For all the talk about how Sea Shepherd endangers life and limb of whalers, sealers, poachers, and even supposedly its own crew, the fact is that in more than 37 years of operations not a single Sea Shepherd crewmember has been killed or seriously injured. This covers hundreds of voyages and confrontations on the high seas in some of the most remote and hostile waters in the world. Nor has any Sea Shepherd action ever caused a single injury, let alone a fatality to those who Sea Shepherd obstructs, harasses, and prevents from continuing their illegal acts of exploitation.
One major Sea Shepherd critic is SeaWorld, whose enslavement of orca whales and dolphins has generated hundreds of millions of dollars in profits. And a SeaWorld captive - Tilikum - has killed three human beings.
I can't really blame Tilikum. If I were taken from the ocean and plopped into a concrete prison cell for four decades I would be inclined to get a mite angry also.
No reasonable person would walk unescorted across the exercise yard of a maximum-security prison, and it is irresponsible to expect a frail human being to turn his or her back on a stressed-out, angry, captive orca - the most formidable predator on the planet.
By the way, I've met Tilikum. Way back in the ‘80s, I toured SeaLand of the Pacific as a special guest of Bob Wright, the owner of the facility. He wanted me to see first hand what his business was all about. I sat by the pool and patted the big orca on the head. I also put my hand in his mouth and put my palm on his tongue so he could taste that I was not afraid of him. I remember looking into the left eye of that magnificent predator, and what I saw there was resignation and sadness. He was not a happy whale.
I knew then as I know now that Tilikum should not be, and does not belong, in a swimming pool. I think that SeaWorld has only one honorable option. They should return Tilikum to his home in the sea. His pod can be identified and SeaWorld has the funds, the skills, and the technology to do the right thing both for the orca and for the interest of humanity.
Though SeaWorld has been forced to change its shows that put trainers in close, physical interaction with orcas, due to a decision made by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and upheld by a U.S. Court of Appeals, orcas are not the only species of stressed captive animals forced to perform with SeaWorld's trainers - and there have been hundreds of documented animal-trainer incidents at their parks. Other parks, like Miami Seaquarium - the prison of more than 40 years to famed orca, Lolita - continue their dangerous shows.
If the aquariums and marine parks holding orcas as prisoners do not return these massive predators to the sea then the next time a human being dies as a victim to an angry, frustrated, stressed, and possibly insane orca, it will not be simply another tragedy: it will be willful negligence.
Adapted from a commentary written by Captain Watson first published on February 25, 2010 at seashepherd.org.