Yesterday, on the ‘Official SeaWorld Podcast’, Seaworld announced that in order to ensure the health and happiness of it’s orcas, it was looking into the creation and implementation of a “killer whale treadmill”. This is a device designed to emulate continuous swimming and therefore their natural environment. Supposedly.
It’s not hard to find examples of captive whales who have been driven mad by the monotony of endless swimming around a pool so I can’t really see how this treadmill is going to make such a huge difference to them. Effectively they are still going to be staring at a concrete wall but perhaps a little bit faster in a current and in a straight line instead. I know if I had to stare at a wall and run, I’d find it horrifically dull so for an animal with such a huge capability for emotion, the effects would surely be catastrophic. If humans often use music or television to relieve the boredom, what are the whales going to have? Most probably nothing. Likewise, a lot of people use treadmills instead of actually going outside running and they have the choice to do so. I’m sure that given the option, the whales would much prefer to have the real thing than a glorified gym yet they don’t have the choice. It’s quite a depressing thought.
A lot of people are rushing to praise SeaWorld, saying that this is a great idea as it will enrich the orcas lives and to an extent I agree. They could have a minor element of enrichment as it would add something new to their enclosure but it’s still just not enough, they should be free. I do not agree with the sentiment that SeaWorld are “always thinking about how to improve animal health and happiness” as if that was truly the case, they wouldn’t make them perform on a daily basis. It’s just not natural and it shouldn’t happen. Who’s to say that they are even going to enjoy the treadmill and not think of it as yet another ‘behaviour’ they have to perform?
Quite a few other people agree and some have even called the proposition the orca equivalent of a hamster wheel. I have to say i’m more inclined to agree with this train of thought as I have a hamster, Noodles, and even she gets bored of running on the spot. Put her on the floor however, and she’ll run for miles. The same surely applies to whales with a much higher intelligence capability and it is something that needs to be taken into consideration when considering their well-being. They’ll know that they are simply swimming on the spot and this is bound to be frustrating. Unless this contraption makes such a significant difference to the numerous health issues faced by captive cetaceans and, I don’t think this is an earth moving idea.
Thinking about it, for those animals captured from the wild and taken from their families, if the treadmill works in the way that SeaWorld wants it to it could even act as a painful reminder of what they have been snatched from, Tilikum as an example. We all know that orcas have outstanding memories and so it could trigger something that could have devastating effects. To me it seems as though SeaWorld are simply trying to come up with something to cover their backs amidst all the backlash that has arisen since the arrival of ‘Blackfish‘. They simply want to imply that they are improving their killer whales’ lives as a way to satisfy the increasingly angered public. I feel that they will use it to promote the idea that they will be able to swim hundreds of miles a day like their wild counterparts thus closing the gap between captivity and freedom. I just hope that it doesn’t take as long as it has done for them to even try to help the orcas than it does for people to realise what’s really happening and help save their lives and set them free.
To help make a difference please visit WDC and sign the following petitions to free captive killer whales: