The appeal to emotions permeates nearly every aspect of Seaworld, and similar orca whale shows. Throughout, the trainers kiss, hug, and dance with the whales, presenting them as cute, cuddly teddy bears. And naturally, as the audience watches the ‘connection,’ they get a warm, fuzzy feeling.
But it is only a façade. This “bond” is an anthropomorphism of the whales. We see the trainer and the whales hugging and the audience gives a sentimental sigh. “Awww!” To us, it looks as though there is something magical and loving happening. But hugging, is a human concept, only meaningful in this way, to the eyes of us humans. To the orca, it is a response to a hand signal- a command- that they obey in order to recieve a dead fish.
The trainers use manipulative training methods in order to make the whales do what they want. The special bond is an illusion. The play on emotions that is the Shamu Show, is so forced in this happy image that onlookers seem to forget that the orcas are not there by choice. The entire thing is scripted and orchestrated, and exists for the purpose of monetary gain. The trainers control the animal’s behavior by training them to obey orders. This is not a mutual relationship in any way.
This is most often what causes younger audience members to become aspiring trainers. Dancing with exotic animals? It’s a love story combined with all the glitz and glam of broadway.
One thing we can draw from the Shamu Show is that none of these behaviors, none of the cheesy ‘acting’ or preachy storyline is educational. It is a play on emotions, and pushing this fun image of “cuddly sea-pandas,” is psuedo educational, very disrespectful, and patronizing to the whale’s natures. Dancing with and hugging an apex predator of the sea, training it to act comically for crowds of people in a theme-park enviroment is an insult to wildlife.
“They’re showing this rare mammal as a teddy bear. And it’s exactly the image that harms wildlife in the end. People want to get close to wildlife, but I’m not sure we should be feeding into that. They should perhaps be educating people not to see wildlife as teddy bears…I wish people would look at it from the dolphin’s perspective, as oppose to theirs…they are not there by choice.” – Naomi Rose PhD. Marine Mammal Biologist
As a bit of an aside, if you are interested in the captivity debate, I highly recommend following ‘Orca Outside.’ Frequently updated blog on captive orcas. Check it out! http://orcasoutside.tumblr.com/