We designed our own demise, engineered it actually. Every day we make seemingly harmless decisions like taking the elevator over the stairs. Why not? We're desensitized to effect. Understanding illness and death are skin deep afflictions. Never believing such boogie men could ever get us, we take the elevator.
Perhaps it wouldn't be so terribly screwed up if we had stopped there. But no, we're plagued with something else, the human condition. It's diabolical in its hunger for creating discomforts in us. Motivated by it, we want, scheme, and seek out more of what we have - inflicting our pain onto creatures with the misfortune of sharing this planet with us. Enslaved, they catch our disease - our sloth and our gluttony - and die sooner than they would have if we'd dealt with our shortcomings in other ways.
Captive orcas didn't ask to swim in pools of their own filth or learn English and obey commands given by beings they could squish with little more than a thought. They're guilty of only their birthright, a screwed up one at that.
But over the last 40 years, a pattern has emerged. Being boxed in and lazy is killing us. It's a lesson whales have died to teach us.
Somewhere in the last 100,000 years that Homo sapiens have occupied this planet, we became obsessed with this notion that animals need us. Laughable, at best. Instead, the truth is that most species that call the Wild Kingdom home not only don't need us, they wouldn't complain if our entire species disappeared. We get in their way and interrupt their existence altogether.
Captive orcas are fed a diet of farm-raised, frozen fish stuffed with vitamins (milled pig and cow bones) and other "nutrients" (gelatin to keep them hydrated) we stupidly think they need. In the wild, they feast on seabirds, squid, octopuses, sea turtles, sharks, rays, and fish.
Like humans, orcas were designed to travel long distances. Their intuition and everything inside tells them to move and keep moving. You don't get anywhere in a tank. Floating around or remaining stationary for long periods of time are their only options. Guided by instinct, some have been known to swim from one side of their enclosures to the other in an aimless pacing motion.
Then there's the whole issue of their waste. Incorporated into the very water they live and swim in, they're prone to illnesses. Chlorine helps, and the animals are removed for scheduled cleanings, but that only leaves these animals to swim in a mix of salted, chlorinated waste. Sick orcas are given antibiotics to treat infections. The cause of the issue isn't dealt with. How can it be? Repeated exposure to large doses of antibiotics creates a resistance and more aggressive infections. A never ending cycle ensues that eventually kills the animal.
It's the proverbial sharp knife of a short life.
SeaWorld officials claim whales actually live longer by swimming in chlorinated pools of their own ick. On average, a contained cetacean living a sentient life of little exercise, processed food, and constant stressors will live between 25 and 30 years.
It's a model for our own lives.
Remember smoking? Remember how cool you thought you looked with that white cancer stick trapped between your index and middle fingers? Overall, cigarettes kill two-thirds of their customers. Smokers are prone to chronic diseases and shorter life-spans.
We got smart and gave them up. Every day the population of smokers in this country shrinks in size. What isn't said is we've just traded one vice for another. We don't smoke anymore. Today, in the 21st century. We sit. In chairs parked at cubicles, we sit for decades. Modern humans don't move any more than that.
No, wait. We eat. Food is cheap in this country. Correction, empty calories are cheap. Your local Mickey D's will gladly sell you a 1,500 calorie meal for what you'd pay for two gallons of milk. Nutrient rich food is expensive, and it requires more effort than we're willing to exert and more money we're willing to spend. Ergo, we eat crap. And it makes us sick.
While we don't swim in tanks full of salt-water-poo, we have massive carbon footprints. In Beijing, the air is so toxic that the government declared breathing while outdoors (that inhaling thing we do) is hazardous to the health of the city's citizens!
This generation will be the first ever not to outlive the prior one. We're affecting our lifespans with our habits. Captive orcas have modeled what our current way of thinking leads to.
Wild orcas demonstrate the promise of what life could be like.
We have a lot in common with orcas to begin with. It seems natural that we'd become fascinated by them. Sadly, fascination bred obsession and greed. And that's how we ended up here. But this isn't where we have to stay.
They have families called pods. Once born, they'll spend the rest of their lives with their parents. Pods can have 30+ members. We humans leave the nest only to yearn to return to the warmth and carefree life of childhood. Orcas get exactly that.
Each pod functions as a matriarchal society with the oldest female calling the shots. While we like to think we're more patriarchal, how many of us go to our mothers first?
Pods operate as their own societies and each demonstrates a different version of what we'd call language. Imagine each group has different customs, traditions, names, etcetera. Neat, huh?
They live significantly longer in the wild than they do in salt-water-poo-tanks. Females get up over 100 years. Males average between 50 and 75 years. With plenty of space to swim, less than 1% of all wild killer whales have droopy dorsal fins. In captivity, unused muscles in the fin atrophy and shrink. With no support, the fin droops. The oldest living orca (named Granny) is estimated to be 104 years old! Her dorsal fin stands proud and tall since she's never known a day in captivity.
They're emotional mammals. We are, too. They weren't designed to spend their lives parked in boxes. We weren't either. Reversing what we've done to our air, our bodies, and our world won't be done overnight. But the situation is improving.
Recently, SeaWorld announced they intend to do away with live whale performances and end their breeding programs for all whales by 2019. "The Blackfish Effect" (named for the popular Oscar-winning documentary) spawned activism and calls for reform. The animals in captivity won't be set free. Unfortunately, they'd likely starve to death since they're little more than domesticated pets at this point.
But what they've shown us will linger. Sitting still, boxed in our crap, eating trash, shortens our stay onboard Planet Earth. We're nomadic mammals who raise our young into adulthood. We're parents for the rest of our lives. Living in herds, we look to our mothers and grandmothers for truthful, helpful advice.
Spoiled by convenience, most of us lack any survival skills. Modern humans would be less than useless in the wilderness we were designed to call home. But we can improve. By making small changes to our sentient routine (by upping our mobility for example) we change our body's chemistry for the better. It took forever to get rid of smoking, but we have. We did it. Now, let's ditch sitting!
Diseases like diabetes and cancer won't ever be completely gone. I know this because I battle stage four lymphoma every day. As I write this, my mind trails off and thinks of Granny. And I envy her. I'd give almost anything to live as long as she has! If captured whales know about her, they envy her as much as I do! I'm making changes to my diet and lifestyle in hopes of beating the odds. Maybe, if I'm lucky, I'll live as long as she has.
For all we have in common with them, intelligence included, captive orcas have learned our language (and even Dolphin-speak!) by mastering our commands. No matter how hard we try, Humans will never speak whale.