Published: May 19, 2006 at 11:45 PM
Speaking as one who has worked in the oceanarium field, if only as a volunteer, I think you both make good points.
Jason, you make the accurate observation that Sea World has, in times past, injected at least SOME amount of educational material into their shows. I agree that this is a Good Thing, something that any park exhibiting wild animals should strive for. You may be forgetting, however, that most people are very willing to pay to be entertained, but most unwilling to pay for a scientific lecture (outside of college, of course).
Scott, you also make an accurate observation that people visit theme parks to be entertained, not lectured to. What you may be forgetting is that it is to the visitor's benefit, even if they don't know it, to gain an understanding and appreciation of the animals they're watching that goes beyond the simple 'wow' factor.
Why might that be? Let me explain.
Humans are a unique animal. We alone, of all the species sharing this world, have the power to directly affect our environment, and we have the free will to use it.
This power is far greater than I think most people realize. At the risk of sounding like a movie cliche, great power carries an equally great responsibility NOT to abuse it (and I fear we've not done very well in that department).
Think about it: We alone, of all the species our planet supports, have the ability to utterly destroy said planet and everything else on it. With that in mind, and assuming that most of us would prefer survival to destruction, don't you think it's in our own best interest, as a species, to understand how our actions may affect other critters and the rest of the planet?
Assuming the answer is yes, I'll tell you what I think Sea World is doing wrong, and has BEEN doing wrong for the past 20 or so years. They try their level best to 'sanitize' Nature, to wrap it all up in a nice pretty package the way THEY think it should be, and hard-sell it in the park's gift shops.
In doing so, they greatly devalue and distort what they present. They're so deathly afraid of offending ANYone that they will take political correctness to its extremes.
Some examples: Why are they still bothering to use the stage-name of "Shamu" for their whales when the original Shamu died in August of 1971?
Have you ever tried asking any of the training or animal care staff about that? How about asking them for the real names of the whales?
If you really want to see a tap-dance, try asking about sexual behavior among marine mammals, or perhaps animal lifespans. For some real fun, ask about intelligence or problem-solving abilities.
I would wager that if you asked the same question of five different staff in the park, you'd get five different answers -- and NONE of them would be wholly accurate. All because Sea World doesn't want to be caught giving an "offensive" answer, or any answers on an "offensive" subject.
Kind of sounds like our current presidential administration, doesn't it? Scary. Just scary...
So, Jason -- As I said before, I don't think you're seeing anything different from what Sea World has been trying to do all along: Marginalize their idea of "education" all safe in their "education" department, and turn the shows into something that could probably open in Vegas with moderate success.
Disappointing? Sure. Unexpected? Not at all.
Keep the peace(es).