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DOUG PORTER: What’s the next step with killer whales?

GUEST COMMENTARY: One problem with arguments is no room for compromise

Doug Porter

Doug Porter

It is hard to imagine SeaWorld without its killer whale shows, but that is exactly what some California state lawmakers are calling for – a ban on SeaWorld’s use of killer whales to perform tricks in its California park.

The idea has gained popularity, thanks to the 2013 documentary “Blackfish,” but the bill did not pass because committee members were “simply unprepared to make a decision” according to news reports. It is, as you might imagine, a political “hot potato” and they decided to send the bill back for further study. It will come up again.

The Los Angeles Times tackled this important, in-state issue in a recent editorial that touched off a firestorm of criticism from animal activists who want to see the practice stopped and, apparently, want SeaWorld out of business.

The article seemed pretty even-handed to me. “Legislators,” it warned, “should keep in mind that requiring SeaWorld to suddenly shutter its signature attraction could destroy the rest of the marine park’s business. Though animal rights activists might think that’s fine, SeaWorld has invested heavily in its killer whale program and done so legally. In the absence of documented animal abuse, the company shouldn’t be stripped of its most valuable assets overnight.”

One of the problems I see in the arguments over large charismatic animals like killer whales, apes and elephants in captivity is that there doesn’t appear to be any room for compromise. While there are legitimate concerns over welfare of killer whales, and I might even be convinced they should not be kept in captivity, that does not mean we should eliminate places like SeaWorld.

The amount of good done for wildlife by zoos and aquariums is immeasurable. The ultimate irony in all of this is that people wouldn’t even care about killer whales if it wasn’t for the work done by SeaWorld.

People need to lighten up on their attacks on SeaWorld and on zoos and aquariums in general. And zoos and aquariums may need to listen to the concerns of the people.

“The next step,” according to the LA Times editorial, “might well be the prohibition of captive breeding as well as a ban on bringing new killer whales into the state. SeaWorld would have years to devise a new headline draw while continuing to show its existing whales, but the public would know that, at least in California, an outmoded way of viewing the magnificent marine mammals is coming to a close.”

Seems like sound advice. I wonder if anybody is listening.

Doug Porter is executive director of Chehaw Park in Albany.