I read in the “nature” section of this weekend’s Statesman an article that almost ruined my weekend: “Some captive sea mammals outlive wild cousins” by Mike Schneider, via the AP Press. The article is about insidious as they come: pitting the two sides of the zoo/water park debate as having equal weight, despite hinting via the headline that (wink wink) one side (surprise, the status-quo corporate one) is really the only one being realistic. I’m frankly surprised that Schneider even uses the word “captive,” which at least gets across quite clearly the idea that these animals are there against their will.
But then again, one must ask why he would even make the argument that maybe stealing animals from the ocean or forcing them to breed in a prison (er, a wonderful and spacious tank) isn’t all that bad, when he himself notes, six paragraphs in, and as if it doesn’t call into question the entire thesis: “However, the survival rate of all SeaWorld’s orcas, including those captured in the oceans, is lower than estimates of those living in the wild.”
But don’t worry! The great people at SeaWorld are simply monitoring the animals in order to study and help them:
“We’re looking for evidence of infection or inflammation. We’re looking at electrolytes, liver values, kidney values, blood sugar,” Dirroco said. “We want to make sure we’re always one step ahead of any health problems.”
One step ahead? Hey, would you like to be two steps ahead? Don’t steal animals from the ocean. Just leave them the fuck alone. I’m sure an orca would rather take her chances in the wild than to benefit from all your tests (“Days later, pilot whale Freddie was bribed to the side of a pool with fish, and trainer Liz Thomas gently grabbed her tail. Veterinarian Stacy Dirocco, dressed in scrubs, swabbed the tail with alcohol and drew some blood into a handful of lab tubes.”)—tests which are really designed to keep the animals in shape long enough to be profitable as forced labor. Why else, you might ask, would these scientists care about an orca’s electrolytes?
The last paragraph, though, is the real kicker:
Even as conditions improve in captivity [read that back to yourself], the marine mammals’ native oceans are deteriorating because of human-generated pollution, said Dr. Mike Walsh, co-director of aquatic animal health at the University of Florida’s College of Veterinary Medicine. “People think it’s a Cinderella existence out there… but that’s not the way it works,” Walsh said. “It’s survival out there. It’s not a nice place to be unless you’re at the top of the food chain.”
I could spend years writing about this paragraph. But for now I’ll simply ask: Never mind that orcas and most other dolphins are at the top of their food chains; does Dr. Walsh really mean to argue that since humans have trashed the living ocean, we should—instead of trying to, you know, un-trash the ocean—steal animals from that trashed ocean, since conditions might be nicer (and, simply fortuitously I’m sure, more profitable) in an artificial environment?
And never mind that animals at water parks die from completely preventable, i.e. completely captivity-induced causes (“Over the decades, captive marine mammals at U.S. parks have died from seemingly preventable causes: electrical shock, allergic reaction, swallowing foreign objects, stress while being moved, drowning [drowning], reactions to vaccines, anorexia and heat stroke.”); does Dr. Walsh really think he knows what’s best for a sentient, sovereign, independent being, which neither he (nor I, nor you) could ever possibly fully understand?
I need to walk away from this for a bit, lest this article almost ruin my Monday, too.