Brittany M. Plothow, Opinions Editor @brittanyplo
When I was a little girl, I had an intense love for marine animals. If someone asked a much younger me what she wanted to be when she grew up, she would have said, with intense passion, “a marine biologist!” My dream was to work at Sea World as a trainer and swim with the animals I so much admired.
Orcas, more commonly known as Killer Whales, and dolphins held an extra special place in my heart. When my family went to San Diego when I was a kid I was absolutely dying to go to Sea World, which we did. When we left the park, my much younger self did so with a bitter taste in her mouth.
I sat in the Shamu stadium and watched these beautiful, wild creatures that are used to swimming up to one hundred miles a day swim around in circles. Instead of being in their families, they were with perhaps one or two other creatures, and sometimes completely alone, until being brought out to perform for the ticket holders.
Even at that young age, I felt weird about this. I felt sad, sad that these animals weren’t living the lives nature has intended for them. This experience has stuck with me as an unshakeable image of human self-importance.
Orcas are incredibly intelligent creatures and their emotional process is arguably on par with humans. They travel in family pods their entire lives. They communicate through language with each other.
When they are separated from their families, they suffer. Because their natural hierarchy is disrupted, a discord develops between the Orcas in captivity, which has attributed to Orcas attacking each other in theme parks. They are not meant to be caged-in without their family pods. It disrupts their very nature.
It’s not just Orcas. A few years ago I went to a zoo with my family. At first it was fun, the little kids loved it. After a while I started to get the same feeling I got at Sea World. I was looking at a majestic and beautiful tiger sitting in a makeshift prison-like cage staring back at all the humans staring at her. She just looked sad.
The main issue I have with using wild animals as entertainment is the belief that humans are important enough to take these animals out of their natural habitat for our own cause. The argument that this is for educational purposes or to save these creatures from a terrible fate is just another example of people believing in human self-importance.
Education is fantastic. As a kid who harbored an intense passion for animals and someone who still does, I am very grateful for the education I received as a child when it comes to animals. My nose was almost always in a book. I spent hours combing over encyclopedias, reading about Orcas and dolphins. I was that kid.
More educational than my Sea World experience was a few years ago when I was blessed enough to observe wild whales during a family trip. Watching whales in their own world, with their own rules was much more impressive and informative. I learned more in those few moments than I did in an entire day at Sea World.
Yes, organizations like Sea World and zoos or aquariums do often help animals that are injured or otherwise in danger, which is fantastic and as an intense animal lover I am grateful for this. What I struggle with is the other side of this sword. We can be a positive force in the life of creatures while allowing them to remain in their home and with their own kind. They do not need to be behind bars to be helped.
There are numerous organizations that intervene in the lives of wild animals, ones that do an immense amount of good without the nasty side effects. For my fellow animal lovers, find those organizations and support them.
World Wildlife Fund is a fantastic place to start. This organization works in endangered species conversation without disrupting their lives. They offer educational trips, responsible interaction with wild creatures just as they are supposed to be.
As human beings we should treat all wild creatures with the utmost respect. We are not all-important creatures. We are guest in the home of these animals. They are not here to entertain us.