My Criticism of an Un-Naturalist Critic of Blackfish
This is my reply to Dr. Jordan Schaul and his defense of Sea World.
Jordan Schaul: Criticism is fine when it is warranted, but to continue to lambast the commercial zoological park operator repeatedly with distortions of the truth is not only unjust, it is unfair.
Captain Paul Watson: The criticisms against Sea World’s treatment of Orcas did not begin with the movie Blackfish. The criticism began on the first day Sea World held an Orca captive. Blackfish certainly helped to give strength to the opposition to Sea World and those of us who want to see that Orcas remain free in the sea are thankful for the truths exposed by Blackfish. The criticism and the opposition will continue until all Orcas are given the respect they deserve and are allowed to remain free at sea unmolested by humans. Schaul states there are distortions of the truth in the film but neglects to mention what those distortions are.
Jordan Schaul: Since the airing of Blackfish, Sea World has become an easy target and people who have no idea as to what they are talking about are taking aim. It is most unfortunate.
Captain Paul Watson: You don’t need to know much to oppose the enslavement of Orcas for entertainment. All you need to know is that they are enslaved for entertainment. When did opposition to slavery include having facts to oppose slavery? There is no justification for slavery, for involuntary captivity, and for cruelty. Sea World is a target for the very simple season that they enslave and abuse Orcas. What is unfortunate is that there are people like Schaul who feel the need to justify enslavement.
In 1958 the Belgium Zoo featured black people behind fences where visitors could feed them bananas. That was also justified as educational. Human Zoos were actually quite common in the past. Fortunately we evolved from such barbaric and racist displays. Yet the Orca, a highly intelligent, self aware, socially complex sentient being is being displayed in the same manner, and in a generation it will also be considered barbaric and insensitive.
Jordan Schaul: It seems that many have elected to ‘jump on the band wagon’ simply because they can. Incidentally, the idiom ‘jump on the bandwagon’ is a reference to a circus band — and phraseology from P. T. Barnum’s autobiography. In my digression, I’ll add that SeaWorld has been likened to a circus, but the only circus in town, in my opinion, is a “media circus” surrounding Blackfish. Yes, SeaWorld marine parks showcase performing animals and people, but SeaWorld’s mission to date has been far different from that of a conventional circus.
Captain Paul Watson: Interesting. Schaul uses the words, “jump on the bandwagon” and then proceeds to link this to the circus. The reason for including this escapes me. More and more people have been enlightened by Blackfish and enlightenment has a tendency to provoke activism. Education is not jumping on a band-wagon. Sea World is however, indeed a circus. People are asked to pay to see people perform with animals and that with the exception of Cirque Du Soleil is the definition of a circus.
Jordan Schaul:SeaWorld has helped make the orca an iconic flagship species for oceanic ecosystems. The original four parks have collectively raised awareness for marine life throughout the United States. Patrons travel great distances to visit these marine animal facilities. SeaWorld parks have had perhaps a greater regional impact than any other zoological facility when it comes to raising awareness that we are not alone on this planet.
Captain Paul Watson: Sea World is about entertainment and not education. People see Orcas doing things they never do in the wild. There are no educational presentations on whaling, dolphin killing, marine pollution or over-fishing. The reality of the oceans has been replaced with a fairy tale display of Orcas playing with humans. Sea World has contributed very little to marine wildlife education. Much more can be learned from films and whale watching. I have visited Sea World San Diego (I was even given a free VIP tour) and I did not see anything being taught about Orcas on any level beyond them doing silly tricks. I did not see any educational displays on the slaughter of pilot whales in the Faeroes or dolphins in Taiji. I did not see any educational displays about threats to the survival of whales and dolphins in the wild. I left having learned absolutely nothing except how horrendous the facility was.
Jordan Schaul: I grew up in Northeastern Ohio not far from Sea World of Ohio. The park was built far from the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts with the intention of drawing people from landlocked states and communities. And, indeed, visitors from all over the Midwest would visit the “local” marine park, which was opened seasonally. Interestingly, the facility catered to more patrons than the company’s other three parks in just a summer season. In contrast, people visiting the Cleveland Zoo came almost exclusively from the Cleveland metropolitan area. Hence, the reach of these marine parks is and was amazing. Not everyone can afford to vacation in expensive coastal areas of the US or travel to more exotic locations to participate in marine ecotourism activities like whale watching.
Captain Paul Watson: If this is true, what excuse is there for Sea World San Diego where you can see whales from the beach? Is Schaul suggesting there should be Sea World facilities in Iowa, Colorado, or Arkansas? These are places far from the sea also yet I would venture to say that the general knowledge of Orcas is no more profound in Cleveland than in Denver.
Jordan Schaul: I have been very fortunate to have seen pods of orca or the dorsal fins of killer whales breach the surface of open water in three oceans. I never once saw an entire animal or a quarter of an entire animal in the wild.
Captain Paul Watson: For a self-described naturalist Schaul does not get out much. I have seen many whales full bodied at sea both above and below the surface. I have seen Orcas, Humpbacks, Sperms, and Minke whales breach. I have been in the water with them and although I do not expect everyone to have such an opportunity, there is this little instrument we carry with us sometimes called a camera and it is amazing the things that it records.
Jordan Schaul: The accessibility and proximity to captive wildlife at marine parks is not replaceable. And there is no doubt that, as a consequence, SeaWorld parks have helped educate people. If it wasn’t for a visit to SeaWorld, I would never have aspired to work with marine mammals in captive conservation programs or in the wild.
Captain Paul Watson: I think Schaul explains where he stands when he says that if it were not for a visit to Sea World he would never have been aspired to work with marine mammals. That one word “with” illustrates the difference between us. I don’t work with marine wildlife. I work FOR marine wildlife and nature was my inspiration, not some concrete cesspool far from the sea where Orcas have to swim in their own shit as people gawk and clap as they are being entertained. Schaul also admits he works in captive programs and thus he is paid to side with Sea World. Thus he has a vested financial interest in defending Sea World.
Jordan Schaul: The opportunities for informal education at these parks and other zoological facilities are extraordinary and countless. I wouldn’t expect a young patron visiting a SeaWorld park to leave prepared to write a dissertation on marine mammal bioacoustics, but I would expect that they would “connect” marine mammals with the largest of Earth’s biomes–the ocean. I can’t tell you how many SeaWorld critics couldn’t speak to the basic biology of marine mammals. This is in part because they have not visited a marine park. Sadly they are the first to extend their unsolicited criticisms. Many distinguish between entertainment and education. I will happily engage in discourse concerning this distinction as it is not so black and white in my opinion.
SeaWorld may not offer a daily graduate level lecture series for visitors on marine ecosystem health. However, just observing the marine animals interacting with people teaches us something about their amazing cognitive abilities and that more than anything may prompt people to act on behalf of marine conservation initiatives.
Captain Paul Watson: Schaul neglects to cite a single extraordinary opportunity from his list so long that it is countless. He assumes that all critics who oppose Sea World have never visited Sea World and thus are “uneducated.” It is my opinion that visiting Sea World is not educational. Sea World does not teach the reality of the oceans, it presents a fantasy as reality i.e. Orcas doing activities that they would never do in the wild. I doubt there are many, if any Sea World supporters who can speak to the biology of marine mammals by virtue of the fact that they sat in a seat and got splashed by an Orca.
Jordan Schaul: Back to Blackfish….. It is the docu-drama and all the hype surrounding the film and what I consider “anti-captivity propaganda,” which generated all of this negative attention for SeaWorld. I did not watch Blackfish, because it was specifically marketed by the producers of the film as a “psychological thriller” and likened to the film Grizzly Man. I serve on the Board of Grizzly People, the foundation that supported the work of “Grizzly Man”–Timothy Treadwell. That film was, indeed, a psychological thriller intended to entertain audiences. It was not intended for a PBS broadcast. Similarly, Blackfish was intended to engage people as a entertainment vehicle. It was never created as a documentary per se.
Captain Paul Watson: Schaul states that he did not watch Blackfish yet he says it contains “distortions of the truth” yet he does not once in his article cite a single distortion. As for Tim Treadwell and “Grizzly Man” I can state that Tim Treadwell was a friend of mine, and a crewmember on a Sea Shepherd campaign (Canadian seal slaughter 1998). I think Grizzly Man was a great film and an accurate portrayal of Tim Treadwell. What Schaul means when he says it was not intended for a PBS audience is confusing. Why not? It was a film about a very unique man who had an affinity with Grizzly bears. What is so non-PBS about that? It is interesting that Schaul sits on the Board of Grizzly People yet apparently is unaware that Tim Treadwell was very much opposed to Sea World’s enslavement of Orcas, many years before Blackfish was aired.
Schaul having admitted he did not see Blackfish states that it was never created as a documentary but more as entertainment. I could argue that all films are entertaining because I happen to believe that learning is a form of entertainment. He has no idea why it was created because as he admits, he never saw it.
But for a man who believes that Orcas jumping through hoops is educational, I can see how he is confused as to what is entertainment and what is educational.
However the two things that Schaul specifically does not mention is first the fact that a trainer was killed by an Orca. That was the act that inspired the film. He would have known that if he had actually seen the film.
Secondly is the fact that not once in his defense of Sea World did he acknowledge that Orcas are sentient self-aware beings. Not once did he acknowledge the suffering these creatures endure through captivity and abuse. Not once did he even hint that he had any empathy for these Orcas. The article was completely lacking in compassion and this is precisely why Schaul cannot understand the opposition to Sea World.
That opposition is based on empathy.
You see Mr. Schaul, we feel their suffering and that it our motivation. Unlike you we don’t need to be sycophants to Sea World because we might get a job in some captivity facility. Unlike you we see the situation for what it is – the cruel and unjustified enslavement of a highly intelligent magnificent being that belongs in the sea and does not belong in a concrete pool doing ridiculous tricks in return for dead fish for a bunch of spectators to damn lazy to read a book, watch a film or to go on a whale watching tour.
But then again this is something beyond the understanding of an un-naturalist like yourself.