David Kirby is author of Death at SeaWorld: Shamu and the Dark Side of Killer Whales in Captivity.
Despite growing global outrage at the practice, the world’s premiere captive marine mammal company, SeaWorld, is still employing lip service and doublespeak when it comes to the bloody horror that is the annual whale and dolphin slaughter underway in Taiji, Japan.
SeaWorld—and much of the U.S. captive animal display industry it helps steward—unequivocally condemns the Taiji massacre and other “drive-hunts” that corral and kill hundreds of whales and dolphins for human consumption, except for some of the cutest animals, which are furtively spared the knife by cash-wielding buyers who procure performers for amusement parks and “swim-with” operations, mostly in the developing world.
But SeaWorld, which no longer sources animals from an activity it now calls “horrible,” doesn't seem to have a problem with other entertainment parks re-stocking their collections from the Taiji tragedy.
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Meanwhile, SeaWorld has apparently never taken any action against the drives themselves.
Their argument seems to go as follows: There’s nothing shameful about benetifing from a massacre that would still occur anyway, with or without the sale of certain traumatized animals lucky enough to be spared execution and dispatched to a faraway tank for fun and profit.
Three years ago, after the release of the Oscar-winning film The Cove, MSNBC reported that SeaWorld “refused to condemn those who still buy from Taiji.” Company spokesman Fred Jacobs, “likened such purchases to a salvage operation that prevents some animals from being killed.”
“We stopped [buying] and have not resumed, not because we are ashamed, but it was not something that we cared to be involved with any more,” Jacobs said. “It is difficult to go over there even if you are saving animals, and that is how we viewed it,” he added, without specifying whether the difficulty in going to Taiji pertained to witnessing the bloodbath firsthand, or arranging travel and transport logistics.
Jacobs, who said SeaWorld “opposed” the hunts and called them “horrible,” admitted that, apart from a few written statements, he “could not name any action Sea World has taken or plans to take,” MSNBC reported.
Nor would SeaWorld criticize facilities that still “collect” animals from Taiji. Why not? “We do not want to be accused of being disingenuous,” Jacobs explained. “If we go to an aquarium in China and say ‘You guys should not be involved,’ the first thing out of their mouths will be, ‘Well, you did it,’ and we cannot argue that point.”
That was three years ago.
I was curious whether the international release and Hollywood recognition of The Cove—and the global disgust it engendered—had perhaps chipped away at SeaWorld’s reluctance to confront the drive-hunts, and the marine mammal parks that benefit from them. I wrote to Fred Jacobs to ask if SeaWorld:
1) Still refuses to criticize facilities that buy animals from Taiji
2) Has taken or plans to take any direct action against the hunts themselves
I never got a response: I can only surmise that the answers are “yes” and “no.”
In the MSNBC interview, Fred Jacobs asked hypothetically: “If there were no dolphinariums, would the drive fishery sustain itself? Would it collapse under its own weight?”
Some experts think it would. Buyers paying about tens of thousands of dollars each per dolphin are “the only reason the fishermen can afford the time and fuel for these hunts,” says Dr. Naomi A. Rose, senior scientist for Humane Society International. “If they had to pay for the hunt purely on the profits from dead animals, it would have probably ended already.”
Meanwhile, “To take Taiji and somehow lay blame for that tragedy at the feet of Sea World is an outrage,” Jacobs continued, seemingly referring to The Cove protagonist, Ric O’Barry.
I don’t blame SeaWorld for what goes on in that infamous Japanese cove. But I am disappointed that the undisputed leader of marine mammal display refuses to exercise its considerable global influence to work toward ending the drive-hunts, beyond issuing a few statements.
“SeaWorld, the largest marine park enterprise in the world, would seem to have a great deal of clout in industry organizations,” MSNBC noted.
Indeed it does. Why the company won’t deploy some of that clout to terminate this wonton killing and “collecting”—and reap significant PR benefit therefrom—is difficult to understand.
What are your thoughts on the fact that SeaWorld won't condemn the fact that other dolphinariums around the world source their cetaceans from Taiji's infamous cove?
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• Judge Says: SeaWorld Must Protect Trainers From Killer Whales
These are solely the author's opinions and do not represent those of TakePart, LLC or its affiliates.
David Kirby, a regular contributor to the Huffington Post, has been a professional journalist for 25 years and was a contracted writer for The New York Times, where he covered health and science, among other topics. He has written for national magazines and was a correspondent in Mexico and Central America from 1986-1990. His third book, Death at SeaWorld, was published by St. Martin’s Press.