Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Kill the Fish

Tilikum, the killer whale who caused the death of his trainer should be executed.

Tilikum, in case you haven't heard, is a killer whale residing at the Orlando marine park who is getting into the bad habit of drowning his hosts. A couple of weeks ago he grabbed the pony tail of Dawn Brancheau, his trainer, dragging her under water to her death.

Now I realize there are a lot of people out there sticking up for the bloodthirsty thing, arguing that despite his personality profile--which consists of occasionally treating the very people who helped to make him famous like some kind of cetacean chew toy--he should be spared. But this was Tilikum's third such indiscretion.

The animal psychologist community (yes, there really is such a thing) has given the incident a good going over. "What," they ask, "made Tilikum snap?" They have combed through the available evidence--which includes the fact that they are large, violent marine predators who run in packs and hunt down their prey in the ocean, systematically ripping them apart with their sharp teeth (starting, in the case of other whales, with their tongues)--and come to the conclusion that they are "complicated creatures."

If I were a large bloodthirsty mammalian predator with a record (and the first name, "Killer"), I would want these people on my side.

And besides, how can you blame a six-ton carnivore when it sees its trainer, swimming around in the same tank looking just like Purina Killer Whale Chow?

According to Bernd Wursig, a professor of marine biology at Texas A&M University, Tilikum's behavior could have been the result of the mammalian version of a bad hair day (Mammals, after all, are partly defined by the fact that they have hair). Tilikum may, he says, have been "lashing out": "Even though whales are bright and very well trained, they can show aggressivity if they feel threatened or if they’re in a bad mood," he said. "It can also be displacement, if they haven’t had a good time with their pod members."

There you have it. "Aggressivity." Caused by a killer whale party gone sour.

And besides, how would you feel if you were built for roving the world's oceans eating everything in your path and someone captured you and put you in a tank which, to you, is the equivalent of a moderate-sized bathtub, to perform tricks--among which, by the way, is having humans stick their heads in your mouth?

If I were taking a bath and someone put me in front of a bunch of people to perform tricks and the person put his head in my mouth? I'm biting it off.

But there's one thing no one is talking about in this whole debate and it's this: In recent years animals have been given new and important privileges, the chief of which is that they're now being considered more like humans. We now talk about "animal rights."

They can be trained to to do human-like things. They can be taught to talk. They can express emotions. Okay, fine. They're just like us.

But with rights come responsibilities.

If your going to be promoted up the evolutionary ladder, there are benefits--and obligations. If you're going to enjoy the privileges of occupying a higher branch on the biological tree, then you had better be prepared to make some lifestyle changes--among which is that you can't drown your fellow creatures on the same branch just because you're in a bad mood.

If you are a mammal looking to move up on the evolutionary scale and you are reading this post, you need to understand that there are expectations you will be required to meet. It may be acceptable in your world to just go out and, for example, ingest your neighbor. But you're going to have to get it through that puny little primitive brain of yours that if you aspire to be a rational animal, there are going to have to be some behavior changes.

No more grabbing people by the hair. No more dragging them underwater. No more making a meal of close evolutionary relations.

If you think you can master your passions in this way, we higher primates will establish a committee and consider your application. We'll make copies of your paperwork, groom each other, discuss your fitness for your desired status, groom each other some more, and then make a decision. But once our application is approved, there will be consequences to what you do.

Tilikum's application was already approved. Whales, we have known for some time, are just like us. And then he goes and does this.

Kill the fish. It's the right thing to do.


Anonymous said...

The hyperlink says the wired article claims whales are just like us. The title of the actual article reads "Whales Might Be as Much Like People as Apes Are," and specifically says that whales are not human people, that they are similar in many ways, but lower on a spectrum.

And the article specifically says that the idea that whales have certain properties similar to human beings is a recent phenomenon, not something we have known for a long time. The straw man is taking quite a beating.

Lee said...

That's a lot of sushi!

Lee said...
This comment has been removed by the author.