Orcas, lions, sharks and the Sea World fiasco

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Ed Zieralski

Thursday, February 25, 2010

I never thought I’d be on the side of animal rights groups, but I am on this issue.

The use of big sea mammals and even large land mammals for entertainment has gone too far.

My condolences go out to the family of Dawn Brancheau, who died Wednesday when a killer whale dragged and thrashed her to death at Sea World in Orlando. No family should have to deal with a death so horrid, so preventable. No one should ever have to witness such a death.

But Brancheau was 40 years old, a veteran trainer of these whales. She knew what she was doing getting into a tank with a whale whose first name describes its main mission in life. It kills things to eat. Kills everything it can to eat. It’s a killer, just as a mountain lion is on land, a bald eagle from the air. They are predators who prey on the unsuspecting, the vulnerable.

In a way, Brancheau was no different than a free diver who goes for fish and is met by a shark or even a killer whale.

The difference is the free diver hasn’t named the shark that is circling him. But once we start giving proper names to our sea mammals and land mammals, stuffing them in aquariums or cages, the game changes. This one was Tilikum, a 12,000-pound male orca that, unbelievably, was involved in two other previous deaths. Why wasn’t this whale put out to sea?

A woman I saw interviewed on TV last night said the whale clearly looked “agitated” in a previous show. Geez, I can’t figure out why a 12,000-pound killer whale would be agitated because it was being kept in Sea World’s giant fish bowl. Guess it got tired of being looked at like some guppy in an aquarium.

I remember Sea World in San Diego back in the early 1980s trying to keep alive a great white shark. The shark wouldn’t eat, looked sick, so Sea World released it after 11 days. Other aquariums like the one in Monterey also have kept great whites for a while, but they never last. They get “agitated.”

I know there is valuable “science” going on at these wild sea creature zoos, but let’s be real. The reason these massive killing machines are kept captive is to get people through the turnstiles of these businesses. Don’t play the science card with me without showing your hole cards. It’s all about money here with an afterthought of science. It’s about drawing a crowd.

That leads me to one other issue and that’s the use of the word “sanctuary” for wild lions, tigers and bears. U-T staff writer Anne Krueger, whose reporting and writing I respect, had a story recently about Bobbi Brink, a Japatul Valley rancher who has a “sanctuary” called Lions Tigers & Bears. Brink has her hand out right now for a donation of $250,000 to build an enclosure for four more mountain lions.

I can save her a lot of money, but I better not go there. What happens if there is a fire, a real possibility where she lives, and it rips through there? If it doesn’t kill those cats, there’s a possibility they’ll get free. Or what if heavy rains undermine the ground under the cages and they get loose?

Since 1992, mountain lions have killed three people in California. They’ve attacked several others. They’re protected because a legislature uneducated to the ways of mountain lions decided to protect them. Then uneducated and misinformed voters voted to protect them more. They’re at the top of the animal food chain here and they’re living large. California ranchers and some hunters have killed them without blinking in the last 20 years. There is a term for it: Shoot, Shovel and Shut-up.” I know of many instances where these “cats” have been killed in San Diego County, the shooting unreported for obvious reasons.

Killer lions, killer whales, killer bears — they all belong in one place — in the wild.

Otherwise we get tragedies like what happened to Dawn Brancheau at Sea World and to Roy Horn of the Siegfried and Roy duo. Even after getting attacked on stage of the Mirage by his white tiger, Montecore, a 7-year-old white tiger, Horn, who was critically wounded, was coherent enough to mumble, “Don’t shoot the cat.”

At least they were honest in Las Vegas and didn’t bring up the value of scientific study of white tigers after Horn was gashed. Sea World isn’t quite as honest.



Learn more about big cats and Big Cat Rescue at http://bigcatrescue.org

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