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When Killer Whales Kill: Why the movie "Blackfish" Should Sink Captive Whale Programs

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I watched the whole "Blackfish"movie with a big stupid grin on my face.

I just couldn't help it. I smiled as I watched trainer after trainer get injured, even killed. I kept smiling watching whales drown during capture and hearing the desperate cries of helpless whale mothers as their babies were torn away from them -- not only in the wild, but also in captivity. I watched frustrated captive whales attacking each other and bleeding profusely. It was all so sad and cruel, but I just kept on smiling right through it all. I was aware that anybody in the theatre watching me would think I was a total psychopath who cared nothing about whales or people... But I couldn't stop smiling!

The reason for my goofy grinning was that I know this whale tale all too well, and there it was unfolding beautifully for public consumption on the big screen. Remember Tilikum, the orca that was shipped from Victoria's Sealand to Orlando's SeaWorld after the death of a trainer? "Blackfish" ( which opens August 2 in Vancouver at the Vancity Theatre) shows us that wasn't the last tragedy associated with this killer whale.

Sitting in the theatre, I couldn't help but think of the reaction that "Blackfish" will cause within the industry, the public and the government. And that made me smile. I figure if all goes well, "Blackfish" will sink SeaWorld's captive orca whale program, just like "Free Willy" sank the program at the Vancouver Aquarium.

The reason I know this whale of a story so intimately is that I volunteer for the Vancouver-based registered non-profit society called No Whales In Captivity. I have helped organize hundreds of protests outside the Vancouver Aquarium, lobbied seven different elected boards of commissioners at the Vancouver Park Board, and done thousands of hours of media interviews, school chats and public presentations about the cruel practice of keeping whales in captivity.

The first "Free Willy" movie was released in 1993. It told the story of a captive orca who is reunited with his family in the ocean. The amazing thing is that this fictional tale became a true story when Keiko, the "Free Willy" whale, was rehabilitated and released back to his family in the North Atlantic. (Watch out for the new documentary, "Keiko: The Untold Story".)

When the movie "Free Willy" was released in Vancouver, our group was granted permission to set up display tables at all the movie theatres where it was screened. Volunteers collected many signatures on petitions and recruited new protestors at these screenings. Finally in 2001, after many years of protests and meetings, the Vancouver Aquarium closed the orca whale tank forever, shipping the last surviving orca called Bjossa to Sea World in San Diego. Bjossa died at SeaWorld four months later, alone and forgotten in a reserve tank.

There are still two beluga whales and two dolphins left at the Vancouver Aquarium and we are asking that no more be imported to restock those tanks once these animals die or are sold to another facility. We are calling for a complete phase-out of whale exhibits in Stanley Park and we will continue to protest and lobby government until we stop the importation of new whales and dolphins.

Orcas, belugas and dolphins are all cetaceans, which means that they all feel and suffer just like we do. Even the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) -- with a membership of 8,000 -- agrees that cetaceans should be given the right to live free of human intervention, and that includes no captivity for whales.

However, the Vancouver Aquarium has other plans right now. Aquarium press releases have announced that bigger tanks are to be built and kept stocked with eight beluga whales and eight dolphins for breeding, performing and for the big money maker, the one-on-one with a whale. For a couple of hundred bucks, you too can spend 15 minutes patting the head of a captive whale who scientists believe is more intelligent than any human, solely for that perfect Facebook photo op.

The good news is that there's still time to stop the Vancouver Aquarium's plans. We checked with the Vancity Theatre and were told that tickets to "Blackfish" are selling like hotcakes. So be sure to get your movie tickets quick and join the growing movement to end dolphin captivity and empty the whale and dolphin tanks in Stanley Park.

The orca whales are long gone from the Vancouver Aquarium; the beluga whales and the dolphins are next!

And that's why I just can't stop smiling.