Thursday, February 25, 2010

Sea World Slave Revolts

Tilikum, a whale who has been held captive at a Sea World park in Orlando, Florida, killed an animal trainer yesterday. Let me make it clear right now that I don't want to minimize the tragedy of the trainer's death in any way. According the Washington Post, she loved her job, she loved the animals she trained, and she loved and was loved by many friends and family members. Her death is mourned by many. Nevertheless, the manner of her death raises a moral issue for me; I can't find any justification for the human practice of capturing and enslaving other living beings for our entertainment.
Dawn Branchaeu is the third human being that Tilikum has killed in the past 19 years. Methinks that Tilikum may not be overly enamored with the species that has enslaved him and trained him to do cute tricks for our amusement. Now, the Sea World management doesn't have a clue what to do with Tilikum. He doesn't have the requisite skills to survive in the wild, so releasing him to the sea would be the equivalent of a death sentence. I don't know whether capital punishment euthanasia is under consideration; if it is, the Sea World PR people are holding their tongues about it. One option the Sea World management is considering is transferring Tilikum to another diocese amusement park.

I don't know how to resolve Sea World's Tilikum dilemma. All I know is that this story has made me think, again, about the morality of keeping animals in zoos, aquariums and amusement parks so that human beings may be entertained for a few hours a day. In the past two years I've visited the San Diego Zoo and the Georgia Aquarium. On both occasions I was mildly uneasy about the fact that I was enjoying nature in starkly unnatural, artificial settings. That unease has prevented me from visiting the National Zoo just down the road from me in Washington, DC. Tilikum's story has compelled me to take a position on this issue. As of this moment, I am putting a personal moratorium on visits to zoos, aquariums and the like. I don't know if I'll change my mind about this in the future. All I know is that, for the time being, I can't justify holding other living beings captive for my amusement. I mourn both Dawn Brancheau's lost life and Tilikum's lost freedom. Both losses were senseless and unnecessary. That's the real tragedy of this story.

UPDATE: The Los Angeles Times reports that "A SeaWorld official said Wednesday the animal would not be put down."


Barbara said...

I totally agree with you. I find it disgusting to see these creatures being made to perform for us. Everytime I hear about an elephant going on a rampage at a cirus or something like that I just have to shake my head. It's so wrong.

On the other hand, I don't mind places like refuges for animals who need them, or to help a species that is endangered.

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