It seems inevitable that someday future generations will look back on our treatment of nonhuman animals with the same moral disgust and incomprehension with which decent people today view the historical global institution of slavery or the current treatment of women in Islamic theocracies. I actively hope that day comes soon.
SeaWorld perfectly encapsulates the ideology of mastery and ownership. Thriving on exploitation and abuse, on suffering and death, it presents itself as a benevolent and “gentle patriarchy.” Last month, Florida judge Kenneth Welsch came down on the side of OSHA, deciding that humans could not work in close contact with orcas during SeaWorld performances. The ruling followed SeaWorld’s appeal of a decision by OSHA following the killing of “trainer” Dawn Brancheau by Tilikum in 2010. (Immediately, of course, SeaWorld’s CEO was out trying to spin and even possibly evade the spirit of the ruling.)
Writer Tim Zimmerman heard from a SeaWorld trainer shortly after the decision. Their email reads, in part,
I have known these abuses for years but to see it in affirmed in black and white was sickening. I’m a little ashamed that I allowed this company to take advantage of and abuse me (and the whales) for years because of my own selfishness to want these experiences.
I believe most of these workers, who’ve been exploited and endangered themselves, do genuinely care for the animals and want to see the work in a positive light. But the illusions and self-deception are increasingly difficult to sustain. It’s time for this sad chapter in our relationship with nonhuman animals to end.