Written by Michelle Kretzer | May 16, 2013Dolphins don’t belong in tiny glass tanks, and India wants to make sure that they won’t be put there.
When PETA India learned that state governments were planning to put dolphin parks in several parts of the country, it immediately contacted Minister of Environment and Forests Jayanthi Natarajan. The group reminded her that the Animal Welfare Board of India, which must give its permission before animals may be used in performances, said that it has not granted and will not grant permission for companies to keep dolphins in captivity, as tearing dolphins away from their families, confining them to tiny tanks, and forcing them to perform likely constitutes cruelty and violates India’s Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960.
Natarajan was in complete agreement with PETA India and the board and announced that the ministry would deny all proposals for dolphin parks.
In the U.S. and Canada, dolphins aren’t so lucky. Animal advocates must continue to speak out against aquariums and swim-with-dolphins programs.
Read more: http://www.peta.org/blog/india-ministry-rejects-cruel-dolphin-parks/#ixzz2lqLIC0kH
CNN FILMS Broadcasts ‘Blackfish’ and ‘Pandora’s Promise’ in October, November
As the weather cools, CNN Films’ fall schedule heats up with two, new-to-television documentaries that examine the relationship between humans and nature.
Marine Protected Areas – where conservation meets recreation Sail World That world is where we are headed in many places unless we can get a handle on climate change, reduce nutrient runoff and overfishing, AND create Marine Protected Areas (MPAs)…
Christian Serratos voiced her opposition of a SeaWorld float featuring Shamu that will be in this year’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
The Cove | Documentary jungle – Watch Free Documentaries Online: http://t.co/fdPOiOyL46
Saddest things I have watched EVER #FREETILLY
Kelp Forests Thrive in California’s Underwater Parks Energy Collective NRDC, I’m proud to say, helped bring diverse groups together to hammer out an important part of the solution: the law that created California’s underwater parks, the first ever…
Court: Federal Government Must Protect Caribbean Coral Reefs unEARTHED, from Earthjustice This decision means that there will be enough parrotfish around for a healthy coral reef that could then become home for even more precious reef wildlife,”…
A new underwater wireless network developed by University at Buffalo researchers could mean individuals may one day receive alerts regarding a fast-approaching tsunami right from their phone.
“A submerged wireless network will give us an unprecedented ability to collect and analyze data from our oceans in real time,” Tommaso Melodia, UB associate professor of electrical engineering and the project’s lead researcher, said in a statement. “Making this information available to anyone with a smartphone or computer, especially when a tsunami or other type of disaster occurs, could help save lives.”
The system works by connecting underwater sensor networks to wireless devices in real time — a task that has proven difficult in the past since land-based wireless networks use radio waves, which work poorly underwater. As a result, researchers working underwater often rely on sound wave-based techniques. NOAA, for example, uses acoustic waves to transmit data from tsunami sensors on the seafloor to surface buoys where they are converted into radio waves. These radio waves transmit the data to a satellite, and the satellite sends the radio waves back to computers.
However, while many systems employ this same process, they often do so using different infrastructure, making it difficult to share data between them. Melodia and his colleagues’ framework would change this by transmitting data from underwater sensor networks to smartphones and laptops instantaneously.
The team tested the system in Lake Erie where they dropped two, 40-pound sensors in the water and then typed a command from a laptop. Moments later, the researchers heard a series of noises indicating the system worked.
Funded by the National Science Foundation, the network amounts to a deep-sea Internet and could, the researchers say, encourage collaboration among separate entities, resulting in a freer flow of information and data needed in the capture, for instance, of drug smugglers operating makeshift submarines.
“We could even use it to monitor fish and marine mammals, and find out how to best protect them from shipping traffic and other dangers,” Melodia said. “An Internet underwater has so many possibilities.”
September 25, 2013, 1:19 p.m. ET
There’s a consensus among leading scientists that global warming is caused by human activity.
So we asked The Experts: What—if anything—should we do about it?
This discussion relates to a recent Journal Report on myths about renewable energy and formed the basis of a discussion on The Experts blog on Sept. 24.
If Food Waste Was a Country, It Would Rank No. 3 for Greenhouse-Gas EmissionsDARYL HANNAH: There’s also a consensus that we must act urgently, if we are to avoid a 4-degree Celsius raise and total systems collapse.
First we should safeguard, restore and wisely manage our life-support systems, including uncontaminated water bodies and sources, soil and seeds and practice conservation and efficiency.
Known climate-destructive practices must be phased out as soon as possible, including extreme forms of fossil-fuel extraction (e.g. fracking, steam-assisted-gravity drainage (SAGD), deep-water drilling, surface mines, mountaintop removal and tar-sands projects), ocean trawling, overfishing, crop burning and endangering nature’s protective resources like mangroves, coral reefs, forests and peat land.
We also must immediately wean ourselves off fossil fuels; coal, natural gas, and oil—and invest in a combination of decentralized renewable energy; solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, micro-hydro and liquid fuels made from waste and other sustainable feedstocks.
Water-intensive, mono-crop, petrochemical industrial agriculture has decimated our topsoil and created dead zones in the oceans. The simplest, most natural and likely the most effective way to sequester carbon is to rebuild soil. Regenerative organic-farming practices build soil. Some of the methods used to accelerate nature’s intelligent soil-development process include compost, biochar, brown coal, Mycorrhizal fungi, vermiculture and managed livestock.
If food waste was a country, it would be the third biggest greenhouse-gas emitter behind the U.S. and China. Diverting organic waste from landfills and livestock manure from ponds in anaerobic digesters, compost, and pyrolysis can amend soil vitality while reducing methane.
While these changes might seem challenging, we do have the capacity—if we can only galvanize the will. Many communities have already begun implementing some of these solutions. But top-down change is also essential if we are to address the climate crisis with the speed and scale needed. For this to happen, citizens must insist on getting the influence of money out of politics and the legislative process.
Maximizing regional self-sufficiency with these agricultural practices and energy production methods will strengthen local economies, make them more resilient, help prevent global conflict, and ease the sense of scarcity and the economic burden increasingly felt by the majority.
DigitalJournal.com Movie review: ‘Blackfish’ bites down on SeaWorld Salt Lake Tribune If you were making vacation plans to watch the orcas frolic at a SeaWorld theme park, the hard-hitting and thoughtful documentary “Blackfish” will make you think…
Welcome to the Whale Song Project.You can help marine researchers understand what whales are saying. Listen to the large sound and find the small one that matches it best. Click ‘Help’ below for an interactive guide.BackgroundIntroductionDid you know that Killer Whales (Orcas, which are actually the largest dolphin species) can talk to each other in quite sophisticated ways? Each family of Killer Whales has its own dialect and closely-related families share calls. We know this because biologists have begun to categorize the complex calls of Killer Whales and to try and understand what they mean.
Pilot Whales (again, actually a dolphin species) have dialects and calls similar to those of Killer Whales, but biologists have not categorized them. We have assembled recordings of both species, and we’re asking you to help us put their sounds into categories. We want you to help us understand what Whales are saying.
Listening for WhalesWhales and dolphins have very sophisticated hearing sensory organs and can produce loud sounds that they use for communication, orientation and foraging under water. We can listen to the sounds that whales and dolphins produce by putting microphones under water (so-called ‘hydrophones’).
Zooniverse in Education.Parents and kids can have a great time together interacting in a fun and educational way while engaging in real science. Zooniverse projects can be a compelling facilitated experience in a museum environment or as a stand-alone kiosk. If you’re interested in all things education about Zooniverse, then this is the right place to start. Check back periodically as we will be adding more and more education resources in the months ahead.
Vidar Oceanus’s insight:
An Earth Science Institute World Project: Protecting the Oceans. Taking part in Science around the Planet. Any Zooniverse Site is a great site, A massive thanks to all that make the Zooniverse possible!
Rare Photos of Migaloo the Albino Humpback Whale.Posted by Pinar on September 10, 2013 at 10:00amFor whale watching enthusiasts, sighting a massive aquatic mammal as it leaps out of the sea and recedes back to its underwater habitat is a thrilling experience. However, few can say that they’ve spotted one whose body is entirely white. For those lucky enough, they may have witnessed a passing albino humpback whale along the Queensland coast in Australia. In fact, the documented whale has been given the name Migaloo (an Aboriginal word meaning “white fella”) and is protected under Australian law.Thought to be the only albino humpback whale since his discovery back in 1991, Migaloo has gained a following with people eagerly sharing any photos or video footage they capture of the marine mammal as it makes its journey from Antarctarica to Australia and back. Though they’re few and far between, considering how often people capture images on a daily basis, Migaloo’s image is a stunning example of the diverse creatures our world has to offer.
Check out the rarely experienced first-hand video, below, of a few people encountering Migaloo as he gets in close to the boat they’re on.
Infiltration Amphibian – Via #Cove Guardian @VidarOceans Infiltration Amphibian: Journal’s, Environmental Studies, World News.
The leaders of some of the biggest charities risk bringing “the wider charitable world into disrepute” by taking large pay rises while donations are falling, according to the regulator.
The number of executives receiving six-figure salaries at Britain’s 14 leading foreign aid charities has risen by nearly 60 per cent, from 19 to 30, over the past three years.
The charities make up the Disasters Emergency Committee, a 50-year-old group which comes together to coordinate work at times of tragedy around the world.
Research found that the number of staff on salaries of more than £60,000 jumped by 16 per cent to 192 between 2010 and 2012. In some cases the pay of senior staff increased despite falling revenues and donations.
Is it acceptable for charity chief executives to earn £100,000?No. Donors want their cash to go to the poor, not executives. Comparisons with what people might earn in the private sector are wholly false.Yes. These people manage huge budgets and make life-or-death decisions. You have to pay for talent.VoteView Results
The figures will fuel concerns that wage inflation in other public bodies such as local authorities is now leaking into the charity sector and driving up pay among top managers.
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12 Aug 2013Charlie Elphicke MP: Charity bosses have to find their vocation again
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William Shawcross, the chairman of the Charity Commission, warned that charities were risking their reputations if they were not being seen to get a grip on boardroom excess.
He told The Daily Telegraph: “It is not for the commission to tell charities how much they should pay their executives. That is a matter for their trustees.
“However, in these difficult times, when many charities are experiencing shortfalls, trustees should consider whether very high salaries are really appropriate, and fair to both the donors and the taxpayers who fund charities.
“Disproportionate salaries risk bringing organisations and the wider charitable world into disrepute.”
The analysis also shows these charities are heavily reliant on public funds, having received more than £1.1billion of public money over the past three years from a range of sources, including the Government, the European Union, United Nations and councils.
Despite receiving these large amounts of money, the charities are not subject to the same level of scrutiny or accountability as government departments or quangos.
Priti Patel, a Conservative MP who helped to compile the figures, said: “Hard-pressed taxpayers deserve to know how their money is being spent and will be shocked to see so many highly paid executives in charities that are dependent on public funds.
“This money should be focused on delivering frontline services rather than lining the pockets of unaccountable charity executives.
“As more public money is being given to charities to run services, they need to become more accountable to the public and subject to greater scrutiny and transparency.”
The charities are not required to detail how much their top executives are paid by name, and many express the sums in bands, disguising the true figure.
However, The Daily Telegraph can disclose that Sir Nick Young, the chief executive of the British Red Cross, saw his pay jump by 12 per cent to £184,000 since 2010, despite a one per cent fall in the charity’s donations and a three per cent fall in revenues.
Others in the same pay bracket included Justin Forsyth, chief executive of Save the Children, a former adviser to both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown when they were Prime Minister.
The charity said Mr Forsyth received £163,000 last year, just less than Anabel Hoult, its chief operating officer, who was paid £168,653.
Revenue at the charity is down three per cent since 2010, although donations were up markedly.
Chris Bain, the director of Catholic aid charity Cafod, saw his pay jump by nine per cent between 2010 and 2012, from £80,000 a year to £87,000 a year. Over the same period donations and revenue rose 16 per cent and 24 per cent respectively.
Richard Miller, director at ActionAid, saw his pay increase by eight per cent to nearly £89,000 a year, while both revenues and donations fell 11 per cent.
The top paid executive at Christian Aid was Loretta Minghella, a former chief executive of the Financial Services Compensation Scheme, who was paid £126,072 this year, up from £123,729 last year and £119,123 the previous year.
At Oxfam, former chief executive Dame Barbara Stocking saw her pay rise over the three years, while revenues fell but donations increased.
A spokesman for the Disasters Emergency Committee said boardroom pay at the organisations was “broadly in line” with other charities.
The spokesman said: “The Disasters Emergency Committee plays no part in setting executive salaries at our member agencies but we believe these salaries are broadly in line with pay at other charities of comparable size.
“To ensure the most effective use of appeal funds, a balance must be struck between minimising overheads and ensuring a robust management system is in place.
“Good management of emergency responses in the UK allows our member agencies to deliver the planning, monitoring, accountability and transparency that this work requires and that the public rightly demands.
“The proportion of DEC appeal funds that can be spent by member agencies on the UK management of their disaster responses is capped at seven per cent.
“Over the past five years the DEC has raised over £193 million for its appeals and the cost of raising those funds was less than four per cent of that total.”
A Save the Children spokesman said: “We pay appropriately competitive wages that are benchmarked regularly against two external salary surveys.
“Last year this was supported by an in-depth external benchmarking report from Towers Watson, an expert remuneration agency.
“Remuneration is then decided by the board’s performance and remuneration committee.
“We want to save more children’s lives. We can’t — and shouldn’t — compete with salaries in the private sector, but we need to pay enough to ensure we get the best people to help our work to stop children dying needless deaths.”
A Cafod spokesman said that its director’s pay “remains much lower than any of his counterparts in the biggest NGOs, and has only risen in recent years in line with the increase for other Cafod members of staff”.
A Christian Aid spokesman said: “Christian Aid is mindful of not paying higher salaries than are necessary and/or reasonable.
“The board of trustees has a strict policy that requires us to set salaries at or below the median of other church-based and/or international development agencies.”
The spokesman added that Ms Minghella “brings substantial experience and skills in managing a large and complex operation to Christian Aid, strengths which are reflected in her salary that is on a level comparable with that of others of like position in the sector”.
Janet Convery, ActionAid’s director of communications, said: “Richard Miller’s salary is well below the market rate for a chief executive of a major development charity.”
In a statement, Oxfam said Lady Stocking was due to paid £119,560 in 2012/13 – which means that her pay increased by 19 per cent from £100,008 in 2009/10 “which is in the lower quartile of what other large charities paid for their chief executives”.
It said that Lady Stocking, who left in February, “could expect to earn at least £75,000 more for a comparable job in the private sector”.
It added: “Our chief executive’s pay has increased in recent years because our remuneration committee judged that it was becoming uncompetitive with the rewards on offer at other similar organisations of comparable size.”
A spokesman said: “We believe this is fair reward for a job that involves long hours, large amounts of time away from family and overseeing a £360 million organisation that runs everything from a 700-branch national shop network to major emergency responses and long term development work to improve the lives of the poorest people on the planet.
“Our chief executive is also responsible for more than 5,000 staff and tens of thousands of volunteers. We pay our chief executive less than other charities of similar size and scope – and considerably less than someone could expect to earn running an organisation of this size and complexity in the private sector. Our market research showed that, in the same year, the median pay of other large charity chief executives was £135,700.”
Marine oil spill response in B.C. is ‘woeful,’ says Island MLA MetroNews Canada “Both the DFO (Department of Fisheries and Oceans) scientists and the province pointed out in their submission to the joint review panel that there’s no research…
Blog: Demand for Rhino Horn Spells Extinction
Malibu Times (blog)
There is nil medicinal value in rhino horn. ‘The War Against Nature’ has escalated into a prolonged global looting spree. Our oceans and lands are under full-scale siege.
‘Blackfish’ goes inside the life of an orca
Officials at SeaWorld have strongly criticized “Blackfish” for its suggestion that Tilikum is indeed a killer whale and assertions that orca whales in general are mistreated.
Cove Guardian Elora Malama West Takes on Taiji for the Sea Shepherd …
In the fall of 2010 at age 16, Elora accompanied her father, Scott West, to Taiji, Japan for the first SSCS Cove Guardian campaign.
Climate change: a survivors’ guide
You won’t have to head for the hills for many years, but prepare to view the seaside from behind higher walls and from the dykes that will be needed to protect many coastal towns.
Poor ocean health threatens food security and increases flood risk Business Green Dr Greg Stone, executive vice president for The Betty and Gordon Moore Center for Science and Oceans at Conservation International, said the high scores in Europe…
In Blackfish, Gabriella Cowperthwaite’s sleeper hit documentary about a tragedy at Orlando’s SeaWorld, audiences are tempted (or at least I was) to empathize with Tilikum, the orca who killed his trainer Dawn Brancheau during a 2010 performance. The whale had been abused for decades in the service of mindless human entertainment masquerading as environmental education. (“SeaWorld artfully combines education and entertainment in a way that connects people to the sea and sea life like nowhere else,” their webpage boasts.)
I felt a kind of poetic justice in the whale’s eventual revolt against the handler, who must have epitomized, for him, the humiliating institutions of captive animal displays where he had had the misfortune to spend his life.
He was a “killer whale,” and he killed – what part of this was unexpected?
In nature, actually, orcas are not inherently threatening to people, simply because under normal circumstances, they rarely come into contact with people. They are curious, playful, clever, highly social, keenly emotional and profusely communicative animals. Indeed, their complex social structures and bonds make it all the more debilitating for them to be removed from their natural habitats, from their communities, and cooped up – as Tilikum was – in small, dark, steel aquarium tanks, where they are deprived of their freedom and their roaming and grouping habits. In this claustrophobic imprisonment these whales become very disturbed, and consequently, violent because they cannot conduct their lives as they would choose to do. If they attack humans under these circumstances, it is because we have driven them mad.
“Killer whale,” a loaded human label that reveals more about the namer than the named, constructs a human narrative that reflects a human perspective. Consider, along the same lines, “killer bees”: like killer whales, the phenomenon is our fault. They didn’t start killing us until we started interfering with their natural lives and transforming them from how they were to how we wanted them to be, so that they could be of greater service to us. Africanized bees were interbred with European bees in an effort to generate more honey for people to harvest: a selfish and short-sighted motive with dire ecological consequences. Killer bees were accidentally released in Brazil in the 1950s and have moved steadily north, invading much of South and Central America and the United States. While their stings are no more potent than those of other bees, they are more tightly wound, more defensive, and thus more likely to attack more quickly and in greater numbers.
By calling them “killer bees,” we attribute to them a danger, a brutal malevolence, which draws on a lurking paranoia that they’re all out to get us – “they” being, potentially, the entire animal kingdom – in one way or another. It’s all we can do to defend ourselves with pesticides, varmint traps, population “management” or “culling,” clear-cutting the nasty dangerous forests that harbor killer snakes and killer bats and poison dart frogs and other creepy-crawly spiders and scorpions and “man-eating tigers” and so forth. There’s quite a rogues’ gallery lurking out there in nature! Like the great American hero George Zimmerman, we are all just standing our ground (with a hair-trigger finger, poised to shoot first and ask questions later) defending ourselves against the insidious threat that all these killer animals pose to our prosperity.
The implication lurking in the denomination of orcas as killer whales suggests the violence that we fear, or imagine, or construct, in these big, “dangerous” creatures; the designation serves to drum up publicity at a place like SeaWorld, where people capture, constrain, dominate and exploit these “killers” to show how much more powerful we are than they. In the words of one Blackfish writer, SeaWorld’s mission was “to turn killer whales into killer profits.”
(“Blackfish” is how native people refer to what the SeaWorld crowd calls “killer whales,” and unsurprisingly, their relations toward these animals are much less adversarial and exploitative than SeaWorld’s. The Tlingit view the blackfish as a protector of humankind, and many other tribal communities honor the blackfish as their emblematic clan animal, respecting the blackfish’s need to have a wide berth rather than trying to capture, own and contain them. Native Americans enact their awe for the animals from afar, rather than demanding, as SeaWorld’s audiences do, the proximity that necessitates the whales’ painful dislocation from ocean to tank; from wild to captive; from authenticity to a demeaning parody of their natural existence.)
What we do to these animals by kidnapping them and transforming them into crowd-pleasing clowns suggests that, paradoxically, people simultaneously both admire and scorn their power, their natural force. We love to admire that force, finding it exhilarating to bask in its energy. At the same time, we scheme to coopt that force – to take it away from the animal and have it, commodify it for ourselves, as if we believe that the essence of life is zero-sum, and so if we want to experience the cornucopia of nature, we must harvest it, or colonize it. We must take it from them. Apparently, we can appreciate a majestic, dynamic, powerful whale only by depriving him of his whaleness, stripping him of everything that it means to be a whale. Removing him from the ocean, we cram him into a cage in Orlando because we can’t see him easily in the ocean: He won’t always be there whenever we come by. For our construction (our reconstruction, really our falsification) of his whaleness, he must be there for us to witness him day after day, year after year.
We (SeaWorld administrators, trainers, audiences) demand that he submit himself to our greater power, and we decide how he will manifest this phony, cheesy whaleness that is on display six times a day. Instead of his natural behavior, we would like him to swim in circles, and wave to the crowd, and prance and canoodle with the trainers. Audiences pay (a lot) to see him doing what we would like him to do rather than what he would like to do. We are in control; we’re calling the shots. When we say jump, we expect Tilikum to say, “How high?”
(Note: we’re not actually in control – the world is in a pretty tenuous state. Animal habitats are being destroyed on an exponentially increasing scale and extinctions, of course, are spiking as a consequence. Toxicities of every kind are rampant as never before in the history of existence. In a perversely fascinating lesson about the marvelous, far-reaching complexities of ecosystemic stability/decline, we are only beginning to see the multitudinous ways in which our global warming will afflict every species of animal, including us – the tip of the iceberg, if you will, though the iceberg is melting quickly. But the people whose job it is to monetize orcas are keenly aware that this tableau of ecological crisis isn’t a very cheery spectacle: better to watch prancing whales and sustain the implicit illusion that we’ve got everything well in hand.)
I am not a violent person, and I do not endorse violence. But it is hard for me to avoid feeling that there is something appropriate, something fitting, something that we might have expected (if we thought more sensibly about our relationship to the other animals with whom we share this planet) when Tilikum attacked Dawn. I’ve had the same feeling when Montecore attacked Roy Horn (of “Siegfriend and Roy”) on the Las Vegas strip, and when Tatiana, a Siberian Tiger (who had been made to reside in San Francisco instead of Siberia), attacked Carlos Eduardo Sousa Jr., a stoned zoo visitor who tried to climb into her cage. Or when Travis, a “pet chimpanzee” (not a good idea, for future reference), tore off the face of Charla Nash, who stopped by to visit him in the Stamford, Conn., home where he was kept.
At the Denver Zoo, a black rhinoceros bit off a woman’s finger. The woman was participating in an innovative zoo program (that has since been “indefinitely suspended”) in which visitors could feed and touch a caged rhino for $60. Other zoos have similar programs: At Zoo Miami’s Rhino Encounter Station, patrons can not only touch, but also brush and smell a rhino.
Google “When Animals Attack”: It happens all the time. YouTube is filled with compilation tapes: “Top 15 animal attacks”; “25 worst animal attacks”; “Crazy animals attack!” Again, let me note for the record: They’re not crazy; we are. Just move away from the wild animals, please, people. Let them be.
I will transgress the anthropomorphic fallacy (the pronouncement that it is impossible to attribute human emotions to nonhuman creatures) and suggest that all these animals most likely hated the people they attacked. And I hope I will not seem too heartless when I say that I think the victims got what they deserved. They played with fire, and they got burned. What goes around comes around. Choose your cliché – there are lots of them, and they all fit. Sometimes you eat the bear, and sometimes, well, he eats you (The Big Lebowski). In Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man (2005), Timothy Treadwall got too close to the bears and, indeed, he got eaten. Robinson Devor’s 2007 documentary Zoo tells of how Kenneth Pinyan, who enjoyed sex with horses, got anally fornicated to death. And the “Crocodile Hunter”: When I heard of Steve Irwin’s death, my first thought was what did you expect, messing around with poisonous giant stingrays? “Killer stingrays,” we might call them.
These kinds of incidents should be teachable moments: moments when we are painfully, irrefutably shown that we do not understand other animals very well. We don’t understand what they are like, or what they feel, or how we can most honestly relate to each other. We don’t appreciate them. We don’t respect them. We see them as fodder for our amusement.
I walked out of Blackfish thinking that the film’s lesson – that captive animal display is a shameful and cruel desecration – applied not just to the ridiculous shows at SeaWorld, but to all zoos and aquariums. (Full disclosure: I walked into the film thinking that already . . . but still, Cowperthwaite’s documentary struck me as a vitally incisive argument, universally, against the captivity of animals.) All three SeaWorlds – in Orlando, San Antonio and San Diego – are members of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the entity that presents itself as the authority in maintaining the highest standards of zoo practices and “leaders in the protection of endangered species.” What’s wrong with SeaWorld is a microcosm of what’s wrong with the institution of animal display everywhere.
Numerous effective animal rights campaigns lately have begun to chip away at the unremitting exploitation of animals that is consequent upon our intrusive voyeurism. Various zoos (including Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo, the Bronx Zoo, the Detroit Zoo, and, in 2009, every zoo and circus in India) have phased out elephant exhibits. Elephants were perceived as especially unsuitable inmates in zoos: They suffer high rates of death and injury resulting from their captivity, including chronic foot problems caused by standing on hard surfaces and musculoskeletal disorders from inactivity that results from their being constantly penned or chained instead of able to roam freely and widely as they would like to do. The Georgia Aquarium, where many Beluga whales have died already, was recently denied permission to import more of them from Russia (some of whom would have gone into tanks in Atlanta, and others of whom would have been franchised out, dispatched to the circus that is SeaWorld.)
Cutting back on the captivity of elephants and whales is a good first step. I applaud the dawning awareness that certain animals are obviously unhappy in zoos and unfit to be locked up in cramped, inadequate cages. Three centuries after René Descartes pronounced that animals are merely automata, machines to which human beings could have no moral obligations, finally a backlash is growing.
But it’s no worse, ethically, to kidnap and ruin the life of an elephant or an orca whale than it is to do so to a smaller animal – a capuchin monkey, a Chinese alligator, an East African crowned crane, a meerkat, a reindeer, a rattlesnake. Each of these animals has an array of needs and desires that cannot be met in captivity: The zoo deprives them of a free range of movement and of a certain climate, and temperature, and light, and proximity to other members of their species and interaction with other species. An environment that the animal desires and needs, comprised of certain plants and waterways and topographies, is rendered inaccessible. It may be a more obvious case to free the whales than to free the alligators, and it’s fine to start with the more obvious cases, but please: Keep it going.
There are myriad arguments against zoos; the one that Blackfish amplifies most emphatically is: This is how we develop an appreciation for wild animals – by humiliating them? By “showing” them in this decontextualized, painful condition of constraint and alienation from nature, when the torments of captivity have drawn out the worst physical and psychological strains on them: Hordes of people come to gawk at this? (In the 17th century, paying audiences by the hundreds massed for visiting day at London’s Bethlem Royal Hospital – commonly known as “Bedlam” – to gape at the human “Lunatickes,” sometimes poking them with sticks; have we become any more enlightened since then?)
We are told (by those who profit from the prosperity of these corporations) that we demonstrate good ecological citizenship by visiting zoos, aquariums, SeaWorlds to connect with other species – to befriend them. Man, those animals must be thinking, with friends like this who needs enemies? And again, please excuse the anthropomorphic fallacy, which I like to think of as the “anthropomorphic fallacy fallacy,” the pretence that we can’t understand what animals are thinking. We might like to think we’re unable to imagine their hopes and fears, because that would make them comfortably “other”; but this is just a convenient self-deception: We are in denial.
In fact, we can imagine very well how captive animals feel about being in cages or tanks, and it’s not very appreciative. We have constructed the human-animal contact zone as a degrading spectacle. The physical retribution that Dawn Brancheau, Steve Irwin, Roy Horn and others have suffered from animals who could no longer endure the ridiculous sideshows to which we have relegated them stands as an ominous metaphor for the catastrophic ecological blowback that awaits us if we continue to treat our earthmates like slaves, freaks and fools.
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