Silent No More

An Insight into the Treatment of Orcas

Loro Parque. Situated in Puerto de la Cruz, Tenerife, it is apparently considered "the best zoo in the world" according to the park's website and numerous posters plastered across the island. It's hard to ignore the appeal of such a place that offers the world's largest indoor penguin enclosure and Europe's largest shark tunnel, whilst also playing host to a variety of different animal shows throughout the day. So, having been in Tenerife myself recently on holiday with family it seemed only right that which should pay a visit of our own to such a thrilling place. And to be quite honest, from the family-friendly exterior it's hard to imagine that anything could be wrong with a place so driven by the conservation of endangered animals. However, as most people should have come to understand by now, all is not as it seems from the outside looking in and after doing my own research off of knowledge I vaguely had already I discovered something that needs to be uncovered.

One of the many attractions offered at Loro Parque is the orca (also known as killer whales) show, also known as "Orca Ocean!" I was slightly apprehensive about viewing this show in particular, having viewed the 2013 documentary Blackfish in the past. The central theme for this documentary was the mistreatment of orcas at Seaworld, at the same time uncovering the truth as to how places such as this managed to get their hands on orcas. Seeing as though I had enjoyed it so much, I decided to download the documentary once more and watch it whilst I flew home. I was then met with a shock, when I realised that another orca incident in which an animal had actually killed its trainer was from one at Loro Parque. How could I have forgotten this before visiting the park? Why was there no recollection after seeing the large banner flying above the stadium that read the name "KETO," that this was the orca that killed one of the trainers? Since this realisation I have become fascinated and possibly obsessed with uncovering what real happens to make sure gentle giants turn on the people, who are apparently supposed to care for them the most.

Black Beauties

In reality, there is no exact number as to how many orcas there are officially worldwide. The only evidence we have to go on is that of photographs taken in and around Alaskan waters, which have only managed to identify 1000 orcas. An orca can live to roughly 50–80 years old in open water; that's almost four times more then the average age of some orcas recorded from Seaworld. Not only do they have such a large life span, but actually in fact the calves never leave their mother's side and tend to stay in the same pods throughout their entire lives. Each pod cares a different "sound" that they use to communicate and differentiate who's who within the ocean. Therefore, if you were to take orcas from different pods and try to get them to communicate with one another, it would be like trying to ask people who only spoke French, English, or German to communicate with one another.  As far as the public are made aware, companies such as Seaworld no longer steal orcas from the wild. Instead they choose to breed the ones they currently hold in captivity, giving life to animals that will never know how it feels to swim in the endless ocean.

Keto

On June 17th 1995, Keto was born at the Seaworld park in Orlando, Florida. It wasn't until 2006 that he was eventually moved to Loro Parque, which to this day is one of only two parks in Europe to house orcas. Keto has only fathered two calves since his arrival at Loro Parque, unlike Tilikum one of the most famous orcas who fathered 21 calves and was in fact the only successful grandfather orca. Yet the mate selected for Keto wasn't necessarily a perfect match, unless by that you mean being 6.25% inbred. Not only are these whales forced into families in which they have no means of communicating with, but a large percentage of them are in fact all related. If being trapped inside a glass tank for their entire lives isn't torture enough, imagine what they must go through if their health were to deteriorate and they cannot fight it, because their DNA is a mess. We don't breed humans with their family members just because they're the only ones available, so why should we do it to an animal?

Like all the other whales at Loro Parque, Keto would perform shows almost every day with a number of trainers including Alexis Martinez. This name is unknown by so many people, including myself who had only come across the name a matter of days ago. December 24th, 2009 is a date that should be remembered alongside the name Alexis Martinez, as the day when he tragically lost his life. During a rehearsal for the Christmas show, it hasn't gone unnoticed that Keto had not been performing to his full potential and had become agitated at times. For a short while Martinez had waited in the pool alongside Keto, stroking the animal and waiting for him to calm down. Instead, Keto took a different approach and rammed all 7000 lbs. of his body into Martinez only ever stopping once to take a breath before dragging him to the bottom of the pool. This story was only ever published to Spanish media outlets, who took a statement from Loro Parque that claimed this to only be an "accident" and that Martinez's body showed no signs of violence to it whatsoever. Now, you may think I'm insane for thinking this but if a 7000 lbs. whale rams into your body and drags you to the bottom of a pool, you do not come away untouched. This is the type of question that people should have been asking, but instead they remained quiet and the story never reached anywhere else.

When the autopsy report finally came to light, it stated that Martinez had died due to compression fractures, tears to vital organs, extreme internal bleeding and that his body was covered in bite marks. For this information to be revealed, after people were informed that "it was only an accident" and that "there were no signs of violence" could almost be viewed as laughable. It is simply yet another factor that proves companies like Loro Parque are no better then Seaworld, in the sense that they simply want to prevent as much loss in revenues and visits as possible when something like this occurs. One small factor which may be viewed by some people as an improvement is that to this date, trainers at Loro Parque "Orca Ocean" no longer enter the water with the orcas during live shows. But Keto is still alive and at the park, as previously mentioned there are signs encouraging people to come an visit him along with the other orcas. Not only that, but it was after this incident that Keto then went on the father his two calves. Clearly he had the potential to display violent behaviour, but the park didn't care and decided to pass on his DNA anyway because it meant more whales, for more entertainment, which meant more money.

One thing I would like to point out that upset me the most of all, was that there is nothing left of Alexis Martinez at Loro Parque. There is no statue, no commemorative plaque, so exhibition on his work, not even a memory of the fact he gave his life to a job that he loved. It's as if he is a ghost that Loro Parque has erased from people's memories and for some it seems it has been successful.

Not Their Fault

In all of this I want to try and stress as much as possible that in no should these whales be held accountable. Yes it is horrific the actions they have performed and we as humans will never fully understand why these orcas in particular just one day snap, but we can have a good guess. For me? I would put money on the cause being the fact that these creatures are stolen from their mothers before they even reach an age that is considered adolescence, and placed into a watery prison. They are not taken or saved or even rescued, these creatures are basically stolen from their mothers and taken to a prison where they are made to perform, for the enjoyment of people. Years after years of their precious lives are wasted swimming around a place where they a put on display each and every day, never getting the chance to feel the ocean again. It could be described as a blessing for those orcas who are born into captivity, never knowing what it's like to be free in to ocean, so never feeling the need of longing to return to it. 

An orca is born in the wild for a reason. Because it is a wild animal. It is a part of the natural world we live in and therefore it should stay in the wild. Just because we as humans have made an artificial world for ourselves does not mean we should drag the unaware and the defenceless into it with us. Places like Seaworld and Loro Parque need to open their eyes because these are not accidents any more. They are meddling with the lives of animals and as a result they are meddling with the lives of people too. I simply leave you with this; if you had been stolen, trapped in a glass box, made to perform in front of people every day for rest of your life, wouldn't something snap inside you too?

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