie convinces me they're MORE evolved than humans when, really, it seems they're not really trying to fix their own heads or even thinking on that level in their relationships with each other at all. It's arguable that they are less evolved. We're trying to grow & change, and figure out a way to keep workers safe and animals healthy. Nobody's all that happy when OSHA shows up but if there was no OSHA, there would be a lot more dead workers in all sorts of jobs. So we're trying. The fact that this documentary exists and so much footage was provided to the makers is proof itself that humans are really trying to do better.

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