As most of you know, I have an extreme fear of sharks– almost to the level of obsession. I believe I’ve mentioned this before, but that obsession has spread to other aquatic predators…namely, killer whales.

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Killer whales are way cuter and cuddlier versions of sharks, obviously, but they’re also capable of ripping you to shreds and swallowing your limbs, so there are definitely pros and cons to having one as a pet.

When I was little, I wanted to be a Shamu trainer at Sea World because, duh, what kid didn’t? I grew up in San Diego, California, which means that I spent exactly 30% of my childhood at Sea World. Every time I went, I tried to be the kid they picked to sit on Shamu’s back during the grand finale of the show. I managed to be the girl kissed by the sea lion, and I’m apparently the only child in dolphin show history to attempt to jump onto the dolphin’s back as it swam by the front of the stage, but never once was I chosen to cuddle Shamu. Maybe the trainers knew my reputation. Idk.

As I got older and developed my deep anxiety associated with large aquatic animals, Shamu stayed adorable, but swimming around with him became less appealing. A dolphin bit me, let’s remember. In no world would I survive a dive with killer whales. I am real tasty when you mix me with salt water.

Naturally, when the documentary Blackfish came out a few years ago, I was among the first to watch it. Wait, that’s not entirely true. To be clear, I was among the first to watch it when it was released on Netflix…I have no clue how long it was out before Netflix picked it up. Anyway, Blackfish gives you a behind-the-scenes look at the lives of orcas who perform for Sea World. It covers everything from the original whale hunts off the coast of Oregon in the 1970s, to current breeding procedures, to how the whales are trained, and what leads them to occasionally attack trainers. That last part nicely feeds my obsessive fear of dying by way of sea mammal.

Before I dive into the meat of this post, let me just say this: Blackfish is the most fascinating documentary I’ve ever seen. It’s sit-on-the-edge-of-your-seat-and-not-breathe good. Strictly for entertainment purposes, it’s definitely worth watching.

My husband hadn’t seen it, so last night I forced him to watch. This second viewing brought me back to my first experience, which resulted in me spending hours on my computer researching additional information about killer whales, killer whale attacks, and Sea World protocol. That was a fun afternoon.

My initial reaction after seeing the film was to adamantly oppose killer whales being used for entertainment. Some of their living conditions were truly outrageous. Not to mention the fact that they’re 12,000 pound wild animals that work with 120 pound trainers, which is kind of like me playing with a peanut. I can try to be gentle, but eventually I’ll probably crush it or eat it, perhaps without realizing what I’m doing at the time.

Hours of research later, I felt pretty gullible. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still against killer whales in captivity, but much of the documentary misrepresented reality, plus most of it was speculative– not scientific. I read many accounts from other Sea World trainers who disapproved of the film due to its one-sided, uneducated view of what actually happens in the park. Turns out, the trainers the documentary used as “expert” narrators actually had very limited experience working with the whales– a year or two at most. One of them was even fired for misconduct in the water. Trainers who worked with the orcas for 15-25 years explained in post-documentary interviews that most of what the featured “trainers” said was wildly outdated and inaccurate. The main four narrators hadn’t worked in a Sea World park in nearly 20 years, and most of them had never even been in the water with killer whales before.

On top of all of that, many facts the documentary gave about killer whales are extremely disputable, and were twisted to fit the agenda of the animal activist producers.

Again, I’m all about fair treatment of animals, and in no way think giant sea-dwelling creatures should be kept in a glass pool their entire lives, but the point is this: Not everything we read or watch should be taken at face value. Actually, pretty much nothing we read or watch should be taken at face value.

Everyone these days seems to think that anything posted online contains accurate information. I don’t understand this concept. We don’t trust people enough to leave our purses unattended at a bar, so why do we trust people enough to give us information that helps form our opinions or direct our actions? I mean, have you ever tried a Pinterest recipe?? The world is full of liars!


But seriously– why in the world do people post statistical memes to Facebook like they’re hard facts? Literally 75% of statistics are made up, and 90% of everything shared on the Occupy Democrats Facebook page is totally warped and stretched way past the point of truth. (I hope the first part of that sentence made you stop and think about the second part of that sentence…) Not taking political sides here– I only mention that particular Facebook group because people repost its statistics, “facts,” and misleading quotes all over my newsfeed, and it boggles me how many warped statements that people blindly believe. If you actually research those memes that talk about everything ______ has accomplished while in office, or all the reasons ______ candidate isn’t qualified, you’ll come to find that basically all of it is completely skewed. To be fair, on either side of the election– Republican or Democratic– I’m convinced that the majority of my Facebook friends don’t actually know anything about the issues other than what biased media outlets tell them to think. Everyone clings so hard to what they want to believe that they refuse to put forth effort to discover truth…maybe humans are just naturally lazy. I don’t know.

[Disclaimer: I’m not claiming to know every fact, nor that I am a political guru.]

The world of journalism is dying because of this generation’s inability to separate propaganda from well-researched, unbiased facts. Actually, the fault is not solely in the hands of the “millennial” generation. Anyone, of any age, who doesn’t do research from themselves on both sides of an issue (doesn’t have to be political), but instead repeats what they’re told simply because the “fact” already fits into their set of beliefs, is not only doing themselves an intellectual disservice, but– in the political arena– is disrespecting our democracy. Nothing is black and white (except orcas!), yet we get excited and passionate about “taking a stand,” so everyone hops on a train and runs with it. (That may be a combination of two different phrases…) This happens in regards to diet, politics, child-rearing, criminal justice, or killer whale captivity.

The amount of time and open-mindedness it takes to thoroughly research two (or three or four) sides of an equation, reflect on how you personally feel about the topic outside of social media groupthink, and come to a grounded (perhaps very grey) conclusion is too much work for people who are used to instant gratification. We crave insta-knowledge…and plenty of people are willing to dish it out, even if the recipe is missing quite a few ingredients.

I implore you–  next time you’re watching a documentary that feels extremely factual, skim an article that makes a bunch of “really good points,” or read a random post on Facebook, take it with a grain of salt. Better yet, spend 30 fewer minutes a day scrolling through your newsfeed, and replace that time with research on something you feel strongly about. See where that takes you. Who knows? What you learn about the world– or even yourself– may surprise you. Or maybe you’ll end up sticking to your belief, but now you’ll have developed an argument that you can actually back up. Either way, it’s a win– for you, and for mankind.