Friday, February 26, 2010

A Little Compassion

I have always worn my heart on my sleeve. Although I can come across as very strong, put together and, at times "bitchy," I am an extremely sensitive person. I have been trying for the past two days NOT to blog about this, but it's literally constantly on my mind so I just can't help it. Please forgive this bleeding heart.

The reaction to the death of Dawn Brancheau at Sea World in Orlando has really upset me to my core. For anyone who may not have heard the headlines from yesterday, a Sea World Orlando senior whale trainer was dragged into the water by her ponytail after an early afternoon show while she was feeding and playing with a 12,000 pound Orca whale. She was killed in the attack.

Folks that I know and, under normal circumstances, really dig, have posted surprisingly nasty things in their "status" on facebook like, "Yeah, it's called a KILLER whale for a reason!" and, "When will people start realizing these are wild animals?" This woman was an animal trainer since graduating college and had dreamed of working with whales after a visit to Sea World since she was nine years old. Of course she knew these were wild animals! I really doubt if you asked any animal trainer if they realize that animals are wild and there is a risk they could get seriously injured or lose their life that they would say, "Oh, really? I never thought about that!"

And it's not only that the comments about the death of this woman (who died only about 48 hours ago, mind you) are seemingly ignorant, it's that they are completely void of any compassion or sensitivity. Making jokes at the expense of a tragedy is an everyday occurrence. However, the righteousness that has followed Dawn's death is truly sickening to me. How brave of you to say on your facebook page, "She had this coming to her. These are wild animals!" Try saying that about a woman living out her dream of working with whales to her family and friends. With her death so fresh and recent, I can't fathom what would compel someone to broadcast their negative attitude on the situation.

The headlines also read, "Sea World decides not to destroy Killer Orca." It amazes me that one of the first instincts people have is to ask, "Well are they going to kill the whale?" It just reminds me of how humans constantly blame the animal for these attacks, as if the wild animal has any knowledge that they have done wrong. It is usually the human behind an attack that should be held responsible, but often times the animal is destroyed. I can't even count how many news stories I have heard of pit bulls, dobermans, monkeys or other "pets" that have attacked because their owner didn't restrain them properly or tend to them properly in the first place.

Dawn's sister has been quoted in the newspaper saying that Dawn would have never wanted the whale to be hurt or destroyed. She considered the whales her family. One of the trainers who worked with Dawn who watched the video of the events prior to and surrounding her death said that Dawn would have acknowledged the attack was her fault, had she lived to tell the tale. She was constantly letting her long ponytail swing in front of the whale and the whale grabbed it and took her under, thinking it was a game.

The folks who believe it's the wrongdoing of the whale and he should be "put down" reference two other deaths in which the whale was involved. One was a similar incidence to this, where a trainer fell into the water and Tillikin (the whale responsible for Dawn's death) and two others passed the trainer back and forth like a game. No trainers were supposed to be in the water with this whale and it was an accident. The other death involved a man who broke in to Sea World after hours so he could swim naked with the animals. He died of hypothermia. In my humble opinion, one death was completely the fault of a human and the other two were a bad combination of a wild animal kept in captivity with human error. Were any of these the fault of the whale? Should the animals be punished for acting out what is in their nature? Would "putting this whale down" prevent future deaths of this kind? In my heart, I feel the answer is "no."

I struggle with the idea that these animals are kept in captivity and are taught to put on shows to entertain the masses. One part of me says that having a few animals in captivity can bring awareness and inspiration to people in order to protect the population of animals in the wild. Another part of me thinks that some big corporation is making money off of monkeys wearing shower caps and dolphins jumping through hoops. It's one of those grey areas in my opinion where I see both sides of the coin and feel that I can't really say what is right and what is wrong.

All I can say is that I wish there was a little more compassion in the light of this tragedy. This woman was so passionate about her job and got to do what she loved every day. I can only dream about that. If someone told me, "You can do what you have always dreamed of doing, but there is a risk . . . " I can't say that it would stop me. Can you? Does that make you a fool, deserving of ridicule from thousands of people spanning the globe? Am I just oversensitive?


  1. Totally agree with you! I am not sure why people are so quick to make judgements. What happened was a tragedy--no need to assign blame or demand action. It is what it is. Sad and tragic.

  2. Right on, Erin. Couldn't agree more!! I'm so glad Dawn's sister came out and spoke publicly. Of COURSE she wouldn't have wanted that poor whale to be put down! Thanks for a little sanity, we apparently need it around here!

  3. Well said, Erin. Thanks for bringing everyone back down to the reality of it all.

  4. I'm glad you wrote this post as it has been on my mind as-well.
    Funnily enough I was having an almost identical conversation before this incident in regards to sharks here in Australia. Whenever somebody is attacked at the beach people want to hunt it down and kill it. They are only doing what comes naturally to them as an animal and we want to punish them after invading their home?
    I hope they don't put Tillikin down but it makes me wonder if they should be using him in shows any more....

  5. I read that Dawn even commented to the audience earlier in the day that the whale was having an off day and people needed to remember that it was a wild animal that was been held in an environment unlike what it was used to. She knew these animals and respected them, its sad that she had such an unfortunate accident take her life.

  6. It is a very sad accident & that's exactly what it was, an accident. I couldn't believe what I was hearing when I went into the gas station Friday morning here in Orlando. Everyone in the store including the cashiers were talking about it. It's sad to hear so many people so quick to judge. I totally agree with you & everything you said.

  7. People sometimes say stupid things when somebody dies because they don't know what else to say but feel compelled to say something.

    Teaching people about animals is great but now there are so many ways to do that with the internet, documentaries, excursions into their natural habitat. The tradition of dancing monkeys in hats started when it was much harder to take a safari or watch Discovery. But now that it's tradition people are reluctant to change.

    Keeping a dolphin in an enclosed pool is like keeping a person blindfolded.