Thursday, February 25, 2010

Some Reflections on the Tragedy in Orlando

What a tragedy that veteran animal trainer Dawn Brancheau's life was cut short yesterday when she was attacked by a killer whale named Tilikum. She was only 40. And by all accounts, Brancheau (pictured above) was great at what she did and really loved the animals she worked with at SeaWorld. According to horrified witnesses, the 12-ton male killer whale - who had a history of aggressive behaviour - bit Brancheau's ponytail and pulled her under the water, drowning her. The incident shocked the country and was widely reported in the press. Interestingly, I just took part in a poll with the Chicago Tribune and was encouraged to find that a sizable majority of readers agreed with animal rights activists that killer whales and dolphins ought to be set free from parks such as SeaWorld. Actually, SeaWorld has actually been very humane in its response to the incident. The park is not going to isolate the killer whale or put him down.

The public is getting to be more and more sympathetic toward dolphins and killer whales. Last month, scientists around the world called for dolphins to be granted "non-human person status," which would extend a variety of protections to the creatures. (Source, Source) Moreover, the new critically-acclaimed documentary The Cove (which I haven't seen yet), nominated for an Academy Award, shows the brutal treatment of dolphins off Taiji, Japan. It is supposed to be a superb film - and I'm sure it will make an ideal companion piece to Sharkwater, which I reviewed here the other day.

So people are really coming around on the issue of the treatment of killer whales and dolphins. Now is a good time to demand that these beautiful animals be set free. Theme parks such as Marineland and SeaWorld will probably not give up their orcas and dolphins without a fight. These parks make big profits every single year. And they have reputations for taking very good care of their animals. These majestic creatures are undoubtedly safe in captivity. Yet they still deserve their freedom. Tragedies of the sort that happened in Orlando yesterday will be avoided if these animals are released to freedom in the ocean.

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