Animals as entertainment

orcas

CNN recently aired the movie Blackfish, which had previously played in theaters and which has received a great deal of attention highlighting the plight of captive orcas and marine animals in entertainment venues, such as SeaWorld. Hopefully the broadcast by CNN (which they have played several times) will restart the important conversation about marine animal entertainment parks and the cruel abuse they inflict on their captives. I was heartened by the survey done by CNN after the movie in which 60-something percent of respondents said they would NOT take their children to SeaWorld now, while only 30-something percent said they would. I doubt those were the percentages before the movie was aired, so this compelling film does have the capacity to change minds about this issue.

I never really did a review of Blackfish for this blog, so I would like to share my collection of thoughts after last night’s airing:

The most wrenching part for me was the beginning, when the captures were taking place. Seeing the reaction of the young whales and the reactions of their family members while the young were being hoisted away ripped my heart out. The panic and cries of the family and the young whales even moved one of the kidnappers to say years later that it is the worst thing he has ever done in his life.

The emotion displayed by former trainers, even years later, while talking about food deprivation and other cruel techniques to control the whales was quite moving and shows the extent of their emotional evolution as they reflect on their years as trainers. They were also quite angry at SeaWorld for not having told them anything about the risks they were taking with their own lives given Tilikum’s history of killing people.

The initial response by SeaWorld to the death of Dawn Brancheau, particularly their attempt to blame her for her own death, was beyond revolting. They accused her of having a loose ponytail (which was later determined NOT likely to be the part of her which was grabbed but rather her arm) and of making a mistake in setting Tilikum off – as if a 12,000 pound/5,400 kg apex predator kept in deplorable and confining conditions NEEDS a reason to “go off” on anyone. The very fact of him being there at all made him a loaded weapon which SeaWorld was only happy to keep loaded and exploit for profit, even after he killed three people, including one of their most experienced trainers.

Speaking of Tilikum, his sperm has been harvested and used to parent a number of progeny, most of whom are also captives of the SeaWorld profit machine. Anyone out there think it is a good idea to breed an animal with a known history of aggression? Sure, he kills, but he is smart and trainable, so let’s make more of him – a fantastic example of how SeaWorld puts profit before human OR nonhuman animal well-being. And on the subject of sperm harvesting, the film does show how that is done. The trainers do it, and I don’t think I need to get graphic here about the technique used. Let’s just say it is a tried and true method of extracting sperm from a male animal. Just another horrible indignity and abuse heaped on these magnificent creatures.

One of the females, after her baby was taken from her to be transported to another park, went into grieving and made a sound that had not been heard before. Whale specialists were called in to examine this and determined that it was a long-range sound. She was attempting, in vain, to try and contact and find her baby. How do these people even sleep at night?

If you have not seen this film and are active in animal rights, I would recommend Blackfish. It is not terribly graphic in terms of violence (it’s not The Cove), although there is certainly enough there to evoke strong emotion. It is definitely something to recommend to any friends or family who insist on visiting SeaWorld type parks. These parks have to close, and people have to stop exploiting and abusing these beautiful animals for human entertainment and profit. Hopefully films such as Blackfish will help to make that a reality.

anim1763 Taiji, Japan – a place where, between September 1st and sometime next spring, an estimated 20,000 dolphins will be brutally slaughtered. Although there are always so many pressing and important animal rights issues to blog about, for me, as this date draws closer, there is very little else I can think about. These beautiful, intelligent, sensitive and social creatures will be herded into a small cove (which is where the name came from for the movie, “The Cove”), held captive, and will be violently and barbarically killed by being stabbed or hacked to death in full view of their family members and any other dolphins around. The ones who do not die of blood loss or trauma might drown, or, as in the case of at least one dolphin in a previous year, allowed herself to suffocate by closing her blowhole, killing herself. It is actually so bad that the waters of the cove become deep red from the blood of the slaughtered creatures. This atrocity takes place every year, and every year, the pressure on Japan to stop it grows more intense. The work of the entire production crew of “The Cove,” as well as organizations like Sea Shepherd, OPS, Save Japan Dolphins and others, have worked very hard in recent years to highlight to the entire world this previously hidden and unpublicized horror.

The fact that this slaughter continues is in stark contrast to actions other countries have taken, such as India declaring dolphins to be nonhuman persons with rights to life and liberty (the first country in the world to do so). In fact, India is in the process of starting the shutdown of its dolphin parks. How some governments can be so forward thinking in recognizing the sentient nature of dolphins while others fight world opinion to continue a barbaric, ruthless, and gruesome practice is a sad example of how wide a gulf still exists between those who might attempt to protect nonhuman animals and those who choose to continue exploiting and murdering them for profit.

And let’s not kid ourselves, this IS about profit. The people who commit these acts might claim it is a “tradition,” but in the end, money does change hands. Much as the whale flesh from the slaughter of whales in the southern ocean sanctuary is sold to be consumed, the flesh from these poor murdered dolphins will be sold to be consumed, despite growing concern about mercury levels in that flesh and the health effects on people who eat it. And for the small percentage of creatures who survive, many of them will end up in marine mammal parks such as Seaworld, recently highlighted in the movie Blackfish about the awful treatment of orcas in captivity.

So after reading all of this you are completely disheartened and horrified, you might be wondering if there is anything you can do. There is – as with whaling, the more economic pressure that is brought to the countries who still sanction these atrocities, the more likely they will be willing to abandon them in favor of activities that might actually improve their economies without horrifying the world.
Here are some things you can do:

1. Visit the Sea Shepherd Society’s website – they have an action page with contact information for Japanese government officials to write to and a link to donate if you are able.
2. Spread the word – through your facebook page, twitter account, or whatever social media you visit. Tell family, friends and coworkers.
3. If you know people who visit marine mammal parks, tell them about Taiji and suggest that they see the films The Cove and Blackfish. By buying a ticket to these parks, they are inadvertently supporting the dolphin slaughter industry, which sells surviving captives to these parks.
4. Educate yourself about the products that come from Japan and the companies that export their goods so that you can choose not to buy from them. Here are Japan’s top ten exported products, and here is a list of the top ten exporting companies. You can mention this to your friends as well or post the links to your social media pages.

At screenings of the movie The Cove in Japan, a survey found that 68 % of the people surveyed thought that the hunt and slaughter in Taiji should stop. This is clearly not the will of the world, or even perhaps of the Japanese people themselves. If we keep spreading the word and putting economic pressure, this horror could come to an end, hopefully sooner rather than later.

photo: U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

Downloaded from BestPhotos.US

Swamp people. Duck Dynasty. Hillbilly handfishin’. American Hoggers. Chasing tail. There’s a theme here, and it seems to be growing. The number of “reality” shows that focus on, even celebrate, the killing of animals has exploded in recent years. The killing and/or eating of animals has been shown on television for many years, of course, from cooking shows to “sports” programs. And as long as cable channels have existed, there have always been semi-documentary programs that followed hunters in the field or people out on the water fishing. But those shows, at least in the limited viewing I have had of them, seem to be straight forward and attempt to be instructive (not that I am a fan, just pointing out a difference). The present crop of programs however, seems to have a disturbing celebratory glee attached to them. And again, I have only seen (and been able to stomach) small snippets of these programs. But the people on them seem to really enjoy their “work” or “recreation” and do not seem to have any compunction at all about the violent and often cruel deaths they are inflicting on sentient, frightened creatures.

The knowledge that these things are take place is upsetting, but the fact is, people do hunt and fish and design products to make hunting and fishing more efficient for those who engage in it. Regarding hunting and fishing, again, not a fan, but it exists whether or not I like it. What is much more disturbing to me is that, by the millions, people are spending time out of what is for many a precious small allotment of free time, WATCHING these killings as a form of entertainment. I understand fatigue. I understand the need to unwind with some relatively mindless occupation after a long day. But to watch the suffering and death of animals as a way to unwind? I don’t get it. And for many people, work and family responsibilities consume many if not most of the waking hours of most days. So that leaves precious few hours for entertainment and relaxing. That these shows attract enough viewers to stay on the air makes me very sad.

I will admit to watching the first couple of seasons of Billy The Exterminator. But despite the program title, Billy and his company actually attempted (and almost always accomplished) relocation of the animals caught. When he had a bat infested attic, he rigged a net to force the bats out of the building while not harming them. He seemed to care about the local ecosystems and wanted to release the “nuisance” animals to live out their lives in a remote setting. It was actually somewhat uplifting. I did eventually stop viewing because there were some instances of actual extermination – wasp nests (although he did relocate a bee hive once) and rats in various locations. I just can’t watch that. But I am glad he rescued and released many of the animals he was called to remove.

But these current programs are about killing, hunting, shooting, and death. I don’t care if the animals killed are later harvested for food. Or if the people in them think they are performing a “necessary” removal of “dangerous” animals. The programs are ultimately about the hunt and the kill. And people are watching. Sad.

photo: Gary M. Stolz, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via bestphotos.us