Wednesday, February 24, 2010

"Killer" Whale, Indeed.

PopSpiracy wants to pay respects to SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau, killed in Shamu Stadium in Orlando today. SeaWorld has long held a special place in my heart since childhood, and I have been an annual passholder several times over. There was a time when I practically lived at SeaWorld. I remember Dawn well, having last seen her a few months ago during "Believe", SeaWorld's latest rendition of the famed Shamu Show. She was bright and cheery, a woman in love with her job and killer whales.

As PopSpiracy encourages truth in media, I'd like to express my disappointment with Sea World's statement made by Seaworld Vice President Dan Brown. It's hard to believe his sincerity when he's lying straight through his teeth. If SeaWorld was not yet prepared to release any details, they should have remained vague instead of giving us an obviously fabricated story when there were plenty of witnesses who could corroborate the truth.

I get it. SeaWorld is a corporation. Shamu is an image. You can't let the children of the world think their precious Shamu is indeed a killer! However, he is what he is, which is to say an Orca, and the most powerful and skilled hunter in the sea. Trainers know this better than anyone, as they work with tons of sheer lethal muscle daily.

According to Brown, the trainer slipped in the tank and was accidentally fatally injured. First of all, what is this latest trend in blaming the victims? i.e. the Olympic's official statement regarding the death of the Georgian luger? It is majorly insensitive to accuse a victim who can no longer speak out to defend themselves, and I'm sure their families have suffered enough without the added blow. Nonetheless, releasing a statement that was blatantly untrue is tactless and thoughtless. This leads me to feel the bigwigs in charge of SeaWorld have little regard for the memory of this poor woman, who they in the same paragraph describe as one of their most experienced trainers. According to multiple eyewitness accounts and a Sea World employee, the whale grabbed the trainer by her ponytail and violently thrashed her around - in other words, behavior killer whales employ to knock out their victims and kill. I must also question the logic of SeaWorld in taking in Tilikum, the whale responsible for the attack, who had a track record of killing two other people during his time spent at multiple parks. Knowing this, why did he end up performing at SeaWorld if those in charge knew his violent history? Clearly, trainer safety is not priority, despite claims to the contrary.

I am honestly astounded at the mistruths spoken, it made SeaWorld look absolutely shady beyond belief for them to release such a careless lie that was not only harmful to the victim's memory and family but knowing full well there were numerous witnesses, who didn't hesitate to spill the beans.

SeaWorld has long been a controversial staple long before this incident. I personally have supported SeaWorld, they are a leader in the rehabilitation of sea creatures and public education on sealife. They take in, rehabilitate, and release numerous animals and remind us all how precious these species are and why we should care. There is no substitute to being able to see and learn about animals face-to-face, and while I acknowledge Shamu(s) are sacrificial lambs, there are less than 100 killer whales in captivity globally and as representatives of their species to the world, who knows how many children who saw Shamu or had the pleasure of meeting him grew up to be animal activists or marine biologists? I've always found the Shamu experience to be incredibly powerful and inspirational, and I was one such kid who can honestly say my life was changed by seeing this powerful and majestic creature. I applaud SeaWorld for taking larger steps in recent years to create less stress for the performers (whales), prior to the show the gate is opened and the whales have the option of swimming out. If none do, the show is cancelled. If one or two swim out, they are the lone performers. If they all want to have a go, they can. Obviously they are trained with reward systems, but are clearly not going to be starved if they do not perform. There are rules and procedures that will no doubt be re-evaluated and changed, and perhaps this will work out best for whales and humans alike.

Regardless of the general good I feel SeaWorld is capable of, those feelings have hit a low point today. The careless, insensitive, and dishonest remarks by SeaWorld are truly rock bottom for this park and Dawn, SeaWorld trainers, employees, orcas, and fans alike deserved better.

It is my deepest hope that SeaWorld apologize to Dawn's family and the public for this ugly reaction and take its steps to restoring faith in its following.

RIP, Dawn.