I always loved and appreciated nature, I've been vegetarian my whole life and will soon be a vegan. I saw Keiko just before he was released when I was two years old in Oregon, my state of birth.
When I moved to San Diego in the third grade, my love for the oceans, especially cetaceans, grew. Free Willy got me started. My passion back then was to become a SeaWorld trainer. I would play with toy Shamus and act like I was riding them. But I never thought about how each individual orca may have felt, how they did feel when performing in real life. I never thought that three of the orcas were captured, that Orkid's parents had died, that they live way shorter in captivity. It was about how much joy I was having, my love for orcas, how I felt when they jumped in the air. Their tricks were all a distraction to what lay behind the curtain.
At the end of 6th grade, our school had a field trip to SeaWorld and I enrolled in a summer camp there. Much like many of the people who spent their money there that day, I enjoyed my time watching the dolphins perform for me and the hundreds of people sitting all around the stadium. I got all excited and my body started tingling as I saw them leap towards the sky on cue.
The theme park music kept blasting as everybody applauded louder than the sound of thunder. I was almost in a trance, taken over by my adrenaline as the show continued on. I lept out of my seat as a dolphin named Dolly jumped over a 20 ft high rope...I was so amazed that dolphins could jump that high. Just when I thought it could not get any better, a twist was added at the end! Someone fell into the pool and got picked up by a dolphin, who carried her around the tank!
Just as everyone started gasping, they announced that it was another trainer! I started laughing my head off as the whole place erupted with uncontrollable laughter. But in time, the loud noise died down as the show ended and everyone began to leave the stadium to continue their fun day at SeaWorld. My day, however, was finished as my sisters were shockingly whining to go home. How could anyone ever want to leave this place? I thought to myself.
The dolphin approached the wall again, and I reached out my hand and touched him once more, but I did not toss him a fish this time. Having tricked him, the dolphin stared me in the eye with an indescribable intelligence. I shivered, then asked the instructor if the tank was too small. She said that the dolphins were happy. “This tank is eight feet deep and they have plenty of room.”
The rest of the day, I was startled. I awoke from that trance that the shows put me in. On the way home, I was mad, angry and confused.
The next day at camp, we visited the tanks the orcas circle around in when they aren't performing. I asked the same question I did the other day. No answer. During the Believe show, I thought that something isn't right. A piece of bird poop landing in my mouth confirmed that assumption. Needless to say, after camp was over, I never visited SeaWorld again.
I got into the TV show “Whale Wars” and after talking on an online discussion with somebody, I found myself becoming an administrator for an organization called Global Wildlife Warriors. I also wrote several articles for the organization and met several friends who are still close to me today. This allowed me to research topics and find out about more issues, like the dolphin slaughter in Taiji, Japan and the full truth behind SeaWorld.
But it was only when I snorkeled with wild dolphins in Hawaii that summer that I began to fully realize why keeping sentient beings in captivity is so wrong.
Suddenly, about a few hundred yards away, one of them leaped from the surface, spinning and twirling his/her body through the air. It looked so much more different than what I had seen at SeaWorld. The ambient ocean sounds fluttered into my ears, along with the enigmatic language of the dolphins. I had always wondered what they were saying below, what they thought of us.