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In the Fishbowl -- Writer's Poke #413

Forty two killer whales live in captivity around the world. A few years ago, I had the opportunity to eat lunch with one. I thought the experience was pretty amazing, and I certainly didn’t think that the animal was being mistreated simply because it was the property of San Diego Sea World and not free to swim with its own kind up and down the ocean blue. 

People are sensitive to animals being kept in captivity, and that’s probably a good thing. I’ve been to some pretty shabby zoos, and I’ve also been to some zoos where the animals have spacious habitats and are obviously well cared for. As long as animals aren’t being abused, I don’t have any issues with them being kept for human enjoyment. 

Some suggest that the killer whales are perhaps too intelligent to be kept captive, that their social needs cannot be met in captivity. Is that true? When a killer whale kills a trainer, it’s big news, but it’s also easy to sensationalize. Do whales that kill do so intentionally? Do they kill because they have been made crazy from captivity? These are interesting questions to consider, but best to be careful not to give too much in the way of motive to a wild animal. 

Just because there has never been a documented case of a killer whale attacking a human in the wild, is that the same as claiming it could never happen? How peaceful are killer whales, anyway? Sometimes it seems like human beings get the blame for making wild animals “wild,” when, in fact, they are called “wild” for a reason.

Is it okay to keep animals in captivity? 

“The caged eagle becomes a metaphor for all forms of isolation, the ultimate in imprisonment. A zoo is a prison.” – Nadine Gordimer


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