Sensitivity to Animals Our Wants Verses Their Needs

The recent death of Dawn Brancheau, the Orca whale trainer at Orlando Florida’s Sea World weighs heavily on my mind. It is a reality check and hopefully cause for more in depth analysis not only into the whale’s behavior but into our own human wants verses the animals needs. How sensitive are we the people who keep these wild creatures in captivity? We train them to respond to our verbal commands and hand signals. We marvel at all the research over years with sea mammals, gorillas, elephants, chimpanzees… that demonstrate animal intelligence and animal cognition, yet in the area of animal consciousness; we seem to be remiss.

In one of the articles I read following this tragedy the following sentence grabbed my attention.

“A number of park visitors said several of the whales had appeared unsettled earlier in the day and were not responding to trainers”.

Did anyone else read or hear this? Is anyone with authority investigating this further? I hope so. It seems like very pertinent information and makes me wonder. What did the trainers at Sea World do on February 24, 2010 when the Orcas were acting oddly? What do they have the power to do?  Must the show go on? These beautiful marine mammals are a valuable commodity drawing crowds of more than 5500 people.

I keep looking at the video clips of Dawn and Tilikum working together and everything in me finds it hard pressed to believe the orca whale acted in malice intentionally trying to kill her.

And… three days after Dawn Brancheau’s drowning the country of Chile was devastated by an 8.8 magnitude earthquake. Is it possible the Orcas felt seismic rumblings from the depth of the ocean floor three days before as the earth began to violently shift?

Tilikum is a twelve foot, six ton bull confined in a relatively small area. Did he and the others sense the onset of this catastrophic disaster?  He is also thirty years old and without a doubt the alpha male in this pod. If he leaped from the water and grabbed his trainer’s pony tail, or arm, or waist, is it possible he was acting from fear or flight response?

Animals lash out when they are frightened, hurt, or protecting their territory. After years in captivity without incident what caused him to snap? The media seized the moment and capitalized on the two other human deaths that involved this whale. In 1991, a marine biology student and part-time trainer fell into his tank in Canada. The whale and two females blocked her from getting out of the pool. They tossed her back and forth like a toy. Was this behavior deviant or conditioned? And eight years later in 1999, a man snuck into Tilikum’s pool after hours, at SeaWorld. Tilikum carried the naked corpse on his back where officials discovered him the next day.  Why would Tilikum carry this man on his back, to show off and parade his victory in battle? Perhaps he was trying to keep the man afloat unaware that the body he carried was lifeless?

“What he did in the previous two incidents were not attacks – to him, the people were toys, and to a whale, being under water for 20 minutes is nothing” said Naomi Rose, a senior scientist at the Humane Society of the United States.

In regard to the recent incident with Dawn she said, “This sounds a little more like an attack”.

Research finds that Orca whales do not generally attack humans, so I’m asking again what set off the Orcas?

Two summers ago fires raged up and down the coast in central California where I live. Though they were some fifty plus miles away, my cats started urinating all over the house. Our local vet said many of his clients were reporting bizarre behaviors from their pets. He firmly believed the animals were responding to the fires, sensing the danger and reacting to the havoc. Do your pets become restless and agitated before a storm? Have they alerted before an earthquake? Our dogs used to start barking minutes before the house began to gyrate.

Naomi Rose suggested Tilikum be retired to a sea pen in Iceland, like Keiko, the killer whale Hollywood made famous in 1993′s “Free Willy.” She said such tragedies prove that wild animals should not be kept in pens to perform for tourists. Killer whales are social and intelligent creatures but get stressed in pens.

To the Friends and Family of Dawn Brancheau,

This blog is written in memory of and with heartfelt feelings for all the wild life trainers who have lost their lives working with their beloved animals.

I welcome your comments and questions. Feel free to post them directly or email me at: Stephanie@of2minds.com If you would like to learn more about me and the services I offer as a Personal Life Coach click on the Services tab in the upper right hand corner of this page: http://www.stephaniealt.com/ or visit my website: http://www.of2minds.com/

“Fine-tuning your intuition safeguards your future and open doors to the extraordinary.”                     Stephanie Rachel Alt, MS

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  1. Vel huston on the Mar 14, 2010 remarked #

    Welllll…as I read this I kept getting flashbacks to You Tube videos featuring Orcas and their coordinated efforts to attack and consume seals. One video shows an Orca pack methodically working together to successfully trap a seal that is resting on an ice floe.

    Then my thought drifted to a kitten I’d found abandoned in a wood pile behind my home when I was a young girl. I’d raised that kitten since before it could open its eyes and had fed it warm pablum inside a baby doll bottle. I always held it in my arms as I fed it. It was my very own baby.

    I had never taught my kitten to hunt and it had not had contact with other cats.

    One day when it was older and had opened its eyes I took it outside to play on my family’s property. I was horrified when it saw a baby bird and proceeded to hunch down into a stalking pose. I could not believe it when it leapt on the bird, grabbed it in its mouth and proceeded to try to eat it. I was barely able to save the bird.

    I was angry and bewildered with my kitten. Where had it learned to hunt! Then I realized I could not forever get in the way of my kitten’s powerful instinct.

    I think the Orca acted on instinct. The unfortunate trainers and people it encountered inside the pool registered as prey in the mind of this intrinsically wild animal. As long as the prey could stay on land it was safe.

    Going back to the seal I mentioned earlier on that ice floe, the Orca pod manipulated the floe until the seal could not help but slide into the water and become their next meal.

    I am also very sorry for what happened to the trainer who died recently. I am so sorry…

  2. Scott on the Mar 16, 2010 remarked #

    I appreciate your thoughts on this. It is true that animals sense what is happening. Before the tsunami hit the coast of the Indian Ocean, the animals were leaving (or trying to leave) the coastal region. Pets are often abnormal prior to earthquakes. Pets are often cognizant of human health conditions before people. It is, also, true that pets will momentarily turn on their “owners”, for no particular/identifiable reason. Do they sense our fallibility and blame us? I don’t know about the killer whale sensing the upcoming earthquake, on the other side of the earth, but maybe it sensed the danger and that the trainer was unable to protect/provide against this greater danger.

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