March 14th proved to be an eventful day for many students in the HGM. Besides the math-filled connotations of pi day, Ms. Espinosa's classes were able to go whale watching after successfully raising over three-thousand dollars. Although there are disputes about what was spotted on the trip, the general consensus is that no whales were seen. After taking another strenuous biology test, the perfect way to relax before diving back into the next unit would be with a nice, relaxing movie. As a bonus, it happened to be about whales! Perfect to make up for the absence of whales on the trip. Except this movie wasn’t a cute documentary about whales and their behavioral patterns. This was a documentary about the human abuses towards orcas, carried out by SeaWorld and associated aquariums.
Blackfish is a widely popular documentary that originally came out in 2013. It features ex-SeaWorld employees who speak out about their experiences and the lack of transparency that the company has even with their own employees. To try and encompass the whole documentary, SeaWorld mistreats their orcas, leading to shorter life spans and emotional trauma that would not exist in the wild. Due to the all too frequent separation of mothers and their calves, both mother and child are left with permanent emotional scarring. Just like in humans, whales can experience extreme stress, depression, anger, boredom, and anxiety. It isn’t unheard of for a whale to exhibit self-harming behavior like chewing on anything that can abrase their teeth (which could be fatal for orcas) or even repeatedly slamming their head against the concrete of the pools. The mistreatment doesn’t just stop at hurting whales, however. As previously stated, some orcas turn to aggression after being exploited for all these years. While in the wild there has only been one ever reported human death, orcas in captivity have been responsible for four fatalities and over thirty attacks. These abuses cannot be summarized in one paragraph and I highly advise that everyone watches the documentary.
Abuse is not limited to SeaWorld and other animal-based entertainment, it is rampant everywhere. The sad fact of the matter is that many companies disguise themselves as being for the best interest of animals and humans alike, but that’s just a facade. Places like your local Petco are some of the biggest benefactors of suffering. Most people fail to realize that pet stores get their smaller pets from mills. Conditions can vary from mill to mill, but at worst small animals like turtles and lizards are starved, put in tiny enclosures, and treated with so little caution that death is common. Veterinary care is not provided while they wait in the mill, despite rampant disease due to overcrowded and unsanitized spaces. Cages are rarely, if ever, cleaned and the wire causes permanent damage to the feet of bunnies and dogs. Multiple mills have been reported to have dead animals in cages with alive ones because no one cares to remove the bodies. In some cases, cats are even allowed to roam around and attack smaller rodents, leaving them to die on the floor. To top it all off, some owners have been caught putting alive mice in Ziploc bags and throwing them in a freezer until they die, where they are then fed to snakes. Even larger animals like dogs and cats are too often from mills, which offer the same atrocious lifestyles.
A common philosophy used by people who know about the treacherous conditions in mills, but purchase from them anyway, attempts to shift the blame off the buyer. Consumers reason that they’re doing the right thing, since buying one means giving a pet a proper home and helping one more out of the system. But this belief is naive. While you may be helping out one animal, you're funding the system that will put many more through abuse. The economic principle of supply and demand is extremely relevant to this situation because buying one animal signals to the pet store they have a demand for that pet. That demand is then satisfied by shipping out more from mills, furthering the cycle.
Although many people boycott these stores, the level of activism one chooses to pursue is left for each individual to decide on their own. You don’t have to stop buying treats, toys, and food for your pets from these stores. But if you are planning on adding a new member to your family, I urge you to carefully consider where you’re getting them from. Shelters are frequently overcrowded with animals waiting to be given a lovely home. As a bonus, adopting from a shelter frees up space for another homeless animal that would previously have to be turned away, or even euthanized. Overall, be smart about where you adopt, and make sure that you’re ready to handle the responsibility of a pet.