I have been researching many different organizations for volunteer opportunities trying to find a good fit for me. I started even before we moved to Whidbey Island, starting with training for Beach Naturalist at Deception Pass and looking into the Orca Network. Today, I went to Langley for my “training” at the Whale Center, which is partly a small education display, and largely a gift shop that helps support the Orca Network. Unfortunately, the day ended up being 6.5 hours of me in an incredibly uncomfortable position.
I’m not talking about 6.5 hours of standing, although I feel I did a lot of that. I’m not talking about 6.5 hours of non-training, although I didn’t receive much of that either. I’m talking about the ex-SeaWorld Animal Care Specialist interacting with dozens and dozens of visitors and supporters who think that orcas in captivity is wrong. All around me were books, signs, brochures, and paraphernalia declaring that Lolita, the orca at Miami Seaquarium be set free.
Here’s my problem with a potential conservation organization having this agenda: Orcas in captivity, as it is right now, has ZERO effect on the conservation and protection of wild orcas. The ONLY effect that captive orcas can POTENTIALLY have on wild orcas is getting people interested in protecting them. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t that what these organizations WANT? People to learn about orcas? I mean, we can argue the moral standings of orcas being collected from the wild until we are blue in the face. Until someone invents a time machine, we can’t change the fact that it happened. I don’t particularly care for the methods that were used in the 1960s and 1970s, either, but drudging up what happened in the past and using that as ammunition against facilities that house orcas, most of them at this point that were born in the facilities, is pretty much asinine in my book.
What really really bothered me was the momentum this group received from SeaWorld’s announcement that they were ending their breeding program. This behavior is exactly what I feared and anticipated would happen after the announcement. If SeaWorld can end it’s program, you can end yours.
I guess I could have ignored all the anti-captivity propaganda around me if I was being trained about information to share with the visitors in regard to conservation, natural history, fun facts, or why they should care about whales. But I wasn’t. My interactions with the visitors were factual and interpretive, and the irony of it all is I have SeaWorld to thank for my information and training in interpretive techniques, not the Orca Network. So, when I did the activity of how echolocation works on children, I was sharing what echolocation is and how it works, then doing the cool activity with them. That was SeaWorld information I was sharing with visitors. When I discussed the importance of salmon and healthy ecosystems, that was ME, not the Orca Network teaching me to share that information. It was uncomfortable for me to know that I was using my skills taught by SeaWorld to promote something that basically wants SeaWorld to close its gates. While I couldn’t not share my knowledge with visitors, I felt guilty by association.
It was only one day, but it was a long day. I know Whidbey Islanders have a different opinion of SeaWorld than I do. I have already shared in some discussions as to why I still support SeaWorld, even if I have no love for the company on a personal level. I would have to venture that my line of thinking was perhaps if they saw how knowledgeable and professional an ex-SeaWorld employee was, maybe they’d rethink some of their biased opinions of the company. But that still puts me in an uncomfortable position to constantly have to defend myself.
As it is, I was appalled with some of the selections and some of the information that was being passed on to visitors. I didn’t share my thoughts, opinions, or my background with anyone, and luckily no one asked. I wanted to, but stayed my hand to save my sanity.
I have several other prospects of volunteer opportunities where I will feel more comfortable, will learn new skills and how to apply them to better myself and the community, and will feel good about my contributions.
Just like our year in Oregon, while it was a long day, I don’t feel it was wasted. I definitely found some aspects that I would not enjoy, and that’s okay. Experiencing something not as positive as you had hoped can be just as eye-opening as discovering something you have an immense amount of passion for. It’s all part of this crazy journey we call life. Not everything is going to end up roses for everyone.
Tomorrow is another day of possibilities!
Pattie, I like that you make some important distinctions here, especially that SeaWorld has done an important service in education about orcas. Also, tacitly, that it’s perhaps not the best stance of an ostensibly educational nonprofit to engage in what amounts to political proselytizing. Good post.
Thank you. I wanted to be careful not to demonize the Orca Network itself, because I truly think they are doing some great work on educating the locals about our impact on the Southern Resident orcas, but I wish they weren’t so focused on the captivity issue as I really don’t think that agenda has anything to do with the true cause, which is orca and orca-ecosystem conservation.
I should also be clear that SeaWorld is not perfect. And I am NO fan of the conditions that Lolita is held. But I really don’t see why an orca conservation organization and a marine life park, even if an “industry”, can’t work together to achieve their common main goals.