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Marine Circuses May Soon Be History

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Marine Circuses May Soon Be History

From Earth in Transition
August 2013

Seaworld dolphin

Not next week or even next year, but soon. The businessmen who run this sad circus are scrambling in all directions to contain the daily damage. The death of trainer Dawn Brancheau, which forms the backdrop to this year's movie Blackfish and last year's book Death at SeaWorld, has captured public attention, and the story just won't go away.

Now every week brings SeaWorld a new headache. Last week, it was the story of a pilot whale left struggling for 25 minutes at the side of the pool at the company's Orlando circus. Carlo De Leonibus, one of the people who had bought tickets that day so that his daughter, Catalina, could see the dolphin shows, said he'd told SeaWorld staff that one of the dolphins had a problem and was told: "Oh, it's just playing. They do this all the time. It is normal behavior."

Seaworld dolphin

Catalina's dad was not satisfied. He talked to the press about it, and later SeaWorld tried to explain it away to WTSP-TV: "The pilot whales come out on the ledge all the time and always get back into the deeper water without any problem. The animals seem to enjoy it and it has no effect on their health or well being. The younger and more inexperienced animals – like the one on the video – sometimes take a little longer because they haven't completely mastered the technique yet."

This week, there's another video – this one from SeaWorld's San Antonio circus, where a dolphin leaped out of the water and landed on the concrete. One of the visitors captured video of the bloodied animal floundering on the baking hot ground outside of her tank.

Seaworld dolphin

Meanwhile, movie critics, bloggers, scientists, conservationists, humane groups and the general public are saying there's something very wrong about keeping these super-intelligent beings locked up in tanks for entertainment and profiteering.

A few selections:

Psychotherapist, minister, and author Nancy Colier:
When I left Blackfish I was horrified. I still am. I did not sleep for days and I am still haunted by the sound of that mother whale screeching into the sky, a sound of suffering that is no different than the wail of a human mother having her child wrenched from her arms, never to be seen or held again. That mother whale screamed for hours unending, for her child, who was now strapped to a stretcher on its way to a theme park thousands of miles away, so that some corporate executive could take a nicer vacation.

Nature World News:
SeaWorld said Tilikum was playing and that the death was an accident -- a stance it still holds today. However, some are less convinced. Richard Ellis, a marine conservationist at the American Museum of Natural History, argues that whales like Tilly are too smart to have been acting out of sheer impulse in cases like the one that led to the trainer's death. "This was not an insane, uncontrollable act," Ellis told the Associated Press. "This was premeditated."

Time magazine:
Like the Oscar-winning 2009 documentary The Cove, about the inhumane practices involved in the acquisition of dolphins for amusement parks, [Blackfish] makes a strong case that the human desire for proximity to these mammals, specifically in amusement-park settings, is selfish at best and morally indefensible at worst.

The New York Times:
Should some of the most social, intelligent and charismatic animals on the planet be kept in captivity by human beings? That is a question asked more frequently than ever by both scientists and animal welfare advocates, sometimes about close human cousins like chimpanzees and other great apes, but also about another animal that is remarkable for its intelligence and complex social organization — the killer whale, or orca.

Research biologist Debbie Giles, quoted in Gawker:
Killer whales are social animals [resident killer whales stay with their mothers for life]. That's a really, really important thing with killer whales ... To have a healthy individual it has to be allowed to be in its natural environment and the captive environment is so unnatural that it surpasses any benefit that we might get from having animals in captivity. We are changing their nature so dramatically in order for us to see a pretty thing, because really that's what that boils down to. We're not seeing the actual animal anymore when we see it in captivity, it's a different sort of beast. They're just too amazing, they're just too complex to sacrifice.

Columnist Nicholas D. Kristof in the New York Times:
Orcas, also known as killer whales, are sophisticated mammals whose brains may be more complex than our own. They belong in the open sea and seem to suffer severe physical and mental distress when forced to live in tanks. Maybe that is why they sometimes go berserk and attack trainers. You or I might also go nuts if we were forced to live our lives locked up in a closet to entertain orcas ... We as a global society have crossed the Rubicon. We disagree about where to draw the line to protect animal rights, but almost everyone now agrees that there is a line to be drawn.

New Statesman:
Did a killer whale doc just kill an industry? SeaWorld might be about to take a giant hit.

Salon:
There have been no such [marine circus] parks in Britain, with its highly organized animal-rights movement, since the early ‘90s, and the entire European Union may follow suit within a few years. Two or three generations from now, people may look back at the practice of keeping orcas in pools as performing animals with the same incomprehension we feel toward bear-baiting, a favorite spectator sport of Elizabethan England.