rare tragedy—where a performing killer whale killed
his trainer—has revealed widespread ignorance among
the public about animals and their behavior. In replies
to online blogs, many respondents think that these animals
were captured in the wild and should be returned back
into the wild.
believe the myth portrayed in the “Free Willy” film.
In real life, “Willy” was a killer whale named Keiko.
Keiko’s fate was described in the July 2009 issue of
the journal Marine Mammal Science: “...Keiko’s release
to the wild was not successful, since though physically
unrestricted and free to leave, he kept returning to
his caretakers for food and company.” He died in December
2003, at half his life expectancy, from pneumonia. He
never integrated into wild killer whale pods.
release in 2002 of a lost killer whale named “Springer”
was successful because she had been in captivity only
one month, was a juvenile, and returned to her maternal
group. That brings us to the second wrong assumption:
that all of these animals were captured as adults from
the wild. But as rescued orphans, or born-in-captivity
dolphins, to release them to the wild would be a death
Kansans know that human-animal interaction built this
country in pioneer times. And animals are built into
our rural life today. The Great Plains were settled
by hard working folks using horses and oxen, not modern
cars and trucks and tractors. Today’s horse owner, whether
a leisure rider or ranch hand, will tell you that this
animal-human relationship is a mutually beneficial one.
These animals take care of us. And we care for them.
no relationship is without risks. Horses stumble in
gopher holes. Riders get thrown.
who would ban ocean parks for safety reasons have a
bad argument. By far the most dangerous action a person
can take is getting into a car. Similar to the rest
of life, human-animal interactions have risks.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports
about 1.5 million car accidents with deer each year,
for a total of $1 billion in vehicle damage, over 10,000
injuries, and about 150 human fatalities per year.
on the coasts, where folks may not be so aware of their
historical heritage with animals, they have pet dogs.
Dogs have the longest history of domestication. Many
of us share the mutual pleasure of their company. Nevertheless,
there are more than 4 million dog bites annually, about
1,000 per day treated in emergency rooms, and there
were 33 fatal dog attacks in 2007.
are certainly variations in the degree of domestication
among various animals, and good reason to question the
wisdom of untrained citizens keeping a cute mountain
just as riders know their horses, ocean park trainers
are highly skilled with their unique animals. There
is no reason to question that these animals feel any
less satisfaction than the sheep dogs that help us herd,
or the horses that help us corral cattle. These marine
mammals provide an up-close educational experience for
thousands of people, an exciting ecological and scientific
understanding that no simulation can replace.
must be careful that our reaction to these rare fatalities
does not play into the hands of those who would eliminate
all human interaction with animals, from farming to
zoos, from rodeos to school labs, and for everyone who
has pets, from dogs to cats to hamsters and fish.
animal rightist who would stop our relationship with
these magnificent animals today, will want to end your
“enslavement” of your child’s puppy dog tomorrow.