I have the best job in the world. I work with orca whales at OceanPlanet, a top-rated water-themed amusement park in sunny Florida. Of all the people who work here, and all the animals they train, I am considered the most elite because I get to work with the flagship species. Whenever you see a commercial for OceanPlanet, you see orcas, and sometimes specifically my orca: Makana.
I smile to myself as I make my way through the park, passing seals and penguins and heading toward Makana’s tank.
Unlocking the gate to the enclosure area, I can faintly hear the protesters’ sounds outside the park’s far wall. I roll my eyes, imaging those misinformed hippies wasting their time chanting and stomping around in the sun. They like to make a fuss about the whales being kept in captivity because it’s “unnatural” and “unfair.”
I’ve heard all their protestations before, and ever since the documentary aired, there’s been a surge in undirected hate towards OceanPlanet. We do a lot of great conservation work here, but all people want to talk about is how the whales can do tricks.
What those protesters don’t understand is that I genuinely love Makana. I care for her in the best way possible. She gets regular meals and doctor visits, protection from outside threats, and love and affection from myself.
Stepping around half a dozen orange construction cones set up by the electricians, I make my way towards the staff entrance door. Inside is the office where I can record all of my work with Makana and use the tunnels to transfer her meals from the underground kitchen.
Puzzled, I turn to confront this strange sound only to see a live wire flying towards my face. Before I have time to react or even scream, I feel my body hum with voltage, and then everything goes dark.
I’m conscious again, but I can’t see clearly; everything is out-of-focus. It feels like my senses were restarted like a computer and only slowly coming back online. I know I must have fallen to the ground after being electrocuted, but I don’t feel any hard concrete underneath me. Had someone moved me?
I realize then that I am not on the ground or any other solid surface; I am underwater. Where I once felt the reach of ten digits, I now have awkward fins. Instead of splitting into two independent limbs, my lower half is welded together. I feel simultaneously sleek and cumbersome, unused to my new form yet possessing an unconscious ability to use it.
Behind the wall of confusion and panic in front of my eyes, a light of understanding appears. At first small, it soon grows so that I finally understand what had happened with a great heaviness. Somehow, I am an orca whale, or at least I am myself but inside of one, not just any whale, but my beloved Makana. Alongside my own consciousness is something else, someone that is wholly Makana. I feel her emotions and remember her memories. Upon realizing this, I shake with an unbearable wave of sadness and loss. I feel homesick, lonely, afraid, and bored.
The water in this tank is too warm, too clear, too dead. Compared to the vastness of the ocean, it is a stagnant pool that serves to keep me locked up. I feel my memory reaching backward away from this. I could remember Makana’s home: the cold waters swirling with the natural rhythms of the ocean. I could hear, see, and sense the rest of the pod around me. These were my mothers, sisters, aunts, children. These were my family. I ached with longing to be able to swim alongside them again. I want to click and clatter and breach with these beautiful beings who knew me as an individual before I was torn away from my home.
With a blow, I finally understand why so many people are protesting my perfect job. I feel the empathy that those protesters must be overwhelmed by because it was an extension of my mental state. I feel the utter hopelessness of being locked up in an environment so wholly unfamiliar and unlike where I should be and where I longed to be.
I know now why we shouldn’t be keeping these beautiful, intelligent, majestic creatures in small tanks, forced to do tricks for the entertainment of the ignorant masses. I finally understand how utterly wrong I have been for so long. Along with that understanding comes another despondent resolution: I am the prisoner now.
By Jamie Zaccaria (Through the Eyes of Nature – 3rd place winner)