I Have Been Severely Admonished Over My Approval of SeaWorld Exhibits, and Apologize for My Former Positions
Posted by Arthur Frommer at 6/14/2010 1:47 PM EDT
Not simply last month, but several times in the past, I have said that to me, SeaWorld, in Orlando, Florida, was a better viewing experience than the other nearby theme parks because of its educational value for a young audience. I have particularly admired the display of a large whale, Shamu, who is trained to perform human-like tricks. And I mourned the recent tragedy in which a trainer was quite accidentally dashed to her death in that show.
In doing so, I was as heedless of our treatment of the animal world as most of us who traipse to zoos and never think of what it means for such cognizant animals to be contained behind bars or in tiny spaces. I received this past week a letter from an official of PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), one Debbie Leahy, that makes such an irrefutable point that I, for one, am ashamed at the shallow perspective of my earlier reaction to SeaWorld. I am reprinting the major part of her letter below:
We were surprised and saddened to read your comments following the recent death of a trainer at SeaWorld Orlando in which you stated that despite this incident, SeaWorld was educational and recommended it as a tourist attraction ...Ms. Leahy is clearly right, and I have reconsidered my position. I am ashamed, I apologize for my former statements, and I will no longer recommend that tourists patronize the various SeaWorld parks.
While orcas [whales] in the wild share intricate family relationships and swim distances of up to 100 miles each day, at SeaWorld they are forced to perform circus-style tricks for food; swim endless circles in small, barren concrete tanks; and typically live far short of the 60-year maximum life span that orcas enjoy in the wild. Experts agree that keeping intelligent, social animals in captivity for human entertainment in unacceptable. World-renowned oceanographer Jean-Michel Cousteau compared keeping orcas in tanks to "a person being blindfolded in a jail cell."
SeaWorld, which owns most of the captive orcas in the U.S., has an abysmal history of animal care. Twenty-one orcas died in U.S. SeaWorld facilities between 1986 and 2008 -- an average of nearly one each year -- and not one died of old age. Their deaths were caused by severe trauma, intestinal gangrene, acute hemorrhagic pneumonia, pulmonary abscesses, chronic kidney disease, chronic cardiovascular failure, septicemia, and influenza.
A true appreciation of wildlife cannot come from looking at bored, frustrated animals trapped in chemically treated tanks, with every aspect of their existence regulated. Marine mammal conservation and education can be achieved through efforts to abolish whaling, clean up our oceans, end driftnet fishing, and prohibit live captures -- not by confining these incredible ocean-dwelling animals to cramped pools.
... We urge you, for the sake of the animals, to reconsider your position of SeaWorld.
From Jean-Michel Cousteau's Statement on Captive Orcas