Slave Attractions?

My cousin and his wife love animals and when she had a recent birthday my cousin asked his wife what she wanted. “I want to see animals,” she replied. So, to see animals, they came to San Diego for a long weekend. San Diego has a lot of animal attractions – the Zoo is famous, the Wild Animal Park has great open range exhibits, and Sea World has marine mammal attractions that you probably can’t find many other places. They had a great time.

So, I thought I was looking at an Onion News Network headline today at lunch which read: PETA Lawsuit Alleges SeaWorld Enslaves Killer Whales

And then I realized I wasn’t on The Onion.

Shamu and Trainer

Really? Yes, really. The lawsuit alleges the orcas “enslavement” at the Sea World parks here in San Diego and in Orlando constitute a violation of the Constitution’s 13th Amendment.

Plaintiffs were forcibly taken from their families and natural habitats, are held captive at SeaWorld San Diego and SeaWorld Orlando, denied everything that is natural to them, subjected to artificial insemination or sperm collection to breed performers for defendants’ shows, and forced to perform, all for defendants’ profit,” the lawsuit says, arguing that those conditions amount to enslavement and/or forced servitude.

And here, I’d always thought that the Constitution applied to American citizens. Silly me. And the last time I checked, you had to be Homo sapiens to be a citizen. And while they have pretty big brains, I’m pretty sure that Orcinus orca do not qualify. So, I continued munching my sandwich and complained about these sort of ridiculous publicity stunts, when I noticed that the article in the local paper had a poll that asked if “the Constitutional ban on slavery applied to whales”?

And if I was shaking my head at the audacity of frivolous lawsuits, when I clicked on the poll I noticed that a jaw-dropping ~40% of almost 1000 respondents said — yes, the 13th Amendment ought to cover whales. FORTY PER CENT!

Snapshot of poll

I mean, good Lord, people – I think there is a conversation to be had over the treatment of animals in zoos and parks, but everyone that I know that has been associated with the zoo or Sea World LOVES animals and would sooner hurt themselves than mistreat an animal. These entities are interested in conservation and education and do a lot of good in the community and throughout the world. I clearly see that an organization like Sea World walks a finer line between advocate and amusement than the zoo does, but you never get the sense that the animals in their care are anything but well looked after.

But even after thinking about it all afternoon, I still come back to the 40%. 40% is more than you can get allowing for “crackpots”. I simply don’t get it. And what does it mean for domesticated animals? I think most pigs and cows would trade places with Shamu any day of the week. And where does this leave pets? Are our cats and dogs our slaves? Of course not. I mean, I know I anthropomorphize Penny’s actions a lot more than is probably healthy, but I’m still not going to let her have a vote or get a passport.

40%!!! Help me out here.


48 thoughts on “Slave Attractions?

  1. When people feel powerless in their own lives, they reach for a cause they feel they can control. Whales are just one in a long list and that’s too bad. Imagine if all that energy went towards stoping this economic meltdown. It’s most definitely a baffler.

  2. That’s ridiculous. How exactly did the whales get down to the courthouse to file documents?

    PS: It’s up to 45% now after 1047 votes. That means 73% of the voters after you showed up are sitting alongside the crackpots.

    • Grey — you know I wondered about that myself. Did they actually POLL THE WHALES about how they felt? Isn’t it just as species-ist to assume that we know what they’d want?

  3. Those polls have a lot of selection bias… anyone who doesn’t care about the question doesn’t answer, so you ONLY get the people who have strong opinions on the subject voting. It’s never representative unless it’s a subject everybody has strong opinions on… Would you have voted yourself if you hadn’t seen the results? It does mean that 400+ readers have said yes, obviously… but that wouldn’t be 40% of the population in general.

    • Drude — good point about the selection bias. I read the article because I thought it was preposterous, but if you’re a real animal booster (and preposterous), you’re probably pre-disposed to participate.

  4. It makes me wonder where these people stand on the continual enslavement of, oh, PEOPLE. I’m sure some of them would look at me with blinky eyes and wonder how come I don’t want to protect the baby whaaaalesss! I like animals, I really do, but please. Orcas do not need constitutional protection.

    • hannah — that’s a GREAT point — you think about the injustice of people STILL being enslaved, but PETA will take all their money to argue for something preposterous.

  5. First, Heinlein is laughing his blowhole off over this. (Satire gets harder every year, simply because the folks that are being satirized get stupider.)

    Second, much as I hate to say it, PETA may have a point. If we could prove that whales in general or even a specific species of whales were sentient (which is not the same thing as proving that they are intelligent), then their captivity by SeaWorld would constitute enslavement. (And the killing of their trainers would be murder; somehow I don’t think PETA has thought that part through.) However, PETA is arguing their premise. Though there is plenty of evidence to show that orcas are intelligent, there is no clear legal or scientific definition of sentience and so the whales may or may not be “people”. Until that evidence is brought forward, the most one could say is that their captivity is distasteful.

    • John — it’s an interesting connection between sentient being to murder. Though I’m sure PETA would argue that they killed only in self-defense. Or maybe, the mackerel made ’em do it defense will be born.

      After posting this, I really should have thrown in a “So long and thanks for all the fish” reference. I was too annoyed to think clearly.

  6. I agree. I’m not surprised at PETA- I already knew they were a bit nutty. But 40% of people agreeing? Yikes.

    But then, the supreme court did recently decide to extend the right to free speech (or at least the right to pay politicians’ campaigns, which was previously deemed to be protected speech) to corporations. So maybe there is a general trend here? (I’m joking. I think.)

  7. Steve – at first glance it is over the top – I think the problem is that highly effective leaders are off doing something besides teaching moronic humans to respect wildlife, and intelligent Biologists are too afraid / polite / busy with research to become activists. So what you’re left with are these oversexed wingnuts from PETA. However, their core point is correct: we know that most of these captive wild animals have large home ranges, and it is unacceptable to keep a whale in a damned pool. Have you seen zoos that keep nocturnal mammals in glass display cases? How can anyone not be disgusted by that?

    As an analogy, imagine if 2 families abandoned children in the wilderness, no contact with civilization, and then they grew up and had kids, only contact was with each other. Would that make them wild animals? Of course not, they’re still human beings and would probably be better off among other people and in human society (even if it was with a tribe). Zoos and aquariums are the opposite, where (still) wild animals are bred in limiting human spaces and placed in what amounts to display cases for our amusement and the lie that it “saves endangered species”.

    The *only* animals that belong there are injured wildlife that would otherwise be destroyed, and they should not be allowed to breed. But instead, wildlife rehabbers are forced to house “boring” injured species in tiny aviaries and pens, while million-dollar enclosures are reseserved for this horror show of human arrogance. After seeing how this has only grown stronger, I’m all for any legal action that would finally end zoos and aquariums unless they’re non-releaseables.

    Domestic animals, that’s different. They co-evolved with us.

    • I love long comments!

      I don’t disagree that there is a lot of progress to be made on the behalf on animal welfare when it comes to zoos and aquariums, but I think there has been a lot of evolution in the way animals have been kept in the last quarter century and I expect that to continue. I wonder if in time there might be virtual zoos where the coverage is remote to a large, natural habitat.

  8. I sometimes cringe at zoos and seaworld shows, but the fact is the vast majority of these animals are well cared for. And they sure get a lot of kids a huge start in life towards wanting to learn more about animals/conservation/science.

    As for the 40%…it’s like most polls. People with common sense and jobs and better things to occupy their time don’t bother voting.

    • Lauri – I never feel too badly in zoos, because I think the people are doing the best they can. In some ways it’s like the National Park Service which must navigate land conservation and land use by the public.

  9. You have to keep in mind that this is an unscientific poll and PETA has probably emailed all their members to vote in it. And they can probably vote several times depending on how many browsers or devices they have. They just pay attention to email encouraging them to vote in the poll … unlike some folks who ignore email reminders and then claim that’s why they didn’t “vote” in a football pool …

  10. Consider the source, Steve: PETA uses nude porn stars and other female celebs to garner eyeballs for their cause. When they’re criticized for objectifying women, they become indignant and point out that the women all took their clothes off willingly, and “Well, it got you to look at our signs, right?”

    In the wake of that horrific slaughter of wild cats, bears, and apes in Zanesville, Ohio, however, we really should consider the seriousness of taking animals out of their natural environment and putting them in cages, pens, and pools for our entertainment or desire for an exotic “pet.” Sure, it can be educational for those of us in the urbanized world to see these animals alive and up close; I’m sure there are many current biologists, veterinarians, and other scientists whose interest in animals began with a trip to the zoo or aquarium. But I’m with Emmy in asking what real benefit do the animals receive in captivity? The San Diego Zoo says one of its missions is to preserve endangered species through breeding programs in cooperation with other zoos: but a number of eco-activists ask what have the zoos done to preserve the natural habitats of these animals, or prevent their further degradation? It’s fine to tell me not to eat sushi or to boycott coffee that’s been harvested from clearcut plantations in rainforest areas: but those small gestures are not enough to change an economic system that has expanded largely with the destruction of habitat for pandas, polar bears, whales and all those other adorable animals we see in zoos. Also, we’ve seen now what happens to those animals that are overbred or unwanted by zoos: they often end up in the hands of private collectors who don’t have the extensive resources and knowledge needed to care for them.

    I’m not saying animals should have the right to citizenship or to sue their owners for compensation. (Which could be interesting, especially for sporting animals like racehorses and greyhounds. And that said, the Sierra Club and other environmental protection groups have sued in the name of endangered animals.) Nor am I saying Sea World can’t have its orcas. But I don’t think we have the right to take these animals out of their natural homes just so people can watch them do tricks for mackerel. There ought to be some compromise, like at the Monterey Aquarium, where many of the animals they display are rescues who can no longer live in the wild because of injury or illness. But I would not compromise over the private ownership of large exotics as pets. That really should be made illegal.

    • HG –I think there has been a shift in the way that these organizations have handled animals and their habitats — and I believe there is a constant move towards treating them more and more humanely.

      In one of the comments above, it struck me that these issues are the same as faced by the National Park Service as they try to navigate the diametrically opposed missions of conservation and land-use by the public. In many ways, it is a lose-lose proposition — much like zoos and organizations that keep animals and simultaneously argue for animal welfare.

  11. I was at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago last March. They had signs everywhere saying that they were working their way towards only keeping animals that had been rescued from people who should NOT have exotic pets, or circuses, or animals that were unable to survive in the wild. I thought this was a step in a very good direction.
    Private ownership of exotics is sad and should be illegal for sure.

    • Lauri — I think the tragedy in Ohio will force a lot of places to re-visit their exotic animal laws, which many of which I’m sure are decades old. It’s sad that it probably takes an event like that to break the inertia.

  12. PETA is a large part of why a lot people thing animal lovers are a bunch of crackpots.

    I, too, have mixed feelings about keeping wild animals in zoos (or aquariums, as the case may be), but if they’re well cared for, and especially if they are endangered in the wild, is the alternative of letting them go extinct really acceptable?

    • AB – NY Times had a good article on this – the thing is that if the species is only in zoos, they are extinct. Zoo animals cannot be released into the wild (although they are often bred with illegally poached animals to maintain their pretty colors). So while they may continue to entertain us, they cannot survive as wild animals and the species usually goes extinct because there’s not enough habitat to support them anyway.

      • True enough. And it would be ideal if the zoo animals could be kept in a better habitat, such as the big park in San Diego.

        But I still feel that keeping some animals alive in captivity is better than letting them all die, in the hopes that someday, maybe a way could be found to introduce them back into the wild.

    • AB (Reply button disappeared) I certainly understand the compulsion of Biologists to do this. None of us want to lose these animals. The problem is that the zoo animals eventually become inbred, and their immune systems could not possibly survive the onslaught of diseases in the wild. Ironically the zoo enclosures kill off much of the space that could be used by native wild animals as well. Better to put the tens of millions of dollars from breeding programs into habitat preservation instead. We cannot “techno” our way out of this one.

      • Em — as I was saying the AB above (or below depending on how this nests… ;)) many of the animals that are in the SD Zoo and SD Wild Animal Park are rescues from war-torn places in Africa. I’m glad that these animals have been rescued rather than slaughtered because they’re in the way of some stupid human conflict. Even if they’re bred in captivity, they have more of a hope of getting repopulated than if they were driven to extinction by war.

        Actually, the California Condor is a great example of captivity bred animals returning to the wild (along with environmental changes which removed the chemical from the environment which was killing their eggs). Almost certainly without human intervention, the condors would have perished, but because of concerted environmental and captivity breeding, the condors are making a great comeback along the west coast.

    • AB — I will never ever support any PETA-based activity because of their terrorist attacks on academic and industrial research labs.

      At the SD Wild Animal Park there is a certain type of white rhino. It was saved from from a civil war in Africa and no one can find anymore. It could very well be the last of its species – one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen. And if that species is going to go extinct, I think that I’d rather see the last one live out its life being loved and taken care of then shot in some firefight.

      • So sad about the last white rhino. I hope they save some of it’s DNA in case they find another some day. They could incubate some new little white rhinos inside some other species. A couple of ladies near here raise Friesian horses and they use any mixture of draft horse mamas to incubate their purebred Friesians because the demand is greater than the Friesian mothers can keep up with. I love science!

        It’s good to be reminded of the California Condor. And the Whooping Crane. Both species have benefited immensely from human help.
        I am always SO happy to see an abundance of Sandhill Cranes and wild Turkeys in SE Michigan, now. I never saw either one until about 25 years ago. Now they are very common and that’s a wonderful thing!

      • According the the IUCN list, the California condor is still critically endangered, and Birdlife International points out that 9 of 13 birds released at the Pinnacles National Monument in California had to be tested for lead poisoning after eating shot squirrels, and that several birds themselves were shot by hunters, and several nestlings died after ingesting swallowed glass fragments, wire and plastic cartridge cases. I know that the media portrays a rosy picture of reintroduction, but it is not always so great. Federal F&W are real scoundrels for not releasing a public report. At least the Canada Lynx Colorado state program had the integrity to release their report. 38 percent of the lynx died from the same problems that killed off the original population: hunting, car hits, habitat loss. After capturing every single condor into captivity from the wild, I am not optimistic to hear that they’re critically endangered still. That is the worst status they can be given besides extinct. They spent how many millions on this program (30 million, right)? Habitat protection and law enforcement would have saved many species and habitat all in one shot. Now it’s a crapshoot on one species.

        I am especially dismayed to hear they removed wild animals from Africa to put in a zoo (if I am reading that right). I don’t think that is the solution.

        No disrespect intended here, you know I have the utmost respect for you as a scientist.

      • I mean, if we’re reintroducing them just to pump them out like a factory, that’s ducky. There will be plenty of artificially bred individuals. But that does nothing to preserve the native, genetically robust original population, it just puts more pressure on them. Maybe a few breeing females peppered here and there (1 or 2) and see if they breed, that’s called augmentation and I’m not against it. If those die, stop the program. But these programs spend millions and release dozens or hundreds of animals, many croak after a short amount of time.

        Sorry about the nesting comment confusion. (Nesting comment – see? I posted a cute pun!) :D

    • There are a healthy (too healthy!) number of coyotes in our canyon and chaparral. Also, my neighbor saw a bobcat the other day. There is also word that there is a mountain lion operating in the county preserve near our house — YIKES!

  13. Most work I’ve seen done by species preservationists is very good work, however, the human sprawl is affecting animals in every domain, including those in the Antarctic. Trash, traffic, pollution of every sort makes living more difficult for every living creature on this earth. Perhaps one day, there will be a team to figure out how to save us. Meanwhile, I know of many dedicated people who are doing lots of research into what it takes to save many species from disappearing.

    I’m not sure that animals could have the right to vote, yet, but there are some clever species out there. If they did get to vote, I think they’d vote to keep humans away from them in the future, so they could live in peace. Meanwhile, as long as the ones in captivity are being well taken care of and looked after, I don’t think it’s as bad as some would have you believe.

    • Kzinti — I do think that most preservationists do the best that they can — the other thing to remember is that they do not have the political or monetary capital to change the nature of things either in the US and especially abroad — and so they’re left to try and save what they can with the tools that they have.

  14. What a fascinating comment string on here — lots of good points.

    Like Hannah, I have to wonder if that 45% ever thinks about HUMAN trafficking and how there are more enslaved people in the world today than there were right before the Civil War. I am just as much an animal and nature lover as the next girl, but I’d rather help rescue people out of horrific circumstances (brothels, slave camps, illegal detention, etc.) than spend my money on animals that are living an OK (not the best, obviously) life in a zoo. I’d like to help everything all the time, but really, enslaved people come first for me. Also, when people are living lives where they can earn a good wage and provide for their families and make a difference in their communities, they are less likely to start wars and engage in poaching and the other things that send animals to zoos for rehabilitation.

    • Cori — you make a great point about our willingness to turn a blind eye to human suffering. In many ways, I think because it is remote — hidden from middle class view either in wretched urban areas or countries that aren’t on any tour — it’s easier to ignore. But we see zoos, and SeaWorlds and it’s easier to call them out.

  15. Crazytown. PETA is headquartered here. I love animals and abhor animal cruelty, but sometimes I just can’t take it.

    Although, I think that I could probably bring a suit against my cat for slavery.

    • In grad school, I was once approached by PETA — and this was right after they’d destroyed several research labs. I nearly went ballistic on the kid.

      Down with our cat-overlords! :)

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