You may have heard the sad news of the Sea World trainer who was killed by the killer whale she was working with. Authorities were aptly referring to it as a “tragic accident,” but could these sorts of things be avoided by not keeping such creatures in captivity in the first place?
Jim Henley provides two contrasting takes, one form the website of animal trainer Karen Pryor, the other from animal ethologist and animal-rights activist Marc Bekoff. The former makes the case that we never would have learned how intelligent and social whales are if we hadn’t taken them into captivity, and thus we probably wouldn’t have felt the need to extend such protections to them as we have.
Be that as it may, I agree with Bekoff that we should “take all measures to make these sorts of encounters become things of the past by keeping whales and people apart.” Even if there was justification for capturing whales at some point in the past (a utilitarian justification that’s open to serious question), it’s hard to see what the point of doing so is now, particularly when they’re being used for entertainment. Contrary to the assertion of the KPCT post, I don’t see any reason to think that captives make particularly good “ambassadors.” For one thing, it may give us the impression that wild predators can be turned into cute and harmless pets.
The whole thing gives an eerie resonance to Neko Case’s “People Got a Lotta Nerve”: