Animal Attack Chat

killer whale underwater

Early in my career I was part of the enrichment for Corky and Orky, the killer whales once housed at Marineland in California.

In fact, I considered myself enrichment for a wide variety of animals housed there–including a few walruses, sea lions, dolphins–but somehow not for Bubbles the pilot whale.

Go figure.

They were always observing me as I did them and often would vocalize when I would appear to get my attention or to get me to take some time to play or commune.

Like many people, these captive animals impacted my life but the difference was that I was already on the road to earning my animal professional status.

Now, I’ve still be listening and shaking my head over some of the commentaries that have arisen over the Tilikum orca incident.

It has sparked a lot of attention to other related topics.

I happened to catch Joy Behar’s focus on animal attacks last night which sounded more like a promo for the Fatal Attraction trilogy scheduled to air shortly.

Now I happen to like Joy Behar’s matter-of-fact view of life, and her humor, but I wish she could have benefited from a better expert since the guy on the show irresponsibly referred to captive chimps as “domesticated chimps.”

There is no such thing as a domesticated chimp.

Yes, there are chimps who have been born in captivity but true domestication alters an animal and usually involves selective breeding. Plus true domestication occurs over thousands of years and generations upon generations.

I don’t know how many people caught the show but I thought I’d talk about a few things that came up in it and from the discussions I have been sharing with other animal professionals.

Just because someone has a voice does not mean they are right.
St James & LaDonna Davis appeared as guests on the show.

If you have not seen St James, he was terribly disfigured when he was attacked by the chimps at the facility housing Moe the chimp (who had previous lived in the Davis home).

For some reason, LaDonna seemed to think her opinion about chimpanzees was correct–and it is not.

She had the idea that any animal, if reared right, will turn out into a cooperative being without a tendency to violence or natural instincts.

Her opinion could not be further from the truth and is utter nonsense.

At one time you could purchase a chimpanzee without a lot of experience or jumping through hoops for permits, etc.

Times have changed and fortunately it is much harder for a private party to obtain a wild animal than back when society was more innocent–and laws were more lax.

But her insistence that she knew more than the animal expert on the show because she owned a chimp reflects a trend I see more and more.

People think their opinions hold weight.

Not for me it doesn’t.

They are opinions and opinions only.

Why should I listen to someone who bought a chimpanzee, dressed it up like a kid, and then ignored the animal’s wild nature?

But she is not alone in thinking her opinion matters and that she is right when it comes to the topic of animals.

Ever hear, “I’ve been training dogs all my life” from someone who has a dog?

Have you ever asked how many animals that means?

For the average person, it does not mean they have trained different breeds or temperaments professional but rather a few dogs they have personally owned.

Why should I listen to them when it comes to dog training?

You shouldn’t either.

Today people want to spout their opinions and be heard but it doesn’t mean that they are right.

Chimpanzees are among some of the most dangerous wild animals in captivity based on their strength and temperament but for some reason people want to believe that they are innocuous.

Go ahead and try to deny it but take a good long, hard look at St James and at Charla Nash (the woman who was attacked by Travis the chimp who is now a dead chimp.

If they had any idea of what a male chimpanzee was like it would be no surprise.

However, there are a lot of people who think a 12,000 predator (like the killer whale Tilikum) should simply be a benevolent and intelligent being.

Intelligence does not mean they are like Homo sapiens.
For some reason, people want to believe that intelligent animals are like human beings–or that they like human beings.

Each creature on earth has his or her own role within the scheme of nature.

They vary in temperament, sociability, and in how they might react in a given situation.

It does not mean that they love you or like you in the same way you like them.

It is their nature to be wild and to be what they evolved to be in the natural world.

Unlike domesticated animals, they are independent beings that could take or leave humans–and often take advantage when the opportunity arises.

Should a captive wild animal be euthanized if it attacks?
I can’t believe the media actually came up with that naive question.

Why? For being a wild animal? For being a predator? For being so big that they squish someone?

People get into trouble with wild animals all the time.

In captivity it is an occupational hazard if a trainer gets munched or killed by one of his or her charges.

But then there are also those people who “want to be one” with the animal and get killed or maimed after tormenting an animal or after climbing into the animal’s enclosure.

Usually nobody faults the animal.

I’ve seen a lot of human error and equipment failure contribute to terminal situations.

Management can be really stupid sometimes, too.

In the wild, animals that attack and kill humans intentionally are usually terminated because they tend to pose a danger to others.

On a day-to-day basis, captive animals are usually privately owned and confined–and so don’t pose a big threat.

If you take a look at how many wild animals there are in captivity and how many interactions they have with humans, the really bad incidents are not as many as you think.

But don’t think those of us who work with them don’t understand that they might kill us.

And don’t think incidents don’t happen.

They are not as rare as you might hope but free wild animal incidents are not as rare as you think either–you just don’t hear about them.

Okay, so I am ranting again…the answer to the euthanasia question?

Cetaceans are conscious breathers and it is dangerous to even use anesthesia with them.

They are also very valuable animals and protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and there are laws for captive marine mammal management via the USDA so euthanasia can be a complicated matter.

When experts say stupid things.
Okay, we all sometimes say things that are stupid (or that are taken out of context) but two guys pissed me off when they chimed in about Tilikum.

Since I have not seen the footage I can’t say for sure but I don’t think that Tilikum was “playing” as one expert spouted.

First, it doesn’t ring true especially from the descriptions I’ve heard.

Plus, the only times I’ve seen whales attempt to grab their trainers–it was not in play.

Also normal play behavior would be in the regular repertoire, while when aggression incidents occur, they tend to stand out.

Now in an animal’s normal behavior repertoire (aka behavior topography) they will give advanced signals as to their state of being.

I’d be interested in the underwater footage and knowing if, in fact, there was a disturbance within the orcas in close proximity as I’ve heard.

So I doubt the orca incident was play and it sounds like aggressive orca behavior–which is not malicious but simply what they do as a predator.

Trainer’s Fault?
This suggestion made me really mad.

Human error happens but to make that statement on national television without consideration of the trainer’s family or an investigation into the incident was flat irresponsible.

Plus, some facilities make it a practice of passing the blame–when ultimately it is management and the owners of the animals who are responsible.

When we worked on the initial Resources for Crisis Management in Zoos & Other Animal Care Facilities I found it odd that many marine animal facilities did not want to chime in.

I am still wondering why normal protocol does not include an air tank or contingency plans using blasts of noise or the use of protected contact.

Okay, there is more to say but I am still waiting for more comments on the poll.

I’d be interested in your views, so comment below and please take a moment to participate in the captive orca poll.

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