Monday, September 26, 2011

We Can Kill Their Souls

This past week in a U.S. District Court in Orlando, Florida, attorneys for the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defended the government's job safety citations against Sea World. The government claims that the fun park's management operated an unsafe work environment for its employees who work with Orcas. At issue was the tragic death last year of a Sea World trainer in the jaws of Tilikum, a six ton male Orca that had been involved in two previous human deaths.

As might be expected, the fun park's attorneys vigorously defended their client, claiming the woman's death was simply an unfortunate accident in which Tilikum unintentionally drowned her after her long ponytail drifted into his mouth. Government witnesses countered that the huge dolphin (yes, Orcas are dolphins not whales) grabbed her arm not her hair, and attacked her viciously causing injuries far too graphic to repeat here. As in all such legal cases of "we say, they say" the truth is hard to determine; and in fairness to Sea World's legal counsel, they are not being paid to find the truth, only to defend their client's definition of what the truth is.

Testimony will not resume again until mid-November; however, one salient fact is clear, a loving and lovely young woman is dead, and her killer remains trapped in a tiny concrete tank barely twice as long as his body. This troubled behemoth is freed only briefly to perform stupid tricks before audiences who are either oblivious to the cruelty inherent in the actions of his mercenary owners, or apathetic to them. Keeping Orcas in captivity is a tragedy of limitless proportions and I think Ms. Diane McNally, a cetacean rights activist and writer, said it best in her recent Victoria Times Colonist article titled, "Orcas wont' eat us, but we can kill their souls" (see link below).

Sea World is killing the souls of every Orca they keep, and each time the public goes to one of their fun parks they become accomplices to Sea World's crimes of crass and commercial inhumanity. Perhaps one day, after the lawyers have gone home, and the trainers have gone back in the water, and the next human being is killed by one of these tormented souls, then maybe finally, we the people will rise up and say, Enough!

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Lesser Evil

Sad news: reported today that a young female Orca has died after being stranded near the Whangaparaoa Peninsula approximately 25 km north of Auckland. A necropsy will be performed at Massey University's Albany campus to determine the cause of death, however, it appears that the Orca was emaciated.

Did you ever wonder why stranding seems to be such a pervasive and tragic ending to the lives of so many whales and dolphins. Clearly there is evidence that sonar from navy ships is a contributing factor, especially in mass stranding. However, at least in the case of a single stranding, I sometimes wonder that when a whale or dolphin senses the end is near, they choose to strand themselves rather than face the alternatives.

There are a million ways for a mammal to die and we, the arrogant and ignoble two-legged variety, are directly responsible for the deaths of countless millions of other mammals each year; including those with two- and four-legs as well as flippers and fins. However, if I were an Orca roaming wild and free, (NOT trapped at Sea World) and I felt the cold fingers of death approaching, I think I would choose the lesser evil of dying alone on some sandbar or mud bank rather than drown or be torn apart by sharks. Wouldn't you?

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Blueblood and the Beast

Two recently released studies with Bottlenose Dolphins provide further evidence of their intelligence and sentience.

Jennifer Viegas of Discovery News reported on a study by Peter Madsen at Denmark's Aarhus University that shows that dolphins communicate with each other using a complex physiological process, involving the vibration of connective tissue in their nasal cavities. It is virtually identical to that used by humans in speech and it provides further evidence that the sounds they make are far more complex than the human ear can detect or the human brain can comprehend.

Another study conducted by Joan Gonzalvo at the Tethys Research Institute in Milan, Italy, and reported by Rowan Hooper in the New Scientist, reveals that dolphins clearly understand death and react to it in a profoundly personal manner, especially when it involves their young. Anthropomorphic concerns aside, what is more 'human-like' than mourning the death of a child?

They talk like us, they grieve like us, and yet we still imprison them in tiny concrete tanks and force them to perform stupid animal tricks for our amusement. Or even worse, we slaughter them like the fishermen in Taiji, Japan, are doing right now.

So you tell me, who is the blueblood and who is the beast?