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Blackfish.  The documentary about captive whales that will break your heart and move you to action.

By now, you all have probably read my open letter to Jack Hanna.  You probably saw Concrete Cell, the first of a short series of underwater photos inspired by the film.  As I do, I turned to art to help me express my thoughts.  I’ve just completed the last two photos for the series, and I’d like to share them with you here.

I set up an underwater shoot with Katie, with the intention to create something inspired by Blackfish.  Something sad and cold, that touched on the tragedy of the film.  Something that would help me work through the troubling emotions the movie had brought up, and lessen my feeling of helplessness about the plight of the whales.

It was a great shoot.  We captured everything we wanted, my camera behaved itself, and even the sudden appearance of gardeners tending to the yard around the pool was just another story to laugh about.  As she often does, Katie seemed to instantly understand what it was I wanted to express and needed very little direction.  My new wetsuit worked wonders and even though I still hated being wet at all, at least this time I wasn’t a purple, shaking mess by the time the shoot was done.

Editing the photos was another matter.  Having to visit such an emotionally dark place whenever I worked on them was not easy.  I had to take breaks and work on lighter photos.  But I’m proud of myself for sticking it out; doing what I felt I needed to do despite the difficulty of it.

In the first photo, we wanted to recreate Tilikum’s misery in this iconic photo of him, taken by Colleen Gorman, languishing alone in his solitary confinement.

Photo by Colleen Gorman; click on the photo to be taken to her excellent article on her blog The Orca Project detailing his miserable existence.

The second photo is an impression of the anguish of all the captive dolphins and whales and a memorial to all their deaths.

As this year draws to an end, I can’t help but think of what a huge impact Blackfish has already had on society.  It was only shown on CNN in October of this year.  The backlash against SeaWorld and its supporters has been immense.  Sponsors have fled, popular bands have refused to perform there.  Petitions of every kind are circulating, making demands.  Change is coming.  But it cannot come fast enough.

It’s easy to feel helpless to bring big change about.  We are all only one person after all; one drop amidst a great ocean of people.  But, as they say in Cloud Atlas, what is an ocean but a multitude of drops?

I want my drop to fall on the side of animal rights.  And I hope that 2014 brings about the ocean of change that has already begun.  I believe it can happen 🙂

Lifeless Life

Lifeless Life

A Drop Of Blood

A Drop Of Blood

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I want to give you all a few quick updates here on the blog.  First though, I’d like to introduce my first Blackfish-inspired photo today, titled “Concrete Cell.”  It is the first in a series, but I was too excited to share this photo to wait until they’re all finished.
The often-cited comparison of SeaWorld’s whale enclosures being the equivalent size of a bathtub to you or me not only deeply saddened me, but also sparked the idea for this photo.  Imagine it.  When you’re not forced to perform, you live in this sad, colorless, sterile world of concrete and shadows.  The intelligence of these whales makes their living conditions even crueler and more heartless; sentient beings shoved into tiny compartments where they die a little more every day.
If you also agree that SeaWorld’s practices are abusive and need to be changed, please see my open letter to Jack Hanna regarding his defense of SeaWorld.  You can read more about the issues there and take action with petitions to sign!Thank you to Katie Johnson for her beautiful underwater modeling in this!  Underwater modeling is a skill unto itself and quite tricky, but she makes it look effortless.
Concrete Cell

Concrete Cell

Secondly, there has been a lot of response to my post about suicide and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis.  This is one of those topics that is very, very real, but rarely discussed in public.  Or even in private, for that matter.  There is always a correlation between any kind of chronic illness and suicide, because there is only so much a person can endure.  This post has been shared quite a bit already, but I would love for it to reach even more people, and hopefully find its way to the original person who found my blog by searching “I have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and I want to give up.”  I understand that feeling.  My blog will rage in its way against cruelties, abuses and atrocities, but its arms are always open to the ill, the hopeless, the voiceless and those in need.  This is not a place of judgement.  This is a place of love and acceptance.

Lastly, my 2014 calendars are now available!  Printed on thick, gorgeous paper, each month features a popular new image from my most recent works, including photographs from my DreamWorld, actor portraits series and my CFS/fibro/ME series Enchanted Sleep.  So add a dose of magic to your day…or the day of someone you love…with a collectable calendar!

2014 Calendar

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Thank you to everyone who has helped spread the message of Blackfish, and a special thanks to everyone who has helped circulate and promote my open letter to Jack Hanna.  There has been such an enormous uproar of outrage over the atrocities documented in this film, and more over Hanna’s defense of SeaWorld that, you know, I think we just might be able to change things.

Not overnight certainly.  But if I personally have heard from so many people who are as saddened and angry as I am, I believe there are enough of us to shut SeaWorld down.  Let’s keep it up, keep letting them know how disgusted we are, how we will never be visiting their parks again, that they will never receive another dollar (or pound or lira or what have you) from us.  And let us keep the pressure on them to do the very least of all the right things they could do and release  Tilikum and Lolita.

If you have not already seen my other post and signed the petitions listed there, I would highly encourage you to!  It takes very little time and can make an enormous difference.

Thank you all.  The response to my letter has been greater than I ever would have expected.  So in a spirit of thanks, here is a recent photo of mine, featuring the wonderful Katie Johnson, which has a very hopeful feel to it.

Thank you, every one of you 🙂

 

Promise

Promise

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AN OPEN LETTER TO JACK HANNA

Dear Mr. Hanna,

The great empathy I have toward animals today I owe, in part, to you.

I grew up watching your animal shows.  They delighted and educated me, giving me insights into wondrous creatures I would not have access to otherwise.  I believe you deeply and sincerely care about all wildlife and would never knowingly support animal cruelty in any form.

So, seeing you in interview after interview defending SeaWorld in light of the revelations in CNN’s recent documentary BLACKFISH both boggles my mind and breaks my heart.

You have done so much in support of conservation and animal rights…advocating for humane conditions for factory animals, championing the idea that wild animals should be left wild and just generally bringing people a better understanding of the animal world…so I am at an utter loss to explain how you can justify and defend SeaWorld’s tactics and practices.

The orca Tilikum languishes alone every day and night in a tank equivalent to the size of a bathtub to you.  The victim of terrible abuse, he bobs motionless, having retreated as far back into his mind as he can, as that is the only option he has.

Tilikum Languishing, photo by  Colleen Gorman, via The Orca Project .  Click on the photo to read about her documentation of Tilikum’s miserable existence.

You know enough about animals — and humans, for that matter — to read this body language.  He is miserable.  And his actions which forced his solitary confinement are not only understandable, they are the direct result of the unconscionable practices of SeaWorld.

How can you defend SeaWorld when you know it began its collection of orcas by physically ripping calves away from their screaming mothers?  Mothers who could only watch the nightmare unfold before them, powerless to stop it.

How do you justify this kidnapping and cruelty for the sole purpose of building an amusement park?  Especially when you KNOW orca whale pods are matriarchal and that, in the wild, the males never leave their mothers.

These are such emotionally complex animals.  Study after study shows they demonstrate not only the use of language, but actual sentience.  You cannot reasonably expect such an intelligent, social animal to thrive in forced captivity away from its natural family structure.  And why should he have to?  For profit?

Any human enduring decades of similar physical and emotional torture would not be well-adjusted.  So it is no surprise Tilikum reacted as he did to his repeated abuse.  Given his complete isolation now, unenriched without so much as one other companion, human interaction or even a single toy, his life can only be one endless, meaningless misery.

You said in a recent interview with CNN that your motto is “touch the heart to teach the mind.”  And you said that is what SeaWorld does.  But that isn’t true.  Organizations like Greenpeace and the Sea Shepherds do a huge amount of touching hearts and teaching minds without kidnapping a single wild animal and forcing it to perform for our amusement.

You also mentioned that animals which are “out of sight are out of mind.”  That is true.  And that is where animal sanctuaries come in.  True sanctuaries — places for animals too injured to live in the wild, born in captivity, or otherwise unsuited for life in the wild — are invaluable, and indeed do “touch the heart to teach the mind,” while allowing animals to maintain their dignity and their sanity.

I recently visited a wolf sanctuary where all the wolves had been born in captivity.  They were given huge enclosures, always paired with several other wolves they got along with and lived very happy, enriched lives.  I have adored wolves since I was a young child.  Yet seeing them in person in this environment not only taught me new things about them, it gave me an even deeper appreciation for them… accomplished entirely without capturing any wild animals, destroying any families or forcing the animals to perform in any way.

In another part of your interview, you seemed unsure of what “happy” means in regards to whales at SeaWorld…as if “happy” is a mystical, unknowable state.  Well, if you cannot define “happy,” I can define “unhappy.”

Whales covered in scars from being attacked after they have been forced into cramped enclosures with strange whales from outside their families…they are unhappy.

Whales with flopping dorsal fins from an unbalanced diet…they are unhappy.

Whales who have their teeth drilled out by hand without any anesthetic…they are unhappy.

Whales forced to perform just to survive…they are unhappy.

“Whatever happy is,” you said.  If these whales were your children or grandchildren, would you be satisfied with your failure to define “happy?”

Perhaps the only happiness in this situation is that death finds SeaWorld’s whales much earlier than their wild counterparts.  Wild orcas can live for a hundred years.  SeaWorld’s whales die many, many decades sooner.  And given the conditions they must endure, I do not doubt they are glad to receive that early release.

Mr. Hanna, you know these whales are intelligent and emotional.  You know they are mistreated and miserable.  You know that they have never harmed a human in the wild.  And you know this is not conservation…it is capitalism.

Please restore my faith in you and all that you have taught me through the years.

Please do the right thing and stop defending this blatant, horrific abuse.

Sincerely,
Sarah Allegra

Orca

Orca – an old photo of mine, but one which suited this blog perfectly.

 

If you, dear reader, are as enraged and sorrowful as I am, here are some things you can do to help:

Watch Blackfish and spread the word about the atrocities being covered up by Sea World.

Sign the following petitions:

Ban Imprisonment of Orca Whales at SeaWorld

Release Tilikum To A Seapen

End the SeaWorld Captive Breeding Program

Urge Macy’s To Cancel SeaWorld Float In Thanksgiving Day Parade

Free Lolita, the Captive Whale

Marine Mammals Don’t Belong In Tanks

Dolphins Don’t Belong In Dolphinariums

Support the following organizations:

Life Force Foundation

Orca Network

Whale and Dolphin Conservation

World Society for the Protection of Animals

Voice of the Orcas

Blue Voice

Born Free

Thank you all for your help in righting these wrongs!

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