Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Blackfish's Mission Creep: Are some zookeepers turkeys wishing for Christmas?

PeTA's specially created Facebook page to promote the BBC's showing of 'Blackfish'

The publicity and spin from the film 'Blackfish' roll on with the showing of the movie on the UK's BBC.  Various zookeeper colleagues have voiced their concern about the partisan nature of the documentary but others have been supportive of the films criticism of the care of killer whales in marine parks such as Sea World.

I recently stated to a colleague that these later keepers I refer to above were:  'turkeys wishing for Christmas'. My colleague was somewhat puzzled, as we do not display killer whales or any other members of the cetacean family in the UK; despite this being permissible under current UK zoo legislation.  So why, he commented, should zookeepers with other species worry, they are not going to be targeted, are they?  

Well, unfortunately, they are if you review the various comments being made by many of the people involved in the making of the film when voicing their goals and aspirations.

Take, for example, Jeffrey Ventre a former Sea World trainer who worked at Sea World for 8 years until being dismissed in 1995 who states:

"...Killer whales shouldn’t be in captivity, nor should cetaceans in general or anything that’s a free-ranging animal..."
Or comments from Samantha Berg who worked at Sea World from 1990 to 1993:
"...Yes, large cetaceans, seals and sea lions all suffer terribly in captivity..."
Some 19 years ago I wrote an article "Zoos and the Trojan Dolphin" for Ratel the Journal of the Association of British Wild Animal Keepers which highlighted how animals like dolphins would be used to allow the agenda of animal-rights access to the targeting of all animals in zoological collections.

I have to admit this was not my original idea and was inspired by Jeff Weir's presentation "Education and the Trojan Dolphin" at the 1986 Conference of the International Marine Animal Trainers Association.  In addition, this echoed concerns raised to me some years earlier by other zoo professionals such as veterinarian Victor Manton (ZSL) and Dr Wolfgang Gewalt (Duisburg Zoo).

Many thought "Zoos and the Trojan Dolphin" was an exaggeration but unfortunately this is not the case as a cursory glance of the web pages of groups such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and Captive Animals Protection Society (CAPS) will attest; groups that consider all animal use (even domestic and companion animals)  as an anathema and have on-going campaigns against zoos and aquariums.

Of course, I can understand why some zookeepers may not be keen on the presentation of animals in performance such as Sea World but they would be wise to consider that such thoughts are fundamentally an objection on aesthetic grounds and nothing to do with animal welfare.  Moreover, I would point out that animal presentations and animal training - both for the public and husbandry - are now more the norm than the exception in UK zoos; there is very little difference in an eagle being asked to fly to the fist for a reward than a dolphin being asked to jump out of the water.

However, judging by some of the responses I have seen on various zoo keeping forums, there appears to be quite a number of zookeepers who seem insensible to the agenda of the animal-rights movement. Or they feel will be immune from criticism and direct action against the animal species they care for or the demand for the closure of the establishments they work for by the animal-rights community.

Sadly, they really are: Turkeys wishing for Christmas!

Further Reading

Correspondence with BBC regarding Blackfish. November 2013

Blackfish and the Black Arts of Propaganda

Blackfish and the Selective Skeptic

Make no mistake PeTA are very happy to give full support to Blackfish and it's director.