Biddeford native works for animal rights
By Molly Lovell-Keely
BIDDEFORD/FLORIDA – Biddeford native Emilee Orsi is following her passion to help animals to Orlando, Florida to work for a program developed by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA.
Orsi is one of several representatives in San Antonio, Orlando and San Diego being paid to encourage the public to see life through the eyes of a captive orca at institutions such as SeaWorld.
I, Orca 2.0 is a virtual reality experience where participants will get to see what it’s like to be an orca swimming in the ocean and then the experience the cries of an orca held at SeaWorld.
“It’s purpose is to evoke empathy,” said Orsi, 20, who graduated from Biddeford High School in 2014.
PETA flew her to Orlando Aug. 16 and provided housing for her where she’ll live and work with a team of two others in Florida.
“I’m a huge animal activist,” Orsi said. “I have been since I was little.”
Orsi, a vegan, said she thinks there are people who speak up for other people, and people who speak up for animals.
“I speak up for animals,” said Orsi, who is taking a semester off from the University of Southern Maine business program to take part in the PETA effort.
“I’ll learn a lot from this experience,” she said. “School is always here and I think I would have been upset if I didn’t take this opportunity.”
Orsi recognizes PETA’s sometimes radical measures it uses to bring the issue of animal welfare to the forefront of change.
“With all big organizations there’s going to be animosity,” she said. “PETA has effected so much change, though.”
According to talking points provided by PETA for the I, Orca project, orcas confined to small tanks is the human equivalent of being confined to a bathtub for decades.
“These animals are denied everything that is natural to them and we are here to encourage everyone in Orlando to boycott all marine-mammal parks as they’re making their summer plans,” according to talking points Orsi shared with the Courier.
Also according to PETA material, orcas in the wild can travel nearly 100 miles a day in close groups. At SeaWorld, which has locations in all I, Orca points, orcas are kept in chemically treated waters and experience broken teeth and pain from chewing at pool gates, a sign of stress and aggression.
Orsi said thanks to organizations such as PETA, SeaWorld has stopped in captive breeding programs, which is a good start for the plight of the captive orca.
Orsi said orcas that have been kept at what PETA refers to as “abusement parks” may not be able to be released back into the wild.
“Each would have to be evaluated individually to determine what is in their best interest,” she said, adding that PETA encourages captive sea life to be retired to seapens, which are protected areas, but are in the ocean.
Orsi said she’d like to see PETA develop more of a presence in New England. Most recently, PETA protested the Rockland Lobster Festival at the beginning of August where a woman painted red posed as a lobster wearing claws and laid next to a bowl of butter.
Orsi said the lobster debate is a tough one because the state’s lobsterman make a living off selling the crustaceans. However, wolf-hybrid breeding is an issue the Orsi would like to see PETA address.
“Backyard wolf to husky breeding is a big deal,” she said. “It’s dangerous.”
Orsi would also like to address Portland’s homeless population who keep dogs.
“I would like to see shelters involved with getting dogs that belong to homeless people surrendered to an animal shelter.”
Orsi said it’s a misconception that PETA only uses volunteers.
“A lot of management positions are opening,” she said. “I’d love to work for an organization that I’m passionate about.”
Orsi said she knows she’ll be met with some criticism from the public during the I, Orca project.
“I won’t take it personally. I’ll provide facts,” she said, adding that it’s same about not eating meat, referring to PETA videos of animals preparing to meet their slaughter.
“If you can watch those videos and not feel anything, OK. But if you watch those videos and feel upset, you should do something about it.”
For more information about PETA's SeaWorld campaign, visit www.SeaWorldofHurt.com.