As David Kirby pointed out after talking to several activists last week, SeaWorld has introduced a new “treadmill for whales.” In my opinion, this seems to be a last-ditch effort for them to be portrayed as a facility who cares for their animals. As David said, “If you make something less bad, it’s still bad.”
Yes, it is true that Tilikum spends the majority of his time stationary in a small, back pool. He could benefit from some exercise, but we should not stray from the big picture. No matter what kind of machine is introduced, the bottom line is that he is still living in a small concrete tank.
There are many unknown variables with this new treadmill, but I can’t help but wonder about the potentially detrimental factors. We do not know what kind of noise it makes or how cooperative Tilikum will be. If the machine is loud underwater, I would think that it will be doing him more harm than good. An animal who naturally uses sonar to assess his surroundings should not be exposed to anything that will further harm his senses any more than his concrete tank already does. I also have to wonder what frustration this might cause for him. Although he is not being asked to perform, he is being asked to swim. In a performance, he would get frequent dead fish as a reward following any command. How long must he swim before he is rewarded (if you call dead fish a reward). I feel that Tilikum is smart enough to realize that he is being duped. Although I can’t speak for him, if this was happening to me I would be extremely frustrated. Frustration could possibly lead to another injury to himself or to someone else.
The real issue continues to be the fact that Tilikum and all of the other cetaceans in all parks don’t belong in captivity. Period. It is a sad fact that SeaWorld must look for other ways of “enrichment” for Tilikum’s life when the natural ocean provides all the enrichment he could ever need.
As activists, the focus needs to continue to be on stopping their breeding program and phasing out the captivity of these animals for good, not finding a way to make captivity better.
I tend to agree with Naomi Rose who stated, “It’s still not good enough. Only the ocean is good enough.”