There’s always been something fishy about state government in California.
For decades, it has employed a nanny state mentality in passing ever more restrictive laws — many outrageously stupid — that serve only to erode the freedoms of Californians and the companies for which they work. That "government knows best" attitude, which has stifled the state’s economy and alienated its citizens, has led to a dramatic reversal in the migration of Americans to the Golden State, with millions leaving to seek a more productive life elsewhere.
Such arrogance was on full display recently as the California Coastal Commission in approving SeaWorld’s expansion of its killer whale (orca) tanks, also took it upon itself to ban SeaWorld from breeding any of the 11 killer whales it has in captivity. If such an egregious ruling stands, it could prove a deathblow to the state’s premier aquatic park, and, ironically, hurt the very animals it claims to be helping. SeaWorld is appealing the decision, and, should any common sense be left in our judicial system (though admittedly that’s a big "if"), it will prevail and expand its operation so that future generations can experience firsthand the wonders of sea life that would otherwise be impossible.
Given that SeaWorld has been under attack by misguided and often ill-informed zealots, both in the animal rights movement and government itself, let’s bypass the fish tales and look at the facts regarding animals in captivity:
1) Government overreach: The Coastal Commissioners’ purview should have been limited to the land-use permit for SeaWorld to double its orca tanks (part of the company’s $100 million expansion initiative called Blue World). Period. The commission has neither the jurisdiction nor the expertise to institute a ban on breeding. And since SeaWorld is already regulated by the federal government, there was no need for clueless bureaucrats to gratify their whim and get involved.
SeaWorld has not captured a wild orca in 35 years, so its business model is to breed killer whales — its star attraction — in captivity. Ironically, the commission’s decision to play God, despite no legitimate rationale, threatens the animals in the San Diego facility, along with hundreds of jobs. But the biggest casualty would be our children, who would be deprived of learning about sea life, the monumental rescue efforts of SeaWorld (which has saved the lives of countless sea creatures, from the small to the giants of the deep), and how more conservation efforts are needed for the world’s oceans, which are seriously endangered by pollution and overfishing.
2) Many of the animal rights extremists (sorry, that was redundant) applauded the commission’s ruling, believing that keeping killer whales (which aren’t actually whales, but large dolphins) in captivity is "inhumane." Really? Well, what could be more inhumane than depriving a mammal of its natural instinct to mate and reproduce? Taking that away is the ultimate act of cruelty, and illustrates the hypocrisy of the animal "rights" crowd — an inaccurate label if there ever was one.
3) Many activists see the breeding ban as just another step in the fight to close SeaWorld permanently. But where will it end? If killer whales should be "freed" from captivity, then, by definition, so should every dolphin, seal, sea lion, and fish, since keeping them in clean, safe, veterinarian-maintained facilities must also be "inhumane." But it can’t stop there. Let’s shut down every zoo and safari attraction in America, such as Disney’s Animal Kingdom. And of course, since animals "deserve" the same rights as humans, that means no animal research for scientists finding the cure for cancer and other deadly diseases.
While we’re at it, the hell with expanding cage size for chickens; let’s push for an outright ban on any animal for human and domestic pet consumption. Pet dogs, cats, and birds? Nope. Keeping them in a warm house away from nature’s predators is too taxing on them. And absolutely no hunting, either.
Pay no attention to the fact that hunts keep animal herds healthy and at appropriate population levels (they endure a gruesome death by starvation if their numbers increase); that zoos and aquatic parks literally keep the bloodlines alive of species that would have otherwise gone extinct in the wild; that animals provide invaluable nutrition for billions worldwide who would otherwise starve (yes, human beings, the forgotten ones in this discussion who seem to have no rights); that animal research leads to cures for both people and animals; and that the next generation of zoologists, marine biologists, and yes, global citizens, benefit from admiring and experiencing animals up close and personal — which has changed the American mindset from one of pointless killing (such as decimation of the buffalo) to one of conservation.
And as leaders of the world, Americans, better than anyone else, can pressure other nations to do likewise so that endangered species can rebound and thrive rather than go the way of the dodo.
Out of sight is out of mind, and if we don’t showcase the magnificence of animals to our young minds, then their imaginations will never be ignited, and the fire to protect animals will be left to others — meaning, it won’t happen. How is that in the best interest of "animal rights?"
4) In an ideal world, it would be nice for orcas to roam free. But we don’t live in an ideal world, so their presence is needed to educate and inspire. It has always fallen to a select few to sacrifice for the good of many, humans as well as killer whales. SeaWorld’s family of orcas, which have been inspiring awe since the 1960s, have undeniably played a huge role in the public’s demand that whaling be halted. (It took until 1986 to institute an international ban on whaling, yet because of loopholes, Japan, Norway and Iceland continue to actively hunt, killing 30,000 whales since the "ban" took effect.)
Because so many have experienced the majesty of orcas at SeaWorld, the interest in stopping rogue nations from whaling has become a front and center issue for millions, so much so that a cable TV show documenting efforts to stop whaling on the high seas has become a hit — and pressure continues mounting to stop whaling entirely.
Killer whales in captivity isn’t inhumane. Just the opposite; it is helping to keep whales safe in a way nothing else could. And that is priceless.
This author had the incredible experience of swimming with captive dolphins on the island of Curacao. They performed shows, played with swimmers, and were incredibly content. How can such a claim be made? Because some of the dolphins leave their "captivity" to accompany a dive boat out to the open ocean, interacting with divers as they explore the sea. This, of course, allows them to bolt from their "masters" and be free of captivity forever.
But they don’t. Instead, they return to their enclosures to be with their families, both dolphins and trainers. The point isn’t that SeaWorld should do the same, or even if the killer whales would return, but that keeping animals in captivity, so long as they are treated well, is not inhumane.
The real threat to SeaWorld’s killer whales isn’t SeaWorld, but imbeciles who are like fish out of water when it comes to common sense. Lift the ban and let the breeding continue, so that future generations of both orcas and people can have a whale of a time together.
Chris Freind is an independent columnist and commentator. He can be reached at [email protected]