Marine mammal activists Wayne Pacelle, Mark Palmer, Ric O’Barry and Samantha Berg joined George Knapp for a discussion on the new film Blackfish, which exposes what goes on behind the scenes at Sea World, whale/dolphin captivity and marine welfare. In the first hour, Pacelle criticized oceanariums for profiting off of the captivity of marine animals while eschewing activism which would help these same creatures in the wild. "I don't really see these parks raising millions and millions of dollars for marine conservation issues," he observed. While Pacelle marveled at the breathtaking nature of whales and dolphins, he questioned the true value of these theme parks. "Is society going to grind to a halt if these animals are not kept in captivity and performing stupid wild animal tricks," he asked.
During the second hour, Mark Palmer detailed some of the struggles facing these animals when they are kept in captivity. According to researchers, it is believed that male killer whales live 40 to 50 years in the wild and female orcas can live up to 90 years. However, Palmer said, these animals tend to live only about 30 years when kept in captivity. Additionally, he explained that captive marine animals are trained to do their routines via food deprivation. "If they don't perform the trick," he lamented, "they don't eat." He also dismissed the alleged educational value of these shows, since the actions performed by the animals are not behaviors that they would exhibit in the wild.
In the third hour, former dolphin trainer for the TV program Flipper, Ric O'Barry, detailed his evolution as an animal rights activist. Having spent years working with dolphins, he mused that the relationship between the trainer and animal is akin to "friendly enemies," since "if they were your real friends, they wouldn't be in this position" of being held captive. O'Barry recalled how, in April of 1970, Kathy, one of the dolphins featured on Flipper, died in his arms after she simply sank to the bottom of the tank. "I think she committed suicide," he said, explaining that such desperate actions are not uncommon from captive dolphins when "life becomes too unbearable." Following this incident, O'Barry reversed course and dedicated his life to ending the exploitation of marine mammals.
In the final hour, former Sea World trainer Samantha Berg shared her recollections from working at the controversial theme park. She reflected on how, over time, the realities of the job led to her disillusionment, explaining that she began with the belief that the animals would be helped and the public would be educated. However, she said, "the longer you're there, the more you realize that mostly what you're doing is disseminating misinformation." During her entire tenure at Sea World, Berg said, she only saw one scientist come to the park and he was studying the hydrodynamics of the animals. "That was really the only science that I saw when I was there," she revealed, "otherwise, it was just about 'how do we keep these animals alive long enough so that they can perform and make money for the park.'"