His Name was Irving...

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Editorial and Opinion  |  House: Booksie Classic
This is more of an essay than anything done a while back for a senior project. It deals with the appalling treatment of orcas in captivity and my feelings on the subject. Yeah...Lina *hearts* orcas.

Submitted: November 09, 2007

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Submitted: November 09, 2007



His Name Was Irving
The abuse and mistreatment of intelligent wild animals
His name was Irving. He was two years old. His family was transient – they never settled anywhere because they felt they could be perfectly happy everywhere. They ate when they could and stuck close together all the time. No one member was ever farther than three feet from another. Until one day. A group of men leapt upon Irving from behind. Several remaining men fought off the parents until the child was safely away from them. The parents were threatened and eventually wounded until they left the scene. Irving was sent away to another family who didn’t even speak the same language as him. They had no use for him, except that they were being paid well and that he made them popular. Irving’s feelings were never considered. He was only alive for four months after his kidnapping.
Of course it’s heartbreaking to think of baby Irving being torn away from his parents and treated like property when he is no such thing. But what if it’s not a person? What if it were something else? Should that take away from the gravity of the same situation?
Irving was actually an orca whale. He was captured in April of 1968 in British Columbia. Unlike our human Irving, he escaped his jail and made it back into the wild. However, exactly like our human Irving, captive orcas die sooner than they should.
Ocrinus orca (the orca whale) has colonized every ocean in the world and developed a taste for anything warm blooded. They are curious and playful, not to mention harmless to humans. Without question they are, uncontested, the greatest hunters in the sea with many methods for catching their prey, including tipping icebergs, washing away animals with waves, stunning fish with their tails, herding them into a circle, drowning their prey or playing with it until it dies of shock, and beaching themselves strategically so that they can grab a seal, pivot on their bellies, and slide back out to sea with the next wave. They were given the slang name of “killer whale” when whalers saw it for the first time – hunting a right whale. The mind of an orca is four times the size of a human’s. 
Orca whales have been the object of human fascination for many years. The first wild orca was captured in November of 1961. She had no name, and she was dead within the day. The second, Moby Doll, fared a little better: he made it a full three months. Number three, named Namu after the location of his capture, managed an entire year. The lengths of their sentences fluctuate, and most of the orcas taken captive have died.
The captures are brutal. Bombs and nets are the most common methods. Many whales die during these round ups; those that do are brought aboard, cut open, and filled with rocks and lead. Then they are thrown back, sinking to the bottom of the sea so that no one should ever know.Because whales have such a strong social structure, the remaining whales often don’t leave the area of the capture. In Taiji, Japan, a pod of ten whales was herded into a bay and five of them were captured; all of them females and calves. Because they’re matriarchs, the pod has a very slim chance of survival. When the remaining members of the family didn’t leave the bay, they were repeatedly stabbed until they swam away. The whales that don’t die are wrapped in nets and chains, then dumped into large slings, hoisted many feet out of the water and loaded like cargo onto trucks. Some whales are placed in body-enclosing nets first. One orca was not granted the respite of a sling; he was lifted using ropes which cut into his body, leaving long, unsightly and painful scars all along his white underside. The first orca ever captured, She was caught by a loop rope around the tail and hoisted unto the air, hanging upside down. If she traveled this way the entire way back to the aquarium is not known, but this method of capture unusual and cruel. From there on they’re shipped to whichever marine park put in the highest bid.
The tanks that you see the whales performing in at Sea World and Marineland are not the tanks they live in. They are kept in much smaller tanks behind their performance tanks; this location is less hospitable to a large animal such as a 35-foot orca whale. And, if you look closely, you’ll realize that the show tanks aren’t very large either. Perhaps the most disgusting tank that a killer whale is being held in is a mere puddle at Miami Seaquarium. The dimensions of the tank are 80 feet by 35 feet and the pool is a mere 20 feet deep. The prisoner in this tank, Tokitae (a.k.a Lolita), shares this puddle with another orca at the same time. It’s hard to imagine one orca living in this tiny pool, but two? After Tokitae’s tank, another is one of the saddest excuses for an orca pool ever. Marineland caught a little orca and named him Junior. He was to live in a tiny pool inside of a warehouse where he had no natural sun light or fresh air until he was trained.  But he was never trained and eventually he died in there. Even though there are numerous photos and video of Junior in his little tank, the owners of Marineland still refused to acknowledge that he ever existed and will not comment on him to this day. Just as these tanks are not very large, they’re also not very deep. Oftentimes when they poke their heads out of the water their tails curl on the tank floor. As was stated earlier, orcas have a very tight, matriarchal family structure; families stay together for their whole lives and never separate. In these tanks orcas are usually kept alone. Though it’s difficult to decide if that’s better or worse than the alternative; when several orcas are crammed into a small tank, making swimming nearly impossible. Orcas use echolocation, and these tanks are made of concrete, so the sound bounces back in all directions. Some of their whales are even on anti-depressants.
As if these cramped conditions weren’t bad enough, orcas are also forced to perform unnatural circus tricks. These exploitation shows contain little to no education content – usually restricted to the length and weight of the animal. After all, if they noted how long orcas live or how deep they dive or the variety of food that they eat, wouldn’t they be opening themselves up for questioning about why they aren’t treating the whales as well as they could treat themselves? In fact, in a non-scientific poll taken of children leaving an orca show at Sea World, when asked what they learned from watching the performance, the most recurring response was “When the whales hit the water they make a big splash.”
And then there’s the question – what is an orca to do at night or in between shows? After a whale has performed, as far as a trainer could be concerned the whale’s purpose is finished. In the wild an orca would be socializing with its family, hunting, traveling, or any number of things. All a captive orca is capable of doing is swimming round and round in circles. One whale, Corky is famous for swimming round and round her tank in circles – upside down. Although Keiko is the most famous orca with a flopped dorsal fin, many orcas have been afflicted with this malady. While at first it mystified scientists, they’ve now learned that it is caused by swimming in circles or staying too long at the surface. In the oceans orcas are renowned for their wide food repertoire. They eat seals, sea lions, turtles, sea birds, all varieties of fishes, even sharks and other whales. One whale, A-12, has been marked as having a penchant for great white shark livers. But in captivity they are only fed what their trainers give them – fish. Nine times out of ten it’s salmon. Salmon is a staple of the northwestern American orcas; orcas like Keiko (who played “Willy” in the 1993 motion picture Free Willy)who live in Icelandic, Norwegian, or Swedish waters, eat primarily herring.Of course, why would an orca ever perform? Food is as good a motivator as any. The orcas are starved so that, when they slide themselves onto the training platform, they have a reason to do so, knowing that a fish is at the other end. Many former trainers confess to this practice. Though one has to question why an orca would want to eat a dead, flopping fish hand-fed to it when it’s used to hunting wriggling live animals…
Another problem faced by Keiko and other whales like him is elemental protection. Keiko was two years old when he was caught, and used to living in Icelandic waters. But he spent most of his captive life in Mexico in chlorinated salt water which was far too warm for him. Many whales face this problem of having no shade to protect them from the sun. The chlorine in these tanks are damaging to their sensitive skin and burn their sensitive eyes. Keiko had a bad case of pappilloma virus, which was augmented by the water in his tank. Corky is now blind in one eye.
In these marine parks the whales are forced to breed at a young age; the babies are then sold to other marine parks and the mothers never see their children again. Corky has had seven calves over the course of ten years, all of which died not long after their birth. The longest lived for only 46 days. The first one was brain damaged, and died within sixteen days of pneumonia after failing to nurse. After that many of the calves were stillborn, miscarried, and once, because it failed to nurse, mother and father brought the baby to the bottom of the tank and drowned it.
Many whales have a long history of injuring themselves, other whales, their trainers, or their tanks. At Miami Seaquarium in Florida in the 1970’s, an orca named Hugo broke an observation window, causing significant water loss and nearly slicing off the end of his rostrum which was surgically stitched back on. At Marineland of the Pacific in California in 1985, Corky also broke an observation window which resulted in the loss of more than one-third water volume in tank. Former orca trainer Eric Walters describes an incident that took place at Sealand of the Pacific in Canada in 1988, when one of the orcas, Nootka, was engaged with another in an aggressive manner. “During this time she swam at high speed into the module and collided with the side, striking her head. Her head was bleeding, and blood was coming out of her blowhole.”  Aggression escalated between two male orcas (Kotar of Iceland and Kanduke, an older transient) at Sea World of Florida in 1988. Both animals reportedly beached themselves and made crying sounds repeatedly. Kotar reportedly bit Kanduke’s penis, inflicting injuries sufficient to close shows for two days. Kotar was transferred to Texas in 1988. Joanne Webber, a former killer whale trainer injured in 1988, described Kandu in court documents as, “exhibiting the extreme characteristics of aggression when frustrated. She does occasionally bite and aggressively rake other whales…” Corky and Kandu V have a long history of spousal abuse ranging over decades before their separation. In the United Kingdom at Flamingo Land during 1969 Cuddles the orca became so increasingly aggressive that keepers had to clean the pool from the protection of a shark cage. On March 4, 1987 at Sea World,trainer Jonathan Smith, 21, suffered cuts, a ruptured kidney, and lacerated liver after being seized by two orcas, repeatedly dragged to the bottom of the pool and smashed against the tank bottom during a performance.  Smith had less than one week experience working with orcas. Another incident took place at Sea World on November 21, 1987, trainer John Sillick, 26, suffered fractured vertebrae , a fractured femur, and a fractured pelvis after one orca breached on top of him while he was riding on another orca during a performance. Sillick had less than two years experience working with orcas. February 21, 1991 was a tragic day at Sealand of the Pacific when trainer Keltie Byrne, 20, slipped into the whale pool and was carried into the middle by one orca, and repeatedly submerged as the other two orcas joined in. After futile attempts of rescue, Byrne drowned. Though orca attacks are common in captivity, they have never once occurred in the wild. Only after they’ve been exposed to human cruelty do they ever attack.
Over 230 orcas have died as a result of marine parks. The original Shamu died at the age of six. (Many orcas there following her death were named after her.) Sea World will claim that orcas only live to be 35, but that’s a blatant lie. In captivity orcas live between 10-15 years. In the wild females live up to 90 years; males up to about 60. Scientific research conducted in tanks is without merit, for the whales in tanks are rarely from the same pods, and in much closer quarters without being able to hunt their food and are being constantly interrupted by performances for large audiences. The food in captivity is not just as good as the wild food – they stuff the dead fish’s gills with vitamins which the whales are no longer getting. The fish are frozen for at least a week to prevent bacteria from growing and that destroys the nutritious value of the fish for the whales. Whales have been rehabilitated and set free (Keiko being a prime example). But because he did not return to his pod, Sea World representatives use this as evidence that rehabilitation and return to the wild don’t work. This logic is completely flawed. After 23 years of captivity, his family may not have recognized and may indeed have rejected him. Perhaps he was unable to locate which pod was his – there are six orca pods in Iceland, five of which have been recorded. Perhaps all that time apart (from the age of two through twenty-five) made it difficult for him to remember which was his. For the first time since his capture, towards the start of his rehabilitation, he began vocalizing again. But since he only had two years to hear these original calls, they were more than likely very rudimentary and hard for the other whales to recognize. Even without a familial framework, he thrived on his own, hunting and swimming as much as he pleased. Regardless of his family ties (or lack thereof) he was still perfectly capable of living on his own. In captivity, the pools are painted light colours so that the water looks good for the audience, but the light colours cause the animals (like Corky) to go blind and when their calls echo back to them from the concrete walls it can cause deafness.
No wild animal belongs in captivity simply to perform circus tricks for the pleasure of humans. And if we are so arrogant as to assume those rights, the very least we could do would be to make the situation more tolerable. Until humans are enlightened to multi-species equality, orcas like Junior and Corky will continue to suffer.
But we can hold as a beacon the one who escaped. His name was Irving…

© Copyright 2018 Lina Leigh. All rights reserved.

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