Environment, Opinion

The Sea World tragedy – some interesting thoughts

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I wish I could take credit for the above mentioned interesting thoughts, but I can’t – mine are still a rather incoherent jumble of ‘but’s and ‘what if’s. However David Neiwert’s thoughts are far from jumbled, and here are some of his eloquently presented thoughts on the topic.

Marine parks like Sea World can be great places to take your kids and introduce them, in a safe way, to the wonders of marine life. I took my daughter to Sea World twice while she was a toddler, and her first up-close view of an orca so thrilled her that she remains, six years later, utterly enamored of them.

But there’s also something profoundly disturbing about them, particularly the orca displays. Part of what makes us gasp in amazement at the Sea World shows is watching comparatively frail and puny humans seemingly in control of these five-ton creatures that could crush them like a grape if they so pleased. Fundamentally, they’re simply another display of human dominance over one of the most powerful and intelligent species on Earth.

But unlike other large, intelligent predators we keep in captivity — say, grizzly bears — we’re actually able to create these displays because the orcas permit us. They are the only alpha predator species in the world, in fact, that in all of recorded history has never attacked a human being in the wild.

In captivity, however, is another story. The incidents have been few and far between, but captive orcas have killed humans in the past.

These incidents, like the one Tuesday in which Tilikum, a Sea World bull orca, grabbed and drowned his longtime trainer, Dawn Brancheau while spectators watched, seem always to arise not out of malicious intent on the animal’s part, but because they seem not always to understand their ability to harm their human companions.


The real issue that the Tilikum incident raises is a larger, ethical one: Why are we in the business of keeping these animals captive?

Because the power dynamic in which we appear to dominate them is ultimately an illusion, a product purely of the orcas’ intelligence, their willingness to socialize with us rather than eat us.


You can make these tanks fairly large, and Sea World’s tanks are not cramped, but it’s still an incredibly confining and limiting and sense-depriving existence for an animal like a killer whale. Even if the facility were huge — and none of them are — it could not come close to matching what orcas naturally experience in the wild.


And there are other ways of letting children experience the wondrousness of killer whales that doesn’t simultaneously promote an illusion of dominance over them. If you travel to Washington’s San Juan Islands in the summertime, for instance, it’s possible to see killer whales as they should be: in the wild.


It’s more time-consuming than a trip to Sea World, probably, and there’s no guarantee you’ll see whales, just a high probability.

But is it more rewarding? Yes — in ways you can’t imagine until you see them with your own eyes.

For the full article, go here. It’s well worth the read, and bound to get you thinking.

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