I've held off on writing this post so I could fully wrap my head around my feelings on the incident - sadness, of course, but also this seething anger that Dawn Brancheau's death could have been avoided completely. The problem goes deeper than ignored safety measures or past history of Tilikum the whale - it's that SeaWorld uses its conservation work as a license to exploit the very same animals it claims to protect:
When you save a whale that's been abandoned, injured, or otherwise incapable of caring for itself, that's conservation.
When you teach that same whale to splash people on command for profit, that's exploitation.
Orcas are smart and cute, yes, but they are also powerful animals. Putting them in a tank that's comparable to making a person stay in a bathtub forever no doubt diminishes people's perception of the whales' power, and it's easy to forget these animals were once wild. Reports of the incident suggest the whale grabbed his trainer's long ponytail, thinking it was a toy. SeaWorld spokespeople suggest that this was a perfectly normal reaction for the whale, which begs the question - why on earth would SeaWorld allow their staff to wear their hair long when working with these animals? There is no such thing as a domesticated killer whale.
"It’s not going to draw families necessarily or older people who would typically visit there, but there is an age group that gets excited about the risks and the potential for drama and it may attract some of those folks" - PR Idiot
You would think that last week's incident would have prompted SeaWorld to reconsider some of these practices, but no. Yesterday I visited the New York Times Travel Show, where SeaWorld representatives occupied a large section of the expo hall. A large crowd had gathered there, and flashes were going off like crazy. There, in the middle of a table, in a small plastic box, were two penguins. Cameras were going off in their faces, unsupervised children were poking them, and all they had inside their box was a paltry pile of dirty snow that probably was scooped off of 11th Ave on the way in. A crowded expo hall is a long way from the Arctic Circle where these animals belong. It breaks my heart to see animals being openly used as marketing tools.
All life deserves respect. Wild animals deserve to be free. Rescued animals deserve a supportive, nurturing environment. Conservation deserves better than SeaWorld.
* Conservation Station: Reuse or Lose!
* Yes We Can! Recycle Our Water Bottles!
* How Green is My Disney?