I can still remember the first time I saw “Free Willy.” I was six years old, and just starting elementary school. I was at my grandmother’s house with my mom, brother, and one of my cousins. I was immediately into the movie, as it starts with a music video for “Will You Be There,” by Michael Jackson, my favorite artist at the time. The actual film starts in an even more exciting way, especially for a child...
I started finding any and all information I could about orcas. I had toys, stuffed animals, books, and of course, a “Free Willy” poster. I was even a member of the Free Willy Adoption Fund, which eventually helped to free the real Willy, an orca named Keiko. I also started watching television shows about other whales, which lead to posters, toys, and books on every species of cetacean (the scientific term for whales, dolphins, and porpoises). I knew at this very young age that I wanted whales to be a part of my life forever, but I didn’t know how.
A few years later, my parents took us on a trip to Orlando. Disney was, of course, part of the trip as it was the last time we went. But there was a new destination this time: SeaWorld. I can’t even begin to describe the amount of joy I felt. This of the most excited child you’ve ever seen, and multiply it by ten. This was my obsession, or my spirit animal, as my younger brother would later call it, and I was going to see them up close. SeaWorld was everything a kid could want in a park and more. Animals were everywhere, and some could even be touched. I think that was the happiest my parents had ever seen me. When it came time for the Shamu show, I could barely contain myself. As soon as the orcas left the holding pen, I got chills. I have visited SeaWorld a couple more times since this day, and I still get chills. I knew then what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to be a whale trainer. I could be with orcas every day, and swim with them, hug them, and care for them. It looked like the greatest job in the world. Hands down, that was my favorite part of that trip to Orlando.
My recent animal activism brought forth issues that I never knew existed. The harsh conditions for meat animals and hens and cows, the horrors of animal testing, the unimaginable cruelty of the fur industry. But at least SeaWorld, I thought, takes care of their animals. When I saw the poster for “Blackfish,” I thought at first that it was a documentary about orcas like the ones I had already seen. When I saw the trailer, I was overcome with fear. When Dawn Brancheau’s name was mentioned along with SeaWorld, there was a question raised: Was her death SeaWorld’s fault? At first, I didn’t want to watch it. I have told many people to watch the documentaries I have watched, and they say 'no'. They would rather remain ignorant, because ignorance is bliss. Then I thought to myself, “No, I have to watch it.”
This is just one example of how the truth can completely change people’s views of something. For me, this film struck a personal cord. But it’s clear by the film’s popularity, and SeaWorld’s profits, that many others feel the same way I do. There are a few spots in the world right now which have succeeded or are trying to ban captive cetaceans. I feel like there is a movement starting, and it is up to SeaWorld to decide if they want to be on the right side of history. I hope, for the sake of my spirit animal, they do.