Whale of a Debate

This week, a tragedy occurred at Sea World in Orlando, Florida. Dawn Brancheau, a trainer at the park, was suddenly killed during a routine performance by Tilikum, a 12,000 pound killer whale. The whale apparently dragged her under water by her hair and proceeded to drown her in front of a stunned audience.

It’s incredibly sad, and I can’t imagine what the family is going through at this time, especially after Brancheau was laid to rest Monday and when it’s mentioned over and over again on the news.

But I’m becoming more annoyed as the story continues making headlines.

“What should be done about the whale?”
“Should he still perform or be set free or be moved?”
“What does this mean for all animals in captivity?”

As I watched multiple news broadcasts provide a segment on the story, all of them presented the killer whale in a bad light, as if it were the enemy. Evil. This really bothered me.

I agree that it was a horrible thing to have happened to the trainer. It was unexpected and terrifying. But I think everyone is forgetting a crucial thing, and the most important fact:

It’s a wild animal.

No matter how it was raised, trained and lives, it has instincts that are so innate that they cannot be defeated. I think we as humans tend to forget that on a regular basis. It might be cute, might be cuddly, might be a generally friendly animal, but it’s still wild and can still turn dangerous in less than a second.

We’ve seen this story often. The caretakers of abandoned and injured big cats getting clawed to death, circus performers trampled by the elephants they parade around with, panda bears grabbing at zoo bystanders. Even famous trainer Sigfried was attacked by his Siberian tiger. It’s not uncommon, yet every time it happens we’re shocked that an animal which appears so serene can turn vicious.

Then people start to become panicked and start debating on what is to become of the animal, or its future. Some are reasonable and think nothing should change. Others think the animal should be removed from the public areas where people could potentially be hurt. The extremists want the animal killed.

Luckily for “Tilly”, killing hasn’t been an option. It has been agreed upon that the whale should no longer perform at the moment, but the decision of placement has now begun. Some believe the whale should stay in the Sea World park, while others think it should be confined to an ocean pen.

It’s possible that people would assume the sea pen would be best. However, whale experts agree that doing so would put the whale at risk for disease and other ailments which it is not accustomed to from living in captivity. So the answer now is to keep it in the park until further decisions have been made.

Of course, now animal activists and even celebrities are bringing up the question if animals should be held in captivity at all. Is if the right thing to do? Shouldn’t we respect and honor the animals in their natural habitat?

Well, yes, but as zoologists have pointed out, we learn things about these animals we wouldn’t be able to if they were in the wilderness. Not only that, but we also learn how to keep their populations from decreasing to seriously low levels, and rehabilitate them if they become sick or wounded. In addition, if everything works well, many animals are re-released into their habitat.

I adore animals, and in general think they should be left in their natural habitat for the most part, but I do not see harm in zoos or centers as long as the animals are being treated well. In fact, I’m sure places such as these are saving species more than destroying them, which is the outcome I would prefer over letting poachers and destruction of land lead to their extinction.

Zoos and parks give the public the privilege to experience the wonder and beauty of these creatures they might never get to see in person otherwise. They help inspire people of all ages and help us to keep in mind that we need to preserve all pieces of the animal kingdom and that every one of them is special.

What we need to do is treat them with the respect they deserve, in the wild or within the centers that hold them, remember that in the end they weren’t meant to be cohabiting with humans, and because they are, incidences like the attack on Brancheau will happen again. Don’t blame the animal for doing what its instincts tell it, even if we don’t understand.


Sources: Chicago Tribune, ABC News

About Karin

Journalist, singer, reader, movie fanatic, photography buff, GVSU alum, wanna-be-Brit, Crohn's fighter, Coca-Cola addict, animal lover, not a kid person, hater of winter, Michigander
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