Thursday, November 30, 2006

Animal Rights vs. Entertainment

We are blessed to live in a world with so much beautiful and diverse wildlife. If you really think about the amazing array of creatures we share the planet with, it's astounding. There's itty bitty insects you can hardly see and blue whales that are larger than most NYC apartments. We've got flying critters, swimming critters, creepy-crawly name it. The problem is, that most people would never get to see these animals if it weren't for things like zoos and wild animal parks. This is a problem for me.

On one hand, there is the whole conservation issue. There are some species who now only exist in zoos. Many of the world's leading zoos, like the ones in San Diego and Washington D.C. have extensive breeding programs to try and save these animals from extinction. I would say most of the folks who work directly with the wildlife in their care do their best to provide them with a safe, engaging living environment and try to keep them stimulated and happy. I try to think of the animals in zoos as ambassadors for their kind. After all, would people really care that much about preserving habitats of animals they had never seen? When you think of saving wild tigers in Asia, you can't help but recall the captive ones you've seen at the zoo. At least no body's hunting them for their pretty skin, right?

I get all that. And I still get so sad and angry when I see them there. The elephants just kill me. When I see them standing in some dusty enclosure, swaying back and forth, I can't help but think that they aren't very happy. I used to go to a little zoo on Staten Island in NY and they had a leopard in an indoor enclosure. That poor cat paced back and forth along the glass all day long. It was heartbreaking to see. I wonder if given the chance, he would rather live free and risk getting killed by some poacher.

There was a news story this morning about one of my absolute favorite animals that just got me so mad. I practice a religion that uses animal spirit guides called totems. My animal totem is the orca Whale. To me, the orca is a symbol embodying strength, intelligence, courage, compassion, freedom and a certain playful, dark sense of humor. Yes, they are ruthless hunters and nobody likes to see that Animal Planet footage of them "playing" with their food before they eat it. Still, there is just something about them that gives me the chills.

Seeing them in those tanks at Sea World makes me cry. They are supposed to have miles and miles of ocean to roam with their clan. They are not fish to be put in a tank and made to literally jump through hoops for our entertainment. It's not right no matter how much I try to think about conservation and breeding programs and nice trainers.

An orca named Kasatka who lives at Sea World in San Diego grabbed her trainer, Ken Peters, by the foot yesterday and dragged him to the bottom of the tank during a show. I bet that was a shock to the parents and kiddies in the audience. The trainer is in "good" condition at the hospital and the big brains at Sea World are trying to figure out why she "acted out."

Hmmm...I can't imagine why a two ton mammal with feelings and thoughts of her own might act out while being forced to perform for frozen fish day after day. Gosh, what could possibly be wrong with her? Doesn't she like her cage?

The Associated press printed this today:

Kasatka and Peters were involved in a scrape in 1999, when the whale tried to bite the trainer during a show, Scarpuzzi said. Peters hopped out of the tank and was not injured. The whale also tried to bite a different trainer in 1993, Scarpuzzi said.
Peters has 16 years of experience as a trainer, including 12 years in Shamu Stadium.
Scapuzzi pointed out that the animals perform as many as eight times a day, 365 days a year, "so this, even though it can be expected because they are killer whales, it is definitely abnormal."

Two things - first, she has tried to bite this guy before. Hello!? Perhaps she's not too crazy about working with this trainer. What if he pisses her off enough for her to really injure or kill him? You know what would happen to her then, right? Second, they perform EIGHT times a DAY, 365 days a year. WTF!? I hope he means that they rotate the whales who are performing everyday. So, there are eight shows a day, but maybe each whale only goes out three or four times a day and has days off. I'm no trained marine biologist, but otherwise, that sounds a bit excessive to me. They go on to say:

"In the wild they're not dangerous to humans and there's no incidences of them attacking humans unprovoked," Balcomb said. But in captivity, "they're dangerous because they're big and sometimes they're not happy with their situation."

If there are no incidences of them attacking humans unprovoked, then I would conclude that all the attacks at Sea World are therefore provoked. I think the phrase "not happy with their situation" is a gross understatement. How about " they are bored and depressed. The ones captured in the wild are devastatingly homesick?" I'm glad we are acknowledging that these incredible animals might be less than thrilled to be living out the lives of performing monkeys, but let's call a spade a spade.

Look, I really hope the trainer is OK and recovers fully. It's not good for people to get hurt any more than animals. Still, I wish they'd just close the damn parks down, keep the whales they have in the biggest enclosures possible, try to rehabilitate the ones they can for release, and never, ever capture or breed another one again.

I'd rather get to see one orca whale in my entire life here,

than see a hundred of them every day, like this:


trac said...

That story burned me too! WTF? It kills me because I so want to see these animals up close - I want to be able to gaze at them but I refuse to patronize any zoo, petting zoo or attraction. It is just too sad. Let our animals go! If society did a decent job and prioritized habitat preservation, there would be no need to try to preserve species.

Lora_3 said...

My older kids thought I was so mean because I wouldn't take them to the circus. When they got older they understood my views on the subject.

Be safe...

bazu said...

Poor little orcas. =(
If I start thinking too hard about the fate of animals in captivity, I think my brain or my heart will explode. I just have to keep chanting 2 things: karma, and history will someday be on the side of all oppressed beings.
Thanks for bringing this story to our attention- I hadn't heard about it before.

meesh said...

"If society did a decent job and prioritized habitat preservation, there would be no need to try to preserve species." - I couldn't agree more, Trac. Imagine the environmental work that could be doe if everyone who bought a ticket at Sea World, instead gave the forty bucks to green peace or something similar.

lora_3, girl do not get me started on the circus. They are just awful. How wonderful that you are teaching your kids not to support that kind of thing.

"karma, and history will someday be on the side of all oppressed beings." - Bazu, I sincerely hope so. And I hope I'm around to see it.

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