From Blackfish to Blue World


Corky II has had a rough life.

When she was kidnapped from her family at three years old, the 21-foot-long killer whale experienced the ocean for the very last time. That was in 1969.

Corky has been impregnated seven times, but none of her calves – including the first killer whale to be born into captivity – have lived past two months. Two of her pregnancies ended in miscarriages. And when she finally stopped ovulating, she was only 21 years old. In the wild, female orcas bear young well into their forties.

To this day, Corky lives in a swimming pool the relative size of a bathtub. She’s 50 years old and performs daily at SeaWorld San Diego, despite suffering from cataracts.

Corky is not alone in her plight. And thanks to CNN’s successful 2013 documentary Blackfish, awareness of orca abuse has soared.

At long last, SeaWorld has proposed a plan to expand their orca habitat. The California Coastal Board has approved of this $100 million “Blue World Project,” as long as SeaWorld ceases to breed whales in captivity.

This expansion is, for lack of a better term, good news. The orcas will have more space to exercise, as well as an artificial ocean current to simulate their natural homes. However, this new habitat will not be the end of the whales’ troubles.

Answer this: if you spent the majority of your life in a room that you could barely move around in, how thrilling would an additional few feet of space be? Most wouldn’t put up a fight.

But these whales are still trapped in a synthetic habitat that cannot possibly offer them the full benefits of the open sea. And when animals are being abused, the answer isn’t to give them a slightly larger space.

John Hargrove, a former SeaWorld trainer who has since spoken out against the theme park’s crimes, seems to agree. “Captivity is still captivity,” he said, “no matter how gentle the jailer or the size of the cell.”

Until Corky and her eleven San Diego peers are reintroduced back into nature, justice will not have been served. It’s unlikely that they could once more thrive as wild animals; they cannot hunt, and the medications they’ve received via SeaWorld could have untold effects. However, Blackfish director Gabriela Cowperthwaite proposes an alternative solution.

“In a sea sanctuary, where a large ocean cove is cordoned off with a net, we could monitor [the whales’] health,” she says, “even feed them if need be.”

In Cowperthwaite’s opinion, such sanctuaries could even turn a profit if SeaWorld chose to direct its efforts down that path. For a company that claims education as one of its basic principles, this shouldn’t be such a stretch.

“I believe people would flock to a site where a killer whale is being a killer whale for the first time – something infinitely more satisfying than seeing a killer whale dance the Macarena,” says Cowperthwaite.

SeaWorld’s attempts to improve its orcas’ lives in captivity is far better than leaving them to rot in the dinky pools that accommodate them now. But it evades the bigger issues and slaps a Band-Aid over a gunshot wound. The fact is that the educated masses do not want to endorse the obvious suffering of animals, which is unfortunately a cornerstone of SeaWorld’s past success.

Corky II remains on display. She still has no choice but to wave her fins to tackily-dressed crowds on command, and she’ll continue to do so long after the Blue World Project’s completion.

Newsflash, SeaWorld. You’ve still got work to do.