Memo to SeaWorld: If you’re interested in what young people think about your “Blackfish” problem, pay attention to some 10th-graders in Bend, Oregon.

SeaWorld-Blackfish essayists from Mountain View High School in Bend, Oregon. Photos by Alana Dusan

In a consensus of four top student essayists, SeaWorld’s solution is moving its orcas to a safe cove, “a wildlike habitat where the whales would feel at home” in the words of Lindsey Lucero, 16.

She and other Mountain View High School students were assigned to research SeaWorld’s killer whale issues and write essays.

Alana Dusan, their teacher, chose the top four papers for Times of San Diego.

“Our school has been really trying to redesign what we teach in the Language Arts classrooms as far as what they read and how they write,” Dumas said Thursday. “The focus has definitely shifted to more nonfiction materials and argumentative/synthesis writing.”

The result was a recent unit on SeaWorld and the 2013 “Blackfish” documentary that has damaged the theme park operator’s attendance, earnings and reputation.

“We tried to find something that is relevant, in the news, talked about with friends and family — and something that could spark an interest in them,” she said.

“Blackfish” was originally going to be a discussion-based documentary unit for her juniors. But she and colleagues eventually added the issue for sophomores.

“We started looking into it to make sure that we could find current, relevant sources, and boy did we!” said Dusan, a teacher for eight years, all in Bend. “I almost became obsessed with wanting to learn more and more about it.”

She said she made an effort to word the essay prompt fairly — “to make sure it wasn’t a landslide one way or the other.” (The prompt was: “How Should SeaWorld respond to the allegations made by Blackfish?”)

“Instead of trying to take a position for or against SeaWorld, we simply decided that they needed to determine the best course of action following the allegations made. They needed to create a solution.”

Dusan said the goal was to teach students real-world concepts.

“You have a problem — don’t just complain about it,” she said. “Provide a solution.”

After students were told that their well-sourced essays might become sources themselves, “the light bulb clicked,” Dusan said.

“They realized how the concept of classroom work and real life can come full circle. … They were talking about it to each other outside of class, too. Definitely a happy teacher moment.”

Here are excerpts of the top four essays, and links to their papers.

  • Essay by Amelia Carlson, 16: “Black and White”
  • Amelia Carlson, SeaWorld essayist. Photo by Alana Dusan

    Excerpt: SeaWorld should completely stop their breeding program, cancel all the shows involving these whales, and move the whales into coves in order to comply with the demands made by “Blackfish,” along with other animal rights activists. … Since the greatest issues addressed by “Blackfish” were the safety of the trainers, and forcing the whales to perform humiliating and unnatural acts, SeaWorld should simply cancel all shows that include whales. All in all, humans have a difficult choice to make as far as correcting the mistake made years ago. No more whales can be taken from the wild, and no more can be bred in captivity; however, the whales can not be released into the wild. To come up with the greatest solution for the situation, there can’t just be black and white.”

  • Essay by Lindsey Lucero, 16: “A Whale-sized Dilemma”
  • Lindsey Lucero, SeaWorld essayist. Photo by Alana Dusan

    Excerpt: SeaWorld should net off a safe cove area for the whales to move into, as SeaWorld would continue with their usual breeding program and shows; therefore, solving the huge problem that SeaWorld has. … A cove would present a wild-like habitat where the whales would feel at home. … Allegations about SeaWorld were made by “Blackfish,” but in response, SeaWorld should net off a safe, wildlike cove for the whales to live in as SeaWorld keeps continuing on with their business. If SeaWorld decides to implement this proposal, SeaWorld’s revenue will increase, due to many people who would want to see this new idea, the whales will be much happier with their newer, bigger habitats, and people will be thrilled to see these beloved animals have a nicer place to be in.

  • Essay by Hannah Martynowicz, 16: “What’s Best For SeaWorld and Killer Whales”
  • Hannah Martynowicz, SeaWorld essayist. Photo by Alana Dusan

    Excerpt: SeaWorld needs to stay open because of what they do to help marine animals. In 50 years SeaWorld has helped 25,000 animals that are orphaned, ill, injured or in need of expert care. … Not only does SeaWorld help animals in need of loving care but they also have inspired children to help marine animals. … SeaWorld needs to stay open with a closed-off bay or cove for the orcas and restrictions on the breeding program. This is the best solution that satisfies both animal rights activists and SeaWorld. The orcas will be happier living in their real environment and SeaWorld gets to stay open so it can continue to help marine animals.

  • Essay by Hannah Wolf, 16: “Captivity Revealed”
  • Hannah Wolf, SeaWorld essayist. Photo by Alana Dusan

    Excerpt: The psychotic beast may not always be in the cage, but instead in front looking in. … Through the alteration of the whales’ environment and daily life, SeaWorld will see a positive response from not only the public but specifically viewers of the movie Blackfish. These changes will also provide a happier life for the captive whales, resulting with a more enjoyable adventure for paying visitors to view, discover, and become educated about the magnificent creatures. These adjustments will also be an impressive active response to the allegations developed by Blackfish. In the end, making the creatures on both sides of the cage less like wild beasts. … It is clear that after alterations are made to the tanks, the whales should remain in safe captivity. Considering the fact the orcas are accustomed to a small concrete box, any alteration of the tanks will allow the whales to have a more accommodating environment.