Too Small a Sea

Having worked out in a theme park for a good while, I can tell you from experience that visitors often have an irrational sense of security.  There’s an assumption that nothing bad could possibly happen to them, that somehow we can alter the laws of physics and anatomy so there’s no possible way they can get hurt.  A lot of engineering goes into making the rides safe, but all that goes out the window if you don’t follow the rules.  And even with all that planning, people still get hurt.

Now throw a living breathing six-ton animal into the mix.

All the engineering in the world isn’t going to help predict what an animal will do.  I’ve been around our cat for three years and she’s still pulling off surprises.  An animal that has the word “killer” as part of its name?  There’s just no way to know.  You can be as careful, as prepared, as well-trained as can be, and one day that animal is going to do something you simply never expected.  And it’s going to be something a lot worse than finding teeth marks on the toilet paper.

Some people are in a rush to demonize Tilikum, the killer whale involved in the tragic death of a trainer at SeaWorld Orlando yesterday.  They say he should be put down just like you’d put down a pit bull who attacks their owner.  But this isn’t a case of some innocent person walking down the street and being jumped by a dog trained to be vicious.  This was a highly-trained professional working with a large predator fully aware of the risks involved.  This wasn’t an animal intruding into our world, it was us intruding into his.

And let’s look at his world.  Imagine having to spend your entire day in a backyard swimming pool.  Imagine wanting to roam and being constrained.  That’s Tilikum’s world.  His body tells him to swim far and fast and deep, but he finds himself in a world of walls and floors.  Don’t get me wrong, these whales are incredibly well cared for, but short of turning the big lagoon in the middle of the park into a whale habitat, SeaWorld can’t come close to offering their killer whales the kind of habitats its dolphins and sea lions have.

I don’t mean to make it seem like I have no compassion for Dawn Brancheau.  She didn’t deserve her fate.  But many of her co-workers have said she would want the shows to continue, for Tilikum not to be punished, because they’re all aware that these animals are just that:  animals.  Who, no matter how much training they may receive, no matter how much affinity they may develop for humans, are still going to behave like animals.  Dawn may not have anticipated this happening, but she certainly had to be aware of the possibility.

Does any of this make these events any less tragic?  Of course not.  But I don’t think this is a case of a bad whale.  It’s a case of too big a beast in too small a sea.

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