Wildlife Entertainment – at what price?

If you watch the news, we’re sure you’ve either seen or heard about the death of one of SeaWorld Orlando’s animal trainers in an incident involving Tillikum, an adult male orca, on February 24th, 2010. To be sure, it’s a terrible tragedy. But, the tragedy goes beyond the loss of the young woman. Wildlife conservation and entertainment are vastly different concepts and there are very few examples we can think of where the two align.

The only thing that does come to mind is educational wildlife films produced and/or funded by legitimate wildlife organizations as part of legitimate wildlife research. These films entertainment value, at least for us, comes from the fact that we’re very interested in the wildlife itself. i.e. The wildlife is where it belongs, and we get to see it exhibit its natural behaviors, and we gain a better understanding of the role the wildlife plays in the larger ecosystem.

However, taking wildlife out of its natural habitat and ‘training’ it to perform unnatural behaviors – purely for entertainment purposes – does not further conservation or provide valid research in our opinion. No orca would perform the behaviors exhibited in a Seaworld show in the wild. And, even if the ‘tricks’ are based upon and modeled after the animals natural instincts, they are still not the animals natural behavior because in the wild, the animal chooses when and where it will do what it does naturally and not at predefined show times to entertain the public.

As we’ve voiced repeatedly, wildlife is not wild unless it is living in its natural habitat with minimal interference from humankind and our activities. This, of course, is our opinion. But, we prefer the sheer joy of seeing wildlife in its natural habitat and find it endlessly entertaining without any of the lights, sounds, and direction of humans. If only that were the majority opinion…

Here are a few opinions from other people:

Naomi Rose, Ph.D, and marine mammal scientist with The Humane Society of the United States, made the following statement in response to Wednesday’s death:

“This is a terrible tragedy and our hearts go out to the family of the trainer. Tillikum, the SeaWorld orca, has now been involved in the deaths of three people. Using these animals in entertainment is not good for animals or people. Sadly, we’ve seen evidence of that again today. Whales and dolphins are large, intelligent, long-lived, socially complex predators who often hunt cooperatively and are capable of swimming a hundred miles in a day. They are unsuited to permanent confinement, often exhibiting neurotic behaviors in these settings. Capture methods are also inhumane, and often not adequately managed or overseen.”

Adam Roberts, Executive Vice President of Born Free USA, says “There is zero conservation or education value to killer whales performing stunts in captivity.”

“These behemoths are denied all of their natural, instinctual inclinations, and we humans tend to think, ‘Well, this is just a bad animal.’ But it is a wild animal, used to running free in an entire ocean, but now confined to a very small space,” says Joyce Tischler, founder of and general counsel for Animal Legal Defense Fund. She compares an orca’s life in captivity in a tank to keeping a human being in a bathtub for his entire life. She says most Americans have romanticized notions of sea life perpetuated by such TV series as “Flipper.” But even dolphins are known to aggressively run their teeth down the backs of humans in hundreds of incidents that are not reported outside the conservation community press, she says.’

“Nothing is more important than the safety of our employees, guests and the animals entrusted to our care. All of our standard operating procedures will come under review as part of the investigation.”
-Jim Atchison, CEO, SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment

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