In 1990, which seems now such a long time ago, the world celebrated the release of Nelson Mandela from his 27 years of incarceration. We marveled at the man and his ability to survive, adjust, reconcile and go on. We thought of Corky and wondered if she were to be let go free, would she be successful too? Nelson Mandela’s story gave us confidence. At that time Corky’s mother, her strongest connection to her past life was still alive; Corky also had siblings she had never met. Back then so much was being learned about orcas in the wild, their wonderfully complicated individual and social needs, their amazing physical and acoustic abilities, their impressive natural ranges. All of which contrasted starkly with the stifling life of captivity. So we plotted. We tried to do whatever we could to bring the world’s attention to Corky’s plight. There were petitions, demonstrations, the creation of a wonderful 2½ kilometer banner made by people from around the world, there were news stories and songs made in Corky’s honour. We even fantasized about asking Nelson Mandela to make a plea on her behalf. We never did, and all the great efforts by so many failed to wrench Corky free.
An incredible 44 years after her capture and confinement Corky is still swimming in circles, marking time. However, in Corky’s wake attitudes to captivity have been shifting. Take Keiko, the star of Free Willy, who was let go because a demanding public saw the injustice of the entertainment industry making millions while he continued to languish in captivity. His journey back home was unprecedented. Take the orphaned baby orca Springer and the efforts made to return her to her home waters and community. The alternative of placing her in captivity was simply not palatable to an educated public who demanded the experts come up with a better plan. Ten years later, Springer has her own baby. Take “Blackfish”, the recent documentary that exposed, as never before, the dismal story behind the glitz of SeaWorld.
A life in the wild has remained a distant dream for Corky that now presents added urgency as she grows older. However, unfolding events in the world beyond her tank make us believe it is still possible. As a business, Sea World’s lights have dimmed in the wake of Blackfish and savvy commentators are noticing. SeaWorld’s now publicly traded stock is drifting down; musicians like Bare Naked Ladies and Willie Nelson are refusing to perform at SeaWorld; and an awakening public is showing signs of preferring rides to animal abuse as holiday entertainment. All these contribute to the feeling we retain today. Like Nelson Mandela’s dear friend Archbishop Tutu, we are “prisoners of hope”.