February 20, 2014

Why I Love & Support Sea World! #dontjudgeme

It's been a while!  Like 16 months!  Sorry I have neglected you blog!  Much has happened since last we met, and i fully plan on updating you on all of it  However for today I want to make my reappearance on blogger with a sort of touchy subject as of late.  Warning, this is a long post!  I have been thinking about this post for quite some time trying to decide if it is worth it to write, if I have anything unique to add to this argument, or if anyone even cares about my thoughts and opinion on the matter.  And while I don't think that anyone really cares what I think, I'm gonna tell you anyways!  Because this is America, dangit!  And I can do stuff like that here!  But in all seriousness I don't normally get too involved or publicly share my opinion, I don't ever want to offend people.  But I would feel remiss if I did not do so in this case because it is something I feel so strongly about.  The subject I want to discuss is the "documentary" Blackfish and how misleading and destructive it is to the cause of education, conservation, and inspiration everywhere.

The first time I heard of Blackfish was through social media.  My news feed on facebook was suddenly full of it!  I know many people who I consider to be dear friends who watched the documentary and were appalled by what they saw and immediately wrote posts in anger about Sea World and how they "mistreat their animals", stating that no one should ever go to Sea World again.  Some even went as far to state that they would never take their kids to any zoos or aquariums again because of what they saw on Blackfish.  I love all of these people, and I don't want to offend anyone because everyone is entitled to their opinions.  However, I worry that many people watched the movie and formed their opinions solely on the content of Blackfish alone without questioning its truth or quality.  I hope that we all do research on things before we form such strong opinions.  By not researching both sides of a story we are not being responsible stewards or citizens, and our rash opinions can be destructive.

The Lies of Blackfish
Blackfish is advertised as being a documentary, and showing objective truth.  However those descriptions for this movie are extremely misleading.  Blackfish is an advocacy piece that is affiliated with people and groups who are animal rights activists to the extreme.  Furthermore, the cast of Blackfish is made up of disgruntled ex-employees that worked at Sea World over 20 years ago.  They spin a false narrative not only of the life of Tilikum (the killer whale who is featured in the film), but of the death of Sea World trainer Dawn Brancheau who was killed during a training sesson with Tilikum in 2010. These trainers lie in order to make the audience believe that Sea World captures killer whales, mistreats them  (which turns them into killing monsters), and then creates elaborate cover up schemes to keep it all a secret.  In truth,  Sea World did not collect Tilikum, nor has it collected any killer whales from the wild in over 35 years.  Second Sea World rescued Tilikum from the marine park that captured and was mistreating him.  And third, in regards to the death of trainer Dawn Brancheau, the cast featured in the film had no involvement with Sea World at the time of this attack nor are they experienced enough to understand all that occurred on that day in 2010.  So they are completely unqualified to make the assumptions and statements that they made in the film.  These are just a few of the issues with Blackfish and there are so many more.  Below I have placed a couple links to what other, more qualified, people have said about the deceit of Blackfish.  I encourage you to read them and decide for yourself weather or not the film Blackfish can be trusted. 

Why You Should Take Your Kids to Sea World
What I want to address in the rest of this post is how Sea World has personally impacted my life for the better.  And how zoos and aquariums and places like Sea World have an important place in society today.

I truly owe a lot to Sea World and its amazing animals and employees.  From the ages of 1 to 4 I was taken to Sea World in San Antonio many many times.  My parents thankfully bought seasons passes and we went there often.  Even though I can't remember many of those visits today, through watching the Shamu show, and Seamore and Clyde, and riding past the penguin habitat on the moving walk way over and over again I gained a love for the ocean and all the beautiful mysterious creatures that live there.  That love has been a huge part of my life and has guided me to do many amazing things thus far.

  At age 13 I became scuba certified.  As a diver i was finally able to see some of the animals that I had dreamt of all my life!  I was hooked!  All throughout high school and for part of college I worked in a scuba diving shop and then became a scuba diving instructor so that I could help others learn and see the world and creatures that I had come to love so much.  Over those 8 years I logged 106 dives in many different places and I have some pretty awesome stories from those dives.  Possibly the best was a night dive in Hawaii where I dove very close to humpback whales.  The vibrations from their calls literally shook my body.  It was crazy awesome and an experience I will never forget!
A picture from that night dive!

Then in my sophomore year of college I was able to attend an internship in Hawaii at Sea Life Park.  I was so excited because I was finally going to get to be around the marine animals that I had always loved!  I worked with sea lions, penguins, dolphins, and even a wolphin (half whale half dolphin... pretty much the coolest hybrid ever!)  and it was a dream come true!  I can still remember the first time that I touched a dolphin, or the first time that I got to ask a dolphin for a behavior!   Every day was pretty much the BEST. DAY. EVER!  And the people that I worked with were amazing people that loved the animals just as much if not more than I did.  The relationships that I observed with the animals and their trainers were relationships of love.  And I felt blessed to be involved in that good work of caring for and loving those animals.  One of the best parts of working at Sea Life Park was being able to not only work with the animals I loved but to be able to help others interact with these animals too.  I assisted in running animal guest interactions in which we would teach guests about the animals, let them touch them, and let them spend time with them so that they could understand why it was so important to protect and conserve the ocean environment.  The smiles on children's and parents faces alike when they get a kiss from a dolphin, or get to feed a sea lion is priceless and something I will never forget.  You can bet that these people who visited Sea Life Park learned a lot during their visit and gained a greater appreciation for the beautiful animals in the ocean.  I look back on that decision to go to Hawaii as one of the best decisions I ever made!

After a year in Hawaii I went back to school at BYU in Provo UT and that was when I met Justin.  Marrying him was the best decision I ever made.  And life since has been truly amazing!  But I would not have had those experiences, or possibly even met my husband, had I not been exposed at the age of 4 to the amazing creatures at Sea World.  That love is what drove me to be a scuba instructor, and to go out to Hawaii in the first place!   It sounds ridiculous, I know, but I owe a lot in my life to Sea World!

My story is not unique.  There have been thousands that have been inspired because of all the good that Sea World does.  And that is the last point I want to make.  Sea World as a company does so much good in the world today.  First of all, it is responsible for education and conservation efforts world wide.  Children learn from animal trainers and care takers at Sea World and are exposed to animals that they would never see otherwise.  And they have been inspired by these visits to become scientists, and educators, and to spread the word of how amazing these creatures are.  Second, through the captivity of a relatively small number of animals we have learned so much about their species.  The things we have learned have led to a better world for their counterparts in the wild.  and Third, for all the animals it keeps in its parks, it takes in, heals, and releases thousands more.  And if a rescued animal is not physically fit to return to the wild then Sea World cares for it at one of their sites.  Sea World has saved the lives of thousands of animals and is a leader in animal rescue and rehabilitation.  When you support Sea World you are supporting these efforts, and I think that that is a pretty awesome thing!

So parents, before you decide to cut your children off from ever experiencing a zoo or aquarium again, please think about what you may be depriving your child of!  I am forever grateful to my parents for exposing me to places like Sea World.  Do your research, and don't just take Blackfish, or advocacy pieces like it, at face value.  As a teacher I can attest to the importance of having real world experiences in order to learn.  Reading a book, or watching a documentary about animals will never teach as well or make as lasting of an impression as actually seeing those animals first hand.  If you are lucky enough to live by an ocean or rain forest, or savanna where you can see these amazing animals in their natural environment, then good for you.  If not, then take your kids to a zoo!  Who knows, maybe their life will be shaped by that experience as much as my life was shaped by visiting Sea World!