PETA says Blackstone kills whale trainers; SeaWorld fights back | FT Alphaville

PETA says Blackstone kills whale trainers; SeaWorld fights back

The following press release from the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals hit the FT Alphaville inbox on Tuesday (emphasis ours):

PETA has purchased common units in equity firm and SeaWorld owner The Blackstone Group—a limited partnership—in order to meet the legal requirement that allows PETA to call for an end to killer whale (orca) and other dolphin shows at SeaWorld abusement parks. PETA launched the campaign following a February 24 incident in which an orca fatally attacked a trainer at SeaWorld in Orlando. The killing was the third by this particular male, an animal who has lost most of his teeth attacking the metal bars on the grill of the underwater cage that holds him captive. The Blackstone Group owns the SeaWorld parks in Orlando, San Diego, and San Antonio.

“Knowing what we now know about marine mammals, it’s long overdue for Blackstone and SeaWorld to let them live in peace with their families in the world’s oceans, where they belong,” says PETA Executive Vice President Tracy Reiman. “Depriving these intelligent animals of everything that is natural and important to them is deeply cruel—and it can turn them into ticking time bombs.”

While Blackstone was in negotiations to purchase the SeaWorld parks from Anheuser-Busch InBev, PETA urged Hamilton James, Blackstone’s president, to transfer all the parks’ marine mammals to transitional coastal sanctuaries and replace them with state-of-the-art robotic marine mammals if the sale went through.

PETA also warns that the trainer who died in the February incident will not be the last victim as long as the animals remain in captivity and servitude. In the wild, orcas share intricate relationships, and males spend their entire lives with their mothers. Dialects differ from pod to pod, and the animals swim for as many as 100 miles every day. At SeaWorld, orcas continually turn in circles in small, concrete tanks and are forced to perform circus-style tricks for food.

Blackstone referred requests for comment to SeaWorld, which responded in a fashion that would have done Lucas van Praag proud. Emphasis ours:

PETA has been campaigning against SeaWorld in a variety of forms for many years. I’m not sure what legal requirement they’re talking about.

The author of this statement [that 'an orca fatally attacked a trainer'] doesn’t have any idea what he or she is talking about, which is typical of PETA. The word “attack” presumes some form of malicious intent. Nothing from our investigation of this incident supports that conclusion. The prior two incidents involving this animal have limited or no relevance to the death of Dawn Brancheau. The first was at a Canadian marine park and involved two other adult killer whales. The second was a young man who hid out in SeaWorld after the park closed, stripped down to just a swimsuit and entered the 52-degree water with Tilikum when the park was closed. The cause of death was drowning associated with hypothermia. The young man’s mental problems were widely reported by the media.

On the allegation the whale had lost its teeth attacking the bars of his cage:

Nonsense. Whatever problems Tilikum has with his teeth he had long before he came to SeaWorld in 1992. The only truth in this statement is that we have SeaWorld parks in Orlando, San Diego and San Antonio.

Regarding return the SeaWorld animals to the wild:

[PETA should acquaint itself] with the thousands of pages of published scientific criticism of the idea of reintroducing long-captive whales and dolphins to the wild. The tragic death of Keiko (the whale from Free Willy) is the most obvious example (despite more than $20 million spent on the attempt), but there are many well documented cases of the failure of these types of experiments. It should also be noted that no organization in the world today has reintroduced more marine animals to the wild than SeaWorld.

…this year alone we’ve rescued more than 1,000 marine animals. To my knowledge PETA has rescued none. I should also note that more than 80 percent of the marine mammals in our care were born in our parks. Only an organization as extreme as PETA would even suggest that a captive-born animal be released into an environment it has never even seen.

On captive animals as ticking time bombs:

The death of Dawn Brancheau was tragic, but must viewed in the context of 46 years of operation and more than 2 million separate interactions with killer whales in SeaWorld parks. Dawn’s death was the only trainer fatality in that span. It is in no sense cruel and the ticking time bomb metaphor is ludicrous.

On circus-like requirements at SeaWorld:

This is standard-issue hyperbole from PETA, but we cannot allow the last claim to stand. The training method used at SeaWorld is entirely positive reinforcement. No animal is ever forced to do anything, ever. If an animal chooses not to respond to a trainer’s request for a behavior, there are no consequences. Period.

And finally:

I do not know if The Blackstone Group viewed this as anything more than a publicity stunt, but we did not.

Yipes.

Related links:
Goldman Sachs saves kittens (really) – FT Alphaville
The Rise of Dog Identity Politics – New York Magazine
Jack Hanna Compares Whale Trainers to Astronauts on King – Daily Intel
The Extremist – The New Yorker (abstract)