Be careful what you wish for, SeaWorld opponents
Published: November 16, 2011 at 3:32 PM
Be careful what you wish for, in case you one day get it.
SeaWorld is back in court this week, facing charges from OSHA resulting from the death of orca trainer Dawn Brancheau in Orlando in 2010. Yesterday, two trainers from SeaWorld San Diego took the stand to testify about SeaWorld's procedures. One of the trainers, Ken Peters, will be familiar to Theme Park Insider readers who remember when he showed me around SeaWorld's training facilities in 2008.
Me, with Ken Peters and Corky at SeaWorld San Diego in 2008.
I'm not nearly qualified to pass judgment on what's happening in the Orlando courtroom, but I think it is worth noting that the number of trainers killed by orcas at SeaWorld is equal to the number of drivers killed by monorails at Walt Disney World. (One at each, by my count of incidents since I started this site in 1999.) No one has suggested that Disney remove its monorails, but Disney has had to make several changes in monorail operation to help ensure that such an incident does not happen again. I hope that the process now ongoing in Orlando also results in something that protects SeaWorld's trainers, as well as its animals and SeaWorld's efforts to engage and educate its audience.
That third element is one that's ignored by the animal rights activists who have seized upon this case in their ongoing public relations battle against SeaWorld.
Anyone who truly cares about protecting animals cares about conserving and protecting their natural habitats. Human impact upon the environment is global. For many species, protecting natural habitat requires human beings to make changes in the ways we travel, live and do business.
I believe that most peoples' willingness to protect - and advocate for the protection of - a species' native habitat is proportional to the direct contact that person has had with that species. Sorry, news stories and TV specials don't cut it. Just look at the depressingly large number of people who don't immunize their children, or who deny that global warming is happening, or who believe that human beings were created in their current form a few thousand years ago. Too many Americans choose to remain blissfully ignorant of science, even zoology. If you want to motivate people to act to protect orcas, you've got to have a killer whale splash them in the face.
It's impossible to visit a SeaWorld show and not be hit with a message about conservation. But it's the direct contact with the animals - whether that be through sight, touch or splash - that motivates more people to listen to, and - for a few of them, perhaps - act upon those messages.
In an ideal world, we wouldn't need zoos and animal parks such as SeaWorld, because people would be able to travel the world easily, inexpensively and with no environmental impact, experiencing animals in their native habitats. But that's not the world we live in. Until people can apparate to Puget Sound or Antarctica to see oracs and penguins, we need places like SeaWorld. We need places where people can see live animals from other parts of the world and not only learn about protecting global wildlife habitats - but become motivated to do it.
That's what we will lose if the animal rights activists get their way and force SeaWorld to abandon its animals, starting with the orcas. Personally, I don't think PETA's leadership gives a damn about animal survival. They're concerned only with changing human behavior. I suspect that PETA's leadership wouldn't care about catastrophic loss of habitat and widespread species extinction, so long as every human being was a vegan and zoos were outlawed.
Fortunately, people in the zoological fields do care about protecting habitat and preventing extinctions. And they recognize the importance of educating and motivating the public. I don't want to live in a world where even more people ignore and deny the need to take better care of our environment because they've never seen a wild animal, even in a zoo or SeaWorld park.