Behaviourists for Blackfish


A plea ... join us and participate

The film Blackfish (the Native American name for orca, or killer whales) is the most recent film to highlight the plight of orca that end up in captivity. These animals should live in the ocean, doing things whales do, rather than in a tiny pool. For more information about what is wrong with captivity see this link. But it shouldn’t even need to be discussed - it is so so obvious that an animal who lives in the ocean, the deep vast ocean, will not be remotely OK in a concrete pool. At least it is obvious to us, behaviourists and ethologists, because that’s how we think about animals and their needs.

We were surprised to learn that most people who visit marine parks do so out of a love of animals. They love animals, especially whales and dolphins so want to see them, and it’s easy to visit a marine park when on holiday. Furthermore they can see that the trainers also love the animals, and they presume the trainers are marine animal experts so therefore it must be OK. This is the way humans behave - as a herd, which can work well but sometimes it works to perpetuate the most heinous crimes against animals, such as keeping cetaceans in captivity.

Additionally, and very depressingly, now is the time to act for cetaceans worldwide. Although the number of new marine parks is steady in most countries, Japan is building them at an alarming rate. We need to reach the animal lovers in Japan to stop this expansion.

The film ‘Blackfish’ was the tipping point for us to finally decide to do something. But what can we do? It seems so cheesy and inconsequential to believe that all we can do is to not go to somewhere we wouldn’t go anyway. But having researched possible actions and speaking to lots of organisations, and knowing that most people who attend marine parks love animals it seems that we have ‘easy’ targets - we need to tell them not to go and they are likely to listen because the reason they want to go is the same as the reason we want them not to go!

The issue of cetaceans in captivity is tenable - unlike some other animal welfare issues the banning of cetaceans in captivity could happen in our lifetimes. In a few countries it already has been banned. And its really about more than just cetaceans, if we can recognise that it is not OK to keep these animals in captivity, then we can move the discussion to other species.

Blackfish calls for current cetaceans in captivity to be assessed to determine the likelihood of successful rehabilitation back to the wild and if that is not possible they should return to the sea in sea pens. Come on - be  a part of making this happen!

The money will fund a short film (less than 10 minutes long) aimed at highlighting the issues to the whale-loving public who might attend a marine park. Such people are unlikely to go to see a film like Blackfish but could be reached by a short film. The film will be made by Campaign Film - a professional company run by Andy Davies who shares a passion for this cause. As well as being made available through YouTube etc. it will be offered to the various groups and alliances working on this issue and they will be given the opportunity for their logos to appear at the end. Subject to acceptance it will hopefully be in time for showing at Whalefest in Brighton in March 2014.

Preliminary discussions with several of the big organisations have been very positive - this is what they have asked for repeatedly when answering the question ‘what can we do to help?’. They want independently produced short films that they can support and use. The film will be produced so that parts can be edited to be changed for a Japanese audience but we need the English version first to secure funding for the Japanese version. The film will be moving, persuasive and professionally produced, a truly strong message.

As people who talk about natural behaviour, the needs of animals and welfare every day of our professional lives let’s work together to do our part for the whales who need us. PLEASE PLEASE be generous in supporting this project.

(And if you are not working as a behaviourist but would like to be involved you are welcome to join!)