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by Sarah Allegra
Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2013 at 9:14 PM
I wrote an open letter to Jack Hanna regarding his defense of SeaWorld after Blackfish:
AN OPEN LETTER TO JACK HANNA
Dear Mr. Hanna,
The great empathy I have toward animals today I owe, in part, to you.
I grew up watching your animal shows. They delighted and educated me, giving me insights into wondrous creatures I would not have access to otherwise. I believe you deeply and sincerely care about all wildlife and would never knowingly support animal cruelty in any form.
So, seeing you in interview after interview defending SeaWorld in light of the revelations in CNN’s recent documentary BLACKFISH both boggles my mind and breaks my heart.
You have done so much in support of conservation and animal rights…advocating for humane conditions for factory animals, championing the idea that wild animals should be left wild and just generally bringing people a better understanding of the animal world…so I am at an utter loss to explain how you can justify and defend SeaWorld’s tactics and practices.
The orca Tilikum languishes alone every day and night in a tank equivalent to the size of a bathtub to you. The victim of terrible abuse, he bobs motionless, having retreated as far back into his mind as he can, as that is the only option he has.
You know enough about animals — and humans, for that matter — to read this body language. He is miserable. And his actions which forced his solitary confinement are not only understandable, they are the direct result of the unconscionable practices of SeaWorld.
How can you defend SeaWorld when you know it began its collection of orcas by physically ripping calves away from their screaming mothers? Mothers who could only watch the nightmare unfold before them, powerless to stop it.
How do you justify this kidnapping and cruelty for the sole purpose of building an amusement park? Especially when you KNOW orca whale pods are matriarchal and that, in the wild, the males never leave their mothers.
These are such emotionally complex animals. Study after study shows they demonstrate not only the use of language, but actual sentience. You cannot reasonably expect such an intelligent, social animal to thrive in forced captivity away from its natural family structure. And why should he have to? For profit?
Any human enduring decades of similar physical and emotional torture would not be well-adjusted. So it is no surprise Tilikum reacted as he did to his repeated abuse. Given his complete isolation now, unenriched without so much as one other companion, human interaction or even a single toy, his life can only be one endless, meaningless misery.
You said in a recent interview with CNN that your motto is “touch the heart to teach the mind.” And you said that is what SeaWorld does. But that isn’t true. Organizations like Greenpeace and the Sea Shepherds do a huge amount of touching hearts and teaching minds without kidnapping a single wild animal and forcing it to perform for our amusement.
You also mentioned that animals which are “out of sight are out of mind.” That is true. And that is where animal sanctuaries come in. True sanctuaries — places for animals too injured to live in the wild, born in captivity, or otherwise unsuited for life in the wild — are invaluable, and indeed do “touch the heart to teach the mind,” while allowing animals to maintain their dignity and their sanity.
I recently visited a wolf sanctuary where all the wolves had been born in captivity. They were given huge enclosures, always paired with several other wolves they got along with and lived very happy, enriched lives. I have adored wolves since I was a young child. Yet seeing them in person in this environment not only taught me new things about them, it gave me an even deeper appreciation for them… accomplished entirely without capturing any wild animals, destroying any families or forcing the animals to perform in any way.
In another part of your interview, you seemed unsure of what “happy” means in regards to whales at SeaWorld…as if “happy” is a mystical, unknowable state. Well, if you cannot define “happy,” I can define “unhappy.”
Whales covered in scars from being attacked after they have been forced into cramped enclosures with strange whales from outside their families…they are unhappy.
Whales with flopping dorsal fins from an unbalanced diet…they are unhappy.
Whales who have their teeth drilled out by hand without any anesthetic…they are unhappy.
Whales forced to perform just to survive…they are unhappy.
“Whatever happy is,” you said. If these whales were your children or grandchildren, would you be satisfied with your failure to define “happy?”
Perhaps the only happiness in this situation is that death finds SeaWorld’s whales much earlier than their wild counterparts. Wild orcas can live for a hundred years. SeaWorld’s whales die many, many decades sooner. And given the conditions they must endure, I do not doubt they are glad to receive that early release.
Mr. Hanna, you know these whales are intelligent and emotional. You know they are mistreated and miserable. You know that they have never harmed a human in the wild. And you know this is not conservation…it is capitalism.
Please restore my faith in you and all that you have taught me through the years.
Please do the right thing and stop defending this blatant, horrific abuse.
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