Emotional Tales Save Orca Whales?

Credit: AP Photo/ Phelan M. Ebenhack

In a world where the clinical and empirical reigns supreme, is there space for emotion, and the possibility that emotion shapes historical phenomenon?

Armstrong (2013) looks into this and says that there are two reasons as to why science disregards emotion, the first being that emotional realties are ephemeral and hard to document, making it nearly impossible to prove the existence of events where feeling is felt throughout a culture, social group, or population (pg. 169).

The second reason Armstrong (2013) looks at is the underestimation of emotions historical role, and that such attention in this area leads to being viewed as subjectivist, having weak scholarly accuracy, and being considered as ‘sentimentalism,’ viewed as a kind of weakness itself (pg. 169).

Armstrong deploys the story of Opo the dolphin, who graced the New Zealand town of Opononi with her presence, to illustrate the importance of sentimentalism. Armstrong (2013) believes that sentimentality matters because of its everlasting popularity and its importance as a signifier for the sweeping transition of cultural feeling that has, or is about to, take place (pg. 182).

On the Opo event, it is significant because it illustrates the emotional connection between humans and animals, more specifically cetaceans, and what is even more important is that these stories marked a change in popular societal ideology that challenged the notion of modernity’s domination of nature (Armstrong 2013, pg. 180).

Another example of an emotionally charged event signalling a change in the world is the story of orca whale Skana and New Zealand scientist Paul Spong. Skana was sold to the Vancouver Aquarium at the age of 6 when she was captured in 1967, and it was here at the aquarium where she met Paul Spong, a scientist who conducted experiments to gauge Skana’s visual acuity (Zelko 2013).

Skana was passing Spong’s tests with little difficulty until her results plummeted, failing the test 83 times, which Spong discovered Skana was failing on purpose (Zelko 2013).

Spong decided to abandon his clinical approach with Skana and become more involved with her, getting to know her outside of a scientific view which is when he discovered she was experimenting with him, raking her teeth across his feet until he left them in the water so she could clamp down on them, but losing interest when he didn’t react (Zelko 2013).

From this point on Spong came to view Skana more like a person than an animal, describing her as “…inquisitive, inventive, joyous, gentle, joking, patient, and, above all, unafraid and exquisitely self-controlled (Zelko 2013).” Spong decided that to confine an intelligent being like Skana was cruel and so had to be set free and that hunting them was akin to murder, so to set her free he approached Greenpeace, who eventually took up her cause which has led to the virtual elimination of commercial whaling (Zelko 2013). She died however, in 1980 before her release could be realised.

This event was important because it was emotionally charged and demonstrated that emotion could move an individual to action, it also ignited the hearts of advocates who helped to campaign against whaling. It was an event that led to the transition of societies view on whaling.

One other emotionally impacting event was the materialisation of documentary Blackfish. Within the documentary, director Gabriela Cowperthwaite explored the relationship between SeaWorld trainers and orca whales, demonstrating the emotional bonds that grew as the trainers and whales interacted with each other. As the SeaWorld trainers went through different experiences with the orcas held in captivity, their views about keeping them confined began to shift, deepening into emotions of pity and sympathy. Some trainers deliberately continued to work at these marine parks because of these emotions, stating that they felt they needed to stay to take care of the animals the best they could in what can only be described as an unnatural situation.

What arose from the viewing of this documentary was a shift in public opinion about SeaWorld, leading to a dramatic drop in admissions. But what also occurred is what can only be called a victory, part of one at least. An article by ABC News (2016) has reported that SeaWorld has decided to: put an end to its popular orca entertainment shows, stop its breeding programs regarding the orcas, and that the remaining whales would be the parks last.

With developments like these, can we really say emotions do not matter? Or that emotion cannot impact and facilitate a change in society values? Or that emotion doesn’t influence historical events? Who can say? But it must surely have its place.


ABC News 2016, SeaWorld Orca Show Ban Credited to Work of Blackfish Documentary Maker, ABC News, viewed 24 March 2016, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-03-18/blackfish-documentary-credited-with-seaworld-orca-decision/7256978

Armstrong, P 2013, ‘Cetaceans and Sentiment,’ in L Elizabeth, Y Watt, C Freeman, Considering Animals, Ashgate, pp. 169-182.

Zelko, F 2013, The Whale that Inspired Greenpeace, OUPblog, viewed 24 March 2016, http://blog.oup.com/2013/09/greenpeace-origin-killer-whale-skana/


“It’s that time again…”

It’s that time again, yes, time for another reflection. In my past reflection I talked mostly of my fear of failure, which I felt did transfer over to the assessment that the participants and I have just completed. In this final assessment for BCM240 – Media, Audience, and Place, I leaped back into the realm of TV, deciding to focus on television in space as stimuli for eliciting emotion and spatial memory. To view this project, please click here. Overall, I would say that this research project went well, as the final metamorphosis of the project emerged as a somewhat coherent whole.

However, I cannot say that the steps taken to reach this final metamorphosis have been smooth, as the path has been at times, laden with shards of glass. There were various elements that got in the way with this assessment, the first being my own stupidity. As we entered week 13, I realised that the assessment date was the 2nd of November and not the 6th, which ended up with me panicking because in my mind, I had just lost 5 days to work on this assessment. This resulted in me working under pressure, which I have often done before, but at least on those occasions I actually knew the correct due date.

Pressure can be hard to work with, as it can burden you with unnecessary mental distress which can be further influenced by time constraints, the difficulty of the task, insufficient knowledge, or unforeseen problems (Employability Skills: Working Under Pressure 2015). This project definitely burdened me with unnecessary pressure, which was due to my own fault because of my original perceived abundance of time. I would say that there were three main sources of pressure, the time issue pressure, the direction of the research project, and the research projects collaborative ethnographic element.

The direction of the research project bothered me initially from the outset, as I was interested in exploring two different areas. This indecision on my part caused me to suffer as I had not clearly defined the goals of my project, which in turn made the project suffer because I needed to take time out to define its trajectory. When the goals of a project are undefined, it can cause the people working on it and the project itself to suffer, something I ended up learning first-hand (University Alliance 2015).

The collaborative ethnographic element of this assessment, while I enjoyed it, proved to be a factor that I underestimated. Lassiter (2005) says that collaborative ethnography is an “…approach to ethnography that deliberately and explicitly emphasizes collaboration at every point in the ethnographic process, without veiling it—from project conceptualization, to fieldwork, and, especially, through the writing process.” The parts that I underestimated about this process fell into the areas of coordination and intellectual costs.

Coordination costs involve the time and energy that goes into group work that isn’t present in individual work, as the coordination cost can involve arranging meetings with the others involved and meeting up to complete work (What are the Challenges of Group Work and How Can I Address Them?). This is an area where I had trouble as I had to meet a participant to conduct an interview, which had to be taken a second time as I forgot to switch on the microphone.

The intellectual cost of this project involved the phenomenon known as transparency illusion, which involves a research member’s tendency to assume their thoughts, attitudes, and reasons are more obvious than they actually are (What are the Challenges of Group Work and How Can I Address Them?). This was a trap I fell headfirst into when conducting my interviews, as I needed to contact the participants afterwards to confirm some details that I found confusing.

Working within the framework of collaborative ethnography is something that I enjoy, but I feel that I have operated within this framework better in the past. I have no one to blame but myself as I believe it was the pressure that I put myself under which became my undoing. Although, keeping within the foundations of collaborative ethnography, I have included the participants of this research project in every process that has taken place, and they are happy with its outcome, as am I, to a degree. In the future, I think the important thing for me to remember is to get my dates right, so that I don’t create another slew of issues that will effectively derail my assessments from start to end.


Ashley, D 2012, A Healthy Fear is Sometimes in Order and Even Wise…, Image, Flickr, viewed 02 November 2015, https://goo.gl/QYuOZL

Employability Skills: Working Under Pressure 2015, University of Leeds Careers Centre, viewed 02 November 2015, http://careerweb.leeds.ac.uk/info/4/make_yourself_employable/202/employability_skills/13

Lassiter, L.E. 2005, The Chicago Guide to Collaborative Ethnography, University of Chicago Press, viewed 02 November 2015, http://www.press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/468909.html

University Alliance 2015, Top 10 Project Management Challenges, Villanova University, viewed 02 November 2015, http://www.villanovau.com/resources/project-management/top-10-challenges/#.VjbT0S_oudA

What are the Challenges of Group Work and How Can I Address Them?, Carnegie Mellon University, viewed 02 November 2015, https://www.cmu.edu/teaching/designteach/design/instructionalstrategies/groupprojects/challenges.html