Many years ago, I visited an aquarium and remember seeing an orca in a small circular tank that appeared to overlap with another small circular tank. I recall feeling a bit sick as I watched this large animal try to build up enough speed in this confined space to jump out of the water on command.
My childhood memories often revealed that things that appeared to be massive were in reality quite small when viewed through the eyes of an adult. As I recall, these connecting pools seemed extremely tiny, but it was the size of the orca in relation to the size of the tank that was most disturbing. This orca was in a fishbowl.
What I did not know then was how wrong it is to confine an orca to a tank. Flipper was always laughing, smiling, and having so much fun. Having a pet dolphin was really cool. What I did not know was that Kathy, the dolphin who played the role of Flipper, committed suicide. What I did not know was the horrific suffering that Kathy and all whales and dolphins in captivity endure on a daily basis.
I do not know the Orca’s name and I don’t know the location or name of the facility. I live in Canada and there are limited options in this country so it must have been somewhere in the United States; perhaps a border town.
This poor animal would have lived and died without contact with her orca family and without living a life of freedom in the ocean which is the birthright of all cetaceans. Who was this once magnetic creature? Was she constantly breathing polluted air, suffering from ulcers, and inflicted with skin infections caused by the chemicals in her tank? What type of captivity-related disease caused her death? How many years was her life cut short? What I do know is that she committed no crime and she did not deserve to lose her freedom or her life.
My father is no longer alive and my mother can’t recall ever taking us to an aquarium so this remains a mystery and I wonder if this is a memory or just my imagination. Maybe this was something I saw on television. Perhaps it was a dream or a forerunner; an experience I will have in future. If this is a recollection, maybe it was rekindled to inspire my work as an ocean activist.
If I cannot determine her identity, perhaps I might concede she never existed and that would make for a happy ending because if she did not exist, she did not suffer, but attributing this memory to a dream would be a much too convenient resolution.
I think she was real and I would like to know who she was, but I don’t know if I ever will. Her family never knew what happened to her and it is very possible I won’t either.
Perhaps she will always be the unknown orca.
For the Oceans,
Janice Oceans (on Facebook)
@janice_oceans (on Twitter)