(Photo: A killer whale at the Vancouver Public Aquarium, circa 1972. ©Malcolm J. Brenner)
Have you ever known a couple that fought about everything? I used to know a couple like that. Every day was a string of arguments, from dawn ’til dusk, voices raised in shouting. They could never agree about the simplest thing, and being around them when they were together was like having sandpaper rubbed on your body.
The cure for this problem seemed obvious. We, their friends, would say “Why do you two stick together? You should go your separate ways.” Their response was always, “But we LOVE each other!” Followed by more shouting.
What kind of love not only causes pain and anguish, but refuses to acknowledge the damage that pain and anguish is doing? I’ll tell you what kind of love: sick, psychotic love. My two friends loved each other the way SeaWorld loves its killer whales.
SeaWorld says it “loves” its killer whales and treats them well. One could have heard such protestations from a slaveholder in the Antebellum South: “I love my slaves and I treat them well! Mine are the best-treated slaves around!” The problem then, of course, was not the way the slaveholder treated his slaves, for better or for worse, the problem was the institution of slavery itself. And of course, a slaveholder must be blind to the moral pestilence that slavery creates. Men like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington anguished over the issue; they could not maintain their lifestyle without slavery, yet they knew it was an injustice. Great as they were, they kicked the can down the road, leaving it to Abraham Lincoln’s generation to fight America’s bloodiest war to end that evil institution, such as it has.
Of course, SeaWorld is not an individual. SeaWorld is a corporation with a bottom line which is money, and any statements to the contrary must be taken with a pound of salt. But what does it say about the individuals, like senior corporate affairs officer Jill Kermes? “We love these animals, and do everything in our power to assure they’re happy and healthy,” Kermes recently said in a press release.
Everything, of course, except set them free.
The example of my friends, the argumentative couple, isn’t exactly what SeaWorld is all about. After all, the whales aren’t arguing; they just want to go home. The deep and profound pathology of SeaWorld’s “love” for whales is actually closer to that of Ariel Castro, the psychopath who kidnapped three women in Cleveland, Ohio, kept them for 10 years and had a child by one of them, Amanda Berry. When he was finally captured, after the women escaped, here’s what Castro said for himself, according to Wikipedia:
Before his sentencing, Castro addressed the court in a rambling address for twenty minutes, in which he said he was “a good person” and “not a monster”, but that he was addicted to sex and pornography, and had “practiced the art of masturbation” from a young age. He claimed that he had never beaten or tortured the women, and insisted that “most” of the sex he had with them “was consensual.” He shifted between an apologetic tone and blaming the FBI for failing to catch him, as well as his victims themselves, insisting to the court that when he had sex with them he discovered they were not virgins. He would alternatively shift back into apologetic comments, saying: “I hope they can find in their hearts to forgive me because we had a lot of harmony going on in that home.”
“We had a lot of harmony going on in that home” is the delusion of a psychopath who either cannot feel for his victims or has managed to suppress his feelings. In Castro’s eyes he is not a monster and the sex was “consensual” because the women were not virgins and did not physically resist. Make no mistake, the people who run SeaWorld and their poor deluded minions, the trainers, feel exactly the same way. They even force the female whales to produce babies for them, exactly as Castro did.
What does watching a whale jump around at SeaWorld teach you about killer whales in the wild? Zip. What does it do for whales in the wild? It actually has a negative impact, because it increases the demand for whales in captivity, which means more wild whales are going to be rounded up and caught in horrible drive hunts. The Southern Resident orca population of Washington State, which was most heavily fished in the 1960’s and ’70’s for captive whales, has yet to recover from those captures, several of which resulted in the deaths of the whales.
I wonder what it will take for SeaWorld to realize the error of its ways. Human death? No. Trainers, let’s face it, are expendable. Not even the horrific death of Dawn Brancheau, torn to pieces in 2010 by Tilikum, SeaWorld’s prize breeding bull, was enough; SeaWorld tried to blame Brancheau herself, claiming that her ponytail (which was fine in SeaWorld’s trainer regulations) had floated into the whale’s mouth, and that he “playfully” pulled her into the water before breaking her back, scalping and dismembering her.
We’re not just talking about some personal peculiarities here; we’re talking about an institution which is built on lies, and now finds out it must lie about lying to the public, as SeaWorld is doing in its latest series of promotions. Five class-action lawsuits have been filed by various people who feel SeaWorld deceived them about its treatment of the whales.
With millions of dollars at stake, of course SeaWorld is going to defend itself. It has lowered itself to the point of personal slander to do so, as in the case of John Hargrove, former chief killer whale trainer and author of the tell-all book Beneath The Surface. What will it take, I wonder, to open their corporate eyes to the tragedy and the horror they are committing?
I wish I could throw some SeaWorld officers, like the CEO, into the pool with Tilikum. Then let’s see how long their commitment to keeping killer whales in captivity would last.