Friday, February 26, 2010

Not the First and Not the Last

Two days have passed since the tragic death of the trainer at SeaWorld in Orlando, and park management has stated that it was an accidental drowning involving Tilikum pulling the woman’s ponytail, while eyewitness accounts seem to contradict that. Regardless, it was not the first time a captive Orca has attacked a human (as the list below shows), and sadly, it will likely not be the last.

SeaWorld, San Diego/ 1971/trainer attacked by an Orca.
Sealand of the Pacific, Victoria B.C./1991/ trainer killed by Tilikum.
SeaWorld, Orlando/1999/ homeless man found dead in Tilikum’s tank.
SeaWorld, San Diego/1999/trainer attacked by an Orca.
SeaWorld, San Diego/2006/trainer attacked by an Orca (allegedly the 2nd attack in two weeks although park denies it).
Loro Parque, Tenerife/2009/trainer killed by an Orca.
SeaWorld, Orlando/2010/trainer killed by Tilikum.

Proponents of keeping Orcas in captivity say that these attacks are isolated incidents that must be viewed in the context of the thousands of hours during which Orcas have performed over the past forty years, and the millions of people who have enjoyed these performances. What a self-serving and patently mercenary argument. 'The parks make millions, the public is entertained, and the harm to trainers is collateral damage.' As well-intended and sincere as SeaWorld's employees may be, these parks are profit centers pure and simple, and Orcas give them an unlimited license to print money, no matter what SeaWorld's articulate CEO may say.

Meanwhile, the Orcas themselves are doomed to lead shortened, mindless lives in tiny concrete pools, as their dorsal fins droop and the free spirit that was hardwired into their DNA at birth slowly flickers and dies. People, listen to me: these magnificent beings know all too well their fate, and the mental torment that it generates in all of them will continue to be vented by a few in future attacks. This is as much of a stone-cold certainty as are the profits that the parks will continue to drop to their bottom line.

I will be traveling for the next ten days and will not be able to post. But I think it’s better that I do, to allow my disgust with the spectacular cruelty that you humans are inflicting upon my kind to dissipate before we speak again.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

A Tragedy For Us All

The tragic death of a trainer at SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida, yesterday is a brutal reminder of what can happen when a wild creature that is free to swim through all the oceans of the world is captured and placed in the narrow confines of a concrete tank, where it is doomed to spend the rest of its life performing stupid tricks for human amusement. May God be with that woman’s family and friends. Below is a posting from last November that bears repeating on this sad occasion:

Spectacular Cruelty

The next time you and your family go to a marine park to gaze and gawk at the Orcas as they are made to perform demeaning tricks, I want you to remember this. The average life span of Orcas in the wild is forty years, and females can live well into their seventies and eighties. Now contrast this with the following fact: the average life expectancy in captivity of an Orca captured in the wild is less than six years. Yes, you read that correctly—six years! And for Orcas born in captivity, it is not much longer. The only blessing for the latter group is that they at least have never known the joy of freedom. Add to this disturbing statistic the fact that of the nearly two hundred Orcas held captive in man’s liquid prisons since 1964, less than one third lived longer than ten years, and only forty-one are alive today. If there is any shred of decency in you, how can you interpret these facts as anything but spectacular cruelty?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Doomed By a Clash of Cultures

Brave but foolhardy acts of protest on the high seas, and bluster and bombast on the safe side of the shore, will never stop the Japanese from slaughtering my kind, either in the crimson-flecked windspray of the Southern Ocean, or the blood-soaked bays of Tajii. This tragic affair is no longer about the slaughter of tens of thousands of whales and dolphins each year. It has devolved into what the Japanese government sees as an imperialistic assault upon their culture. And Australia’s recent threat to take Japan to the International Court of Justice over their annual Antarctic whale hunts has only served to further widen Japan’s sense of isolation from the rest of the world: a cultural remoteness formed over two millennia that will not be bridged by fast boats or slow courts.
In his brilliant book, “The Cultural Imperative: Global Trends in the 21st Century,” Richard D. Lewis points out that in any interaction with the Japanese, “What is said is actually of minor importance. How it is said, who says it, and when it is said are the vital ingredients.” Unless the Americans, and Australians, and the rest of the anti-whaling world stop shouting, and until the Japanese start listening, my kind will be doomed by this lethal clash of cultures.
I pray that thought leaders on both sides of this contentious debate will see the light; and even though I realize how futile such a prayer may be, that does not lessen its sincerity, or the sense of hope behind it.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Empty Soup Bowl

While there is legitimate debate over the cause of global warming, be it the doings of man, or the eternal cycles of nature, and despite the ill-informed guffaws of cynics, cold, hard scientific fact indicates that the world's climate is warming, and along with it the oceans; the primordial soup bowl from which we all arose eons ago. New research conducted by scientists at the University of Otago in New Zealand, and George Mason University, in the United States, confirms that the evolution of whales and dolphins was directly linked to the presence of plankton, the primary converters of sunlight into food in the sea. Other research has long held that the plankton biomass is inversely related to ocean temperature; and therefore, it is safe to assume that as the seas warm, the entire food chain will slowly die, with us whales and dolphins, and oh yes, you humans at the bottom of the empty soup bowl together. See you there…

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Fiction, Lies, and Bloodlust

Under pressure from pro-whaling nations, the International Whaling Commission plans to allow commercial whaling of certain species to begin again once the population reaches 54 percent of the pre-hunting levels. Quite apart from the vileness of this logic (Look, they're back, let's start slaughtering them again before they fully recover), the IWC is conveniently ignoring one crucial issue, namely that the pre-slaughter population estimates are wrong. Dead wrong. For example, they believe that before the ceticide began, Humpback Whales in the North Atlantic Ocean numbered approximately 20,000, and with the current population at about 10,000, whaling will soon begin again. However, genetic research conducted by Stanford University in 2003 indicated that North Atlantic Humpbacks once numbered 20 times that level, or 240,000; and that the global population was actually 1.5 million rather than the IWC projection of 100,000. This hypothesis is substantiated by the discovery of falsified logbooks from whaling nations. New Scientist estimates that during the three-year period of 1959-1961 alone, Soviet whaling fleets killed 25,000 Humpbacks while reporting a kill of 2,700. Tragically, despite these countervailing arguments, Humpback Whales, one of the most beautiful beings that God ever created, are about to be butchered again based on fiction, lies, and bloodlust. And since your kind has proven so adept at killing each other, all hope for my kind is lost.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Depths of Hubris

Fact: Humans hunted Humpback Whales nearly to extinction.

Fact: Although still endangered, Humpback Whales are making a slow recovery in the North Pacific, including the waters of Prince William Sound, Alaska.

Fact: Humans spilled 11 million gallons of crude oil in Prince William Sound, 21 years ago, devastating the herring population.

Fact: The herring population has been slow to recover.

Fact: Humpback Whales eat herring.

Conclusion: Humpback Whales are to blame for the slow reappearance of herring. At least that is one theory being postulated by marine scientists in Alaska.

Wait! Run that by me again…Humans nearly wipe out Humpbacks. Humans nearly wipe out herring. But when the herring biomass struggles to recover, you blame it on the whales! Is there no bottom to the depths of your hubris?

Friday, February 12, 2010

Imagine That!

Scientists from Aberdeen and St Andrews Universities say that they have discovered some incredible behavior on the part of Orcas living in the waters off the Shetland Islands. Specifically, by using underwater microphones they have observed the Killer Whales using low-pitched noise to frighten herring, causing them to bunch up, which allows the Orcas to stun the fish with their flukes before feeding upon them. Wow! Imagine that. I can just picture the scientists bobbing about in their Zodiacs out there on the cold North Sea, saying to each other, How on earth--or better yet, How in ocean--did these poor dumb beasts figure this out? How indeed. Oh well, in fairness I should at least mention that in his reporting on the research, Simon King of BBC2 observed that, “These are sentient animals, with complex family structures, but being so close you really get the sense that there is so much more to these creatures than we currently know.” Good for you, Mr. King. That’s a start. Now if we can just get the rest of mankind to agree, perhaps we could all live together in harmony on this blue space marble you call earth, but my kind knows as Planet Ocean.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

First Us, Then You...

It is bad enough that your kind decided long ago to enslave dolphins and dumb us down into pathetic proxies of our wild counterparts, forced to perform demeaning animal tricks for your amusement, but this really takes the cake (or should I say the herring). An organization with the alphabet soup acronym of SWBGRRC, which stands for Sea World and Busch Gardens Reproductive Research Center, is conducting what they call ‘preferential sex-selection reproductive research for exotic animals’. Say what? You heard me; they are using technology to separate X and Y sperm so that zoological institutions can manage the genetic diversity of their captive animals. Whoa. How exciting! Not only are dolphins no longer allowed to procreate naturally in captivity (artificial insemination lacks a certain ‘je ne sais pas quoi’) but now our keepers can decide the gender of our offspring. And what comes after that? Eye color? Size of dorsal fin? Jumping ability? There is even talk that this technology will have application to control animal diversity in the wild. Oh the wonder of it all! But watch out people, first us dolphins, and then, you.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Oh Great And Restless Sea

At this very moment, a thousand whales are being butchered in the Southern Ocean by the Japanese whaling fleet. The killers do it not for research as they claim, or for the meat, which they deny. Instead, they do it as a matter of national pride, in defiance of the 'cultural imperialism' of the rest of the world, and neither appeals to reason nor pleas for mercy will ever stop them. And so, in sad tribute to my fellow beings in seas awash with their blood, we dedicate the following poem.

Hear us oh great and restless sea,
oh wondrous ocean deep and wide.
Your boundaries all beings keep,
your storms and tempests we abide.
Pray let us pass in the days to come,
free from thy wrath, safe on thy tides.
That we may cross thy mighty plains,
and suffer not like those who died.
And in the end, with our journey done,
may we to thee simple sojourners be.
Once here in time and place, then gone,
from thee oh great and restless sea.

God bless the innocents and forgive those who persecute them, for this is one world and we must all live in it.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The World Is A Sadder Place

The body of a male Sperm Whale washed ashore last week on a beach near the small British town of Beadnell, in Northumberland. The whale’s body was 10 meters in length with an estimated weight of 30 tons indicating that he was a young adult. When fully grown both measures would have doubled. Staff from the British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) assume that he entered the North Sea by mistake and starved to death because there are relatively few squid in those waters. Had he lived, what an incredible life this whale might have known, powering through all the oceans of the world and diving as deep as 3,000 meters on dives lasting two hours. With his powerful echo-location(or earsight as I call it), just think of the stunning undersea landscapes that he would have known, and incredible adventures he would have had, in that world of eternal darkness where even nuclear submarines dare not go. It was a tragic ending to the life of one of God’s most magnificent creatures, made all the more distressing by the fact that some people have been caught stealing ivory teeth from the carcass. Despite this crass (and illegal) behavior, I hope most of you will agree that today the world is a little bit sadder place because of the premature death of this young whale.

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Navy Gets It Wrong With Right Whales

Environmental groups have filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Savannah, Georgia, in an attempt to stop the United States Navy from building an Undersea Warfare Training Range in the Atlantic Ocean off Jacksonville, Florida. In addition to heavy ship traffic involving extensive mid-range active sonar, this 500 square nautical mile zone will entail hundreds of miles of undersea cables and acoustic devices. Clearly, after 9/11, the Navy must take whatever steps it deems necessary to protect the nation and while this training range may be the right thing to do, it is being done in the wrong place since the location is adjacent to the shallow waters where endangered North Atlantic Right Whales give birth to their calves each year from November to April. It is a brutal fact that whenever whales and warships come together, the whales always lose. Since there are only 300 to 350 Right Whales left on the planet, the death of even one can be devastating, especially when it could have been avoided. We are hopeful that the lawsuit will get the Navy to move their training range; however, we are not optimistic given that in November 2008 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Navy on a similar matter that threatened the lives of whales. It would seem that compromise is a term not found in U.S. Navy training manuals.