On my wall, there’s a picture of my son at Sea World, age 5, eyeball to eyeball with an orca whale. It’s one of my favorite pictures and remains to this day one of the best experiences I’ve had on vacation.
The news over the past 24 hours regarding Tilikum and the death of Dawn Brancheau, one of only a handful of trainers that the park allowed to work him, keeps floating to the top of that cauldron of subconscious distraction that’s always bubbling. I am saddened by the trainer’s death, troubled by the decision of the park to keep Tilikum at Sea World, and a bit sick over the fact that I still want to go back there for vacation this year.
It comes back to that picture. One of the things I hope I instill in my children is a love of the natural world. I love animals and my kids love them too. Being able to see them up close (in the middle of Florida, of all places) stokes that flame of admiration and joy. The flip side to that coin is that we’re seeing them taken out of their natural environment, placed in captivity, and, in the case of orcas (dolphins too), kept in cages that are thousands of times smaller than their natural habitats – where they are forced to perform tricks on a regular basis.
So, yeah, I want to teach my children about the other creatures we share this planet with; but part of that education is having respect for those same creatures. I don’t know that I’ll be able to go back to Sea World this year with a clear conscience. Maybe in a year or so, this will have all dulled to so much psychic noise and I’ll return. But that makes me feel even guiltier. I’m of the mind that whales are highly intelligent creatures (the fact that they don’t choose to speak to us only belies how advanced they truly are). To support their captivity by purchasing tickets year after year only makes me part of the problem.