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How 'Blackfish' & Granny Made Me Stop Loving SeaWorld

I spent my college years living in Pacific Beach, California, just a few miles down the street from SeaWorld, San Diego. I had an annual pass and on rough days, I would head to SeaWorld all by myself to feed the dolphins and think. While those dolphins were typically the main draw for me, I saw my fair share of killer whale shows as well. And I loved it. I loved it all. I was pretty sure SeaWorld was the happiest place on earth—forget about that other place with the mouse.

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My original major at San Diego State University was Marine Biology, and while that changed many times over the years, my love for dolphins and all things SeaWorld never did. In fact, when I finally graduated seven years later (yes, I was the female Van Wilder) with a degree in psychology, my graduation gift from my family was a "trainer for the day" package at SeaWorld.

I finally got to swim with my dolphins. And it was every bit as fantastic as I had always dreamed it would be.

While I never did become an official trainer, I have continued to harbor a not-so-secret love for SeaWorld—even now, living 3,000 miles away. And when my daughter was born, one of the memories I couldn’t wait to make with her was bringing her to my happiest place on earth to feed the dolphins.

And then, Blackfish happened.

I will admit, I avoided watching this documentary for far too long. I knew it would upset me, and even more—I knew it would mar the magical image of SeaWorld I had in my head. And I didn’t want my happiest place to be marred.

My daughter will never experience my once happiest place on earth.

But for some reason, about a week ago, I finally gave in. Maybe it was because I had heard so much about this documentary at this point, there was really no pretending it didn’t exist. Or maybe it was because I finally needed to see what all the fuss was about for myself. Whatever the reason, an hour and a half later, I was officially traumatized.

The problem is, it was hard to deny much of what the film had to say against SeaWorld. And when I really thought about it, it is pretty heartbreaking to imagine these giant animals who are used to swimming hundreds of miles being confined instead inside tiny tanks. It is disturbing to think about animals that clearly spend their lives together as a family in the wild, having their pods broken up and mothers and children separated in captivity. And it is especially concerning to see the ways in which SeaWorld has worked over the years to cover up some of the less than appealing parts of their industry.

This past week, Granny was spotted out in the wild—a 103-year-old orca who makes it very clear that SeaWorld is lying every time they tell visitors that these whales tend to live no more than 30 years. A lie they have to tell, because in captivity, the lifespan of these gorgeous creatures is greatly reduced. But if they admit that, they have to admit all the ways in which they are actually harming these animals by taking them out of their natural environment. And doing that would mean giving up an awful lot of money. Because no one wants to visit a place that is intentionally harming animals for cash. At least, no one with a conscience.

I knew exactly what would happen when I watched Blackfish, but I’m still sad to have to admit it to myself. I will never go to SeaWorld again. My daughter will never experience my once happiest place on earth.

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Unfortunately, I don’t know what the answer is at this point. Many of these animals likely couldn’t survive out in the wild if they were released today. So what do you do with them? How do you give them a better life than what they currently have? And how do you fund that if SeaWorld is shut down in the process?

I honestly don’t know. I just know I no longer want to be a dolphin trainer when I grow up.

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