I was terribly saddened to read the news yesterday that a trainer was killed at a Sea World park in an incident with a captive orca. It’s not the first time this sort of thing has happened- it’s not even the first time it’s happened with this exact same orca.
We live fairly close to a Sea World park, and I view it with an uneasy apprehension. We went a few times in school when I was a kid, and I remember the focus at the time on Sea World’s conservation efforts and education. At least they kind of made an attempt to be educational. My friends are used to my moue of distaste when the suggestion to go comes up, so they don’t bother inviting me. But it’s hard to be the killjoy all the time, especially with little kids- so against my better judgment I agreed to go with them, hoping the experience would be a positive one for all of us.
As I sat in the audience, watching the whole “Shamu likes to play beach ball and do the hula!” shlock, I knew I screwed up. It felt wrong. It was the same feeling in the pit of my stomach that I got the one (and only) time I went to a circus as an adult, the horrible feeling that simply by being there, you were complicit in an exploitation that was just not right.
This comes just one day after watching the astonishing documentary “The Cove.” I don’t want to give up too much of the premise, but it is an incredibly thought-provoking movie about a very well-hidden cottage industry in a small town in Japan that captures thousands of dolphins every year. A small amount are sold into captivity. The rest are slaughtered for meat. It’s up for an Oscar. You should see it.
The most arresting visuals in the movie juxtapose the cartoonish happy images of orcas and dolphins that permeate the town with the sight of packages of dolphin meat for sale in the same building as the stuffed animals. We hold them in awe and reverence yet have no problem sentencing them to lives of captivity so we may experience them more closely. And make money, of course. Dolphin lovers sure will shell out a lot of money for a “swim with the dolphins” experience. The irony of loving something to death is pretty painful when you think on it too much.
Every time an incident like this trainer tragedy happens, there is a chorus of “these animals don’t belong in captivity” and references to Free Willy and maybe a protest or two from Peta. They’re correct, of course. Solitary confinement is viewed as one of the most traumatizing psychological punishments we inflict on criminals, yet we do the same to blameless sentient beings and expect them to exhibit normal behaviors?
There is no noble cause behind these animals’ capture and captivity, no greater good for the benefit of mankind. These wild animals are captured and exploited solely for our amusement and financial gain. And it will continue as long as we continue to pay to be entertained by them.
I’ve talked in the past about my issues with my daughter’s school and the zero financial support for an arts program. I just found out this week that this same school is paying for the entire kindergarten class to go to Sea World later on this spring. I think I’m about to become (yet again) an annoying thorn in someone’s side. My poor daughter. I must be so embarrassing.