Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Sorry, Sea World trainers, no sympathy

Is it possible whales just want to have fun?

The original suit citation reads Jones et. al. v. the Secretary Commerce.  That suit effectively prevented Sea World from capturing killer whales in Alaska waters.  We won in the original court and again on Sea World's appeal.  The secretary of Commerce was named because the suit was based on Sea World's obligation to supply an adequate environmental impact statement with that agency which was expensive and had to be done before one whale was touched.

If memory serves Sea World originally was granted permission to handle 92 whales  in Prince William Sound and take up  to ten into captivity.  Though they said they were doing science, our read on it was it would allow them to examine that many whales in order to choose perfect specimens for their water parks.

The sound's resident  population of up to 90 whales in five distinct pods  generally swimming in a relatively small area, made for easy picking by the Sea World catchers.

 A group of  vessel operators pooled our money and initiated that suit.  My name is first only because the attorney thought it best to have an individual rather than a business as the first complainant.

Besides helping initiate the suit, I almost had a fist fight with the chief capture supervisor for Sea World.  At the time this arose, I was operating a fishing charter boat for a company out of Valdez.  The business I worked for also operated a marine supply store.  One day this fellow came into the store wanting to buy parts for a boat Sea World had left over the winter.  It seemed during that time someone or several someones had poured sugar into the fuel tanks of that boat.  Because we knew Sea World was operating there we had hung a sign in the store saying we reserved the right to refuse service to anyone. Anyone was Sea World.

When the alleged scientist was informed we wouldn’t be selling him any parts or supplies for his boat he asked who he could talk to, the clerk nodded at me.  He asked why and I told him we were totally opposed to his effort to capture whales in Prince William Sound and even if it meant loss of business we were not going to aid that effort in any way.  He looked at me and said, "Have you heard all our arguments?"   I said, "Yes, have you heard all of ours?"  He nodded and I said, "I guess we have nothing else to talk about, do we."  I saw the vein in his neck bulge and his fists close tightly and prepared myself.  I could see the change in his eyes, though, and he punched his own knees where he was sitting, stood up and stormed out of the place.

When the issue first came up I did some research into Sea World's handling of killer whales and  learned that captured whales usually acted docile and do their tricks for two or three years.  After that they tended to start pushing their trainers around and on occasion attacking them, and thus became useless for display purposes.  I also learned the whales which can live up to 100 years in the wild, seldom lived beyond 11 years in captivity.

Coming at you, boy.
Nothing in anything I read showed the least benefit for an animal that size being held in the relatively tiny pools at Sea World's displays.  That confinement was what bothered me most.  Having had some remarkable experiences with the whales in Prince William Sound, seeing them living free, swimming in clean Alaska waters it looked horrible to me to imagine a beautiful animal like that held in any kind of captivity.

The little guy doesn't often win any more, but for once we prevailed and saved at least our whales from that fate.

Since that time, it's my understanding that Sea World developed an effective breeding program among their captive whales.  I suppose that is better than taking them from the wild, but even if they have never experienced freedom, that confinement is no way to treat a whale. 

Now Sea World has another killer whale issue before the U.S. courts.  Apparently the Occupational Safety and Heath Agency (OSHA) thinks working conditions in Sea World's whale pools are unsafe.  A video was played in court showing what was presumed to be a killer whale attacking a trainer.  In the short accompanying story, it is stated that same whale attacked that same trainer twice before. Now OSHA wants Sea World to make it safer for the trainers.

The hell with that.  How about let's make it safer for the whales. The trainer was there by choice. The whale wasn't. The trainer has to know he is going into a confined space with the top predator in the ocean food chain.  What could possibly go wrong there?  I watched the video a couple of times and if it wasn't slowed down, it seemed more like the whale was just exercising some muscle.  I have seen a killer whale take down a thousand-pound sea lion and, believe me, it was a lot more violent and bloody than what shows in this video.

Maybe because it was probably bred and raised in captivity, the whale doesn't know how.  That's then fortunate for the trainer, but not the whale because it probably can't be released into the wild. 

So how are they going to make it safer for Sea World trainers?  I have some ideas they won't like.  Basically, stop confining whales in swimming pools.  These are animals that range over thousands of miles of ocean and it is a travesty to confine them the way Sea World does.  I suspect they might suggest those shark-repelling bang sticks  if they aren't using them already.  What a shame that would be.

We can only wait for the outcome of the trial.  In the meantime maybe just put a sign up by the pool, an ancient Oriental warning:

"If you walk into the tiger cage, expect to be eaten."

After seeing the movie "Blackfish," I felt I had to take a step back from some of this.  Here's the link.

__________

Link to the whale attack video.

Photo gallery: Prince William Sound whales

Here's the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decisions stopping the Prince William Sound whale capture.


1 comment:

  1. You got it right, my man. Healthy marine mammals shouldn't be confined. End of story.

    ReplyDelete

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