Recently I watched a documentary called Blackfish.  It’s about a large, male captive killer whale that attacked a number of its handlers and trainers over the years, either hurting or killing them.  Cruelty, greed and stupidity knows no bounds in the human race, and for me this film was a prime example.

Killer whales, like dolphins, seals and the like are trained via operant conditioning.  Using a whistle, clicker, or other consistent sound, the command is bridged to the reward.  So simple.  So effective.  So powerful.  I first stumbled upon clicker training in 1999 at Equine Affair in Kentucky, bought a book written by Alexandra Kurland, and watched a demo with a horse given by a former Sea World trainer, whose name currently escapes me.  Naturally, I went home and tried it.  I repeat: so simple, so effective, so powerful.

Back to our killer whale…  There was no surprise to me that this massive mammal, kept in confinement, often beaten up by other captive whales, sometimes mistreated, drilled repeatedly, and put on public display would turn against those who claimed to love him.  Inadequately educated, the ‘trainers’ were chosen for their looks, charisma and ability to engage an audience, not for any real or imagined abilities as animal trainers.  Despite all odds, many of these ‘trainers’ lived to tell the tale, only to reinforce the generosity of this individual whale.

I could see ‘it’ (the killings) coming as plain as day.  My non-trainer husband, who watched with me, could see ‘it’ coming.  In hindsight many of the trainers, at least, could see suggestions.  The whale sometimes didn’t listen or ignored the command, and sometimes showed obvious agitation.  How embarrassing that that should happen during a live show.  The response by the trainers:  push harder, or worse, punish the whale by purposely withholding food, which acted as the reward.  Behind the scenes, the pushing and the punishing was even more severe.

So what exactly does all this have to do specifically with horses?

I’ve worked with some of the meanest, most aggressive horses.  Each and every one of them had good reason to be that way; people made them that way.  Consider this your friendly reminder.  While the horse is not nearly so big and powerful as a killer whale, it’s still big and powerful enough to put you in the ground before you can blink; always have the utmost respect for that.  Pay attention, be observant.  Behavior out of character is not to be ignored.  Stop.  Take a step back.  Consider.  Punish sparingly and certainly don’t do it out of some warped sense of ‘I’ll teach you a lesson’, because that’s likely to come back and bite you in the ass at some point.  Fair and consistent treatment rules the day.  Withholding of food or water does nothing more than frustrate an animal that can not reason at the level of a mature adult human.  Engage your brain and at least try to recognize that you aren’t the center of the universe.  Educate yourself, and be open to further learning.

69 thoughts on “Blackhorse

  1. I watched Blackfish last night, I actually couldn’t sleep after I was so disturbed. The clip of Tilly and the trainer he killed in ’06 actually was quite awful. He was so with her and engaged in the activity when her fish bucket was full. Then he missed a cue for reward near the end of the bucket and ended up doing a pectoral wave around the entire pool, when she had really called him back halfway. She never repeated the cue, she let him keep going but didn’t reward him for his effort. He thought he did a great job but received no reward. The level of frustration was extremely sad throughout the show. I kept relating the whales to horses also. I reward for the slightest effort especially in a situation that may cause my horse to be nervous or more sensitive than normal.

    • YES! The same thoughts were going through my head and I was literally screaming at the TV. You have to be aware of what’s happening from the animal’s perspective. You don’t always get what you want, but you have to acknowledge the try, and sometimes you pretend you got what you asked for even when you didn’t because that’s the smart thing to do for animal and human.

      There was clearly pressure to ‘put on a show’, but the animal always has to come as your first priority even at the risk of personal embarrassment. She could have (should have) played along with it. And there’s no excuse for not rewarding or for running out of reward (she was running low on fish at that point, if I remember correctly and was cutting his reward (fish) amounts).

  2. Great post. It is very important to shelve our egos when working with horses and other animals, and we should never take their good nature for granted. We must always remember that their point of view is not ours and needs to be taken into account.

  3. That’s one thing that I’ve taken away from a NH trainer that’s sticking with me is what the slightest try in my horse looks like. I’m quite sure she felt like I was screaming at her for years. There is absolutely no “dumbing down” my mare, she’s never bored herself into compliance not once. If I ask with loud body language she responds with loud body language, not pretty lol And not something I was able to find in any discipline specific trainer around here. Making each cue quieter to get a prettier and happier response goes miles farther in building an actual relationship or partnership. I think those whales had to do what they did, their body language is just not as clear. And unfortunately taking whales from different pods they don’t even speak the same language as each other. Each whale literally had nobody to talk too.

    • It was fascinating to find out about the individuality of pods, particularly in terms of language. At the same time there’s a number of things that aren’t unique. Take a horse out of one herd and throw it into another herd and there’s almost certainly going to be some dust ups, perhaps temporarily, perhaps forever.

      It doesn’t matter what mammal you’re talking about, could be people, could be dogs, could be cats, could be whales, whenever you move out individuals or move in individuals you can expect the individuals and the group to go through changes, not all of them pretty. That’s just common sense. Those that thought it would just be okay to throw him in with a bunch of stranger female whales were obviously not thinking clearly or full of ignorance. How could that not have presented a potential problem?!

      • While it’s true that this problem would exist in any species thrown together on a whim, it’s even more severe in whales because of their social patterns. Confining a male whale from the same pod in a small space with females in going to lead to major problems, because the males simply are not meant to be around the females for long periods. So it’s not even just a matter of not taking into account the routine dust-ups that would occur when introducing strange animals…it’s a failure to take into account the entirety of that animal’s behavior and social structure.

          • Yes, I know. I was saying that even IF he had been placed with females from his original pod, that would still make for a very unnatural situation. In the wild, male orcas live on the outer edges of the pod, so they are never exposed to the females in close proximity for long periods. So even IF all of the orcas were part of one pod, there’s still a very high likelihood of problems arising that could result in stress and injury, even more so then in a situation with strange horses or dogs thrown together. Point being, you simply can’t keep male and female orcas in a small tank together day in and day out, regardless of whether or not they are related, without risking the safety and health of the animals. We get away with doing so with horses and dogs because of the nature of their social structure (not to say that problems can’t arise, up to the potential for fatal injuries depending on the individual animals involved.) Throwing male and female orcas in together at all, related or not, requires completely ignoring everything we know about their social structure and behavior in the wild.

            The best analogy I can think of is how some animal shelters requires you to bring in your existing dog when adopting a new one for a ‘meet and greet’ to determine how the two animals will get along. There’s plenty of room for debate as to the wisdom of the practice and if it truly represents how the two dogs will do in the home together, but the idea of doing so is based on dogs being profoundly social animals. Now, imagine a shelter required the same thing when adopting a cat. Most people who own cats know that they don’t do well in strange places and that introductions between cats have to be handled very slowly. So suggesting you should bring your housecat in to a strange place to ‘meet’ a new cat would strike most cat owners as downright foolish and borderline inhumane, because the idea fails to take into account the nature of the cat. Putting male and female orcas into confined places together fails to take into account the nature of the orca in the same way, and simply can NOT be done in a manner that is safe, both physically and mentally, for all of the animals involved. The problem is not that the animals are not related (though that surely amplifies the issues at hand), but that it shouldn’t be done at all, period.

  4. I just wanted to bring it up, because I’ve watched so many people NOT do this when training their own horses: to make progress while rewarding the “try” you have to remember to gradually ask for a little more. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge advocate of rewarding the effort (my horse will now stop when i say “good” because i’ve used “good” in combination with stopping as a reward so many times), but if you’re rewarding the same amount of “try” and the same “response” every single time then that’s the only answer you’re ever going to get in response to your question. For example, my pony is trained to hold his hooves up for me when I touch his leg and tell him to “Give It”. When I first started trying to train this behavior I rewarded him every single time he lifted his foot, even if he set it right back down. When he was solid there I started only rewarding if he held it up for 1 second, then only rewarding for 2 seconds, etc. If I had only ever rewarded the initial response then that’s the behavior that I would still be getting when I asked for a “Give It”.

    • That is the correct way to do it to shape the behavior. Where people run into problems is with timing of the reward, and skipping steps often to the frustration of the animal.

  5. Great post Merc. I recently saw a video that disturbed me to my depths. It showed an Iberian grey stallion being unloaded at some cruelty spectator event. The horse had braids a mile long…and also the most dejected eyes and sad, intoverted expression a horse could produce. The vid then skipped to the horse in the arena – handled by a “man” with a small whip in his hand. The horse was put to a piaffe of sorts and if he slowed his tempo one iota, the whip made connection with his flank. He piaffe/passaged in a mad rhythm, his eyes were wild with fear, the crowd went bath-ship crazy, his handler’s ego was stroked and it went on and on. No matter what this horse did or how hard, fast or electrifying he performed, there was no reward to be had. After a couple of minutes I had to shut it off. I couldn’t stand the look on that poor horse and think about his sad, existence as a beaten and broken penis extension for his handler. The crowd, however, rewarded the handler for his miracle horse and gave him “click after click.” Absoutely disgusting and still upsetting me. I would love to tie a string to a certain part of the handler’s anatomy and ask him to dance….and whenever he slowed I’d love to give that string a good yank to remind him of who’s in charge. And no, I am NOT kidding. I would do this in a split second and enjoy torturing the human in retribution for the horse.

  6. I agree wholeheartedly that training and shaping behavior is an important communication between two parties, and both need to be equally engaged in order for it to work properly. People who undertake the training of an animal have to have a good understanding of what their animal is capable of, set reasonable goals, communicate clearly, reward appropriately, and end the session on a successful note before the animal is tired or loses interest.

    And while there are certainly people in this world who care not a whit about the animals they abuse under the generous label of “training”, there’s also the problem of people who go too far the other direction. As an example, there’s a person at the barn I work at who loves her horse dearly. She’s out there every day with treats, grooming the horse and singing to it, petting it, and kissing it on the nose. Then she stands around with the bridle in her hand, trying to decide if the horse feels like being ridden that day. Many times I’ve seen her put on the saddle (with many readjustments to the position and girth to make sure the horse is absolutely, perfectly comfortable) and bridle (she’s constantly trying new bits in an effort to find one that won’t cause any discomfort to the horse, although the horse seems fine with pretty much anything) and then go into the arena to lunge the horse for five minutes before returning sadly and saying “Oh, she doesn’t feel like working today, so I’m not going to ride. I think I’ll just let her have her dinner.” As a result, she has a fat, spoiled horse who is pushy on the ground and knows how to get out of doing any work. It’s a good thing she’ll never sell that horse, because the buyer would certainly have their work cut out for them if they ever decided they wanted to actually ride the horse.

    • It’s true, that people can go to the other extreme as you describe and create some of the same issues as those who are more obviously abusive. In the end, it’s all the same to the animal.

      In this woman’s case she’s afraid. Might be of riding, but likely the fear stems from other non-horse related issues. People use animals to help them deal, adjust, fill in gaps etc… Certainly there have been times when I’m having a bad day and I just need to hug my cat, who of course wants nothing to do with the act of being smothered.

      Mostly, though, people need to be ‘well-adjusted’ before ‘training’ an animal. And it must not be forgotten that every moment you spend with that horse IS training; training good behaviour or training bad behavior. While animals can help us overcome, we still need to be careful what we’re putting out short and long term.

    • Unfortunately, I know the exact woman you are talking about. A person who trains with weakness and fear, placing her own insecurities and willingness to work on the horse. A horse needs and craves a leader. This makes them feel secure and safe. These horses become the thinkers instead of reacters and it affects every aspect of their life with strength and confidence. It’s nearly as detrimental to the horse as abuse as it can and does often render the animal ‘useless’ to the human when the spoiler can no longer keep the spoiled and nobody else wants to take on the bad behavior.

      I have a new critter now and we are getting to know each other. He has shown me respect, fear, devilish play and some disrespect – all in the same 10 minute period. Fortunately, he was reared by a horseman and has accepted his place in the hierarchy as submissive which makes our journey together so much easier on both of us. I make my intentions perfectly clear as does he and watching his wheels turn as he sizes me up with quiet, soft eyes is a ‘cat hug’ for me. He wants to be on my team, he loves being rewarded and doing right. His habit of pawing at feeding time is being nipped in the bud right from the get-go firmly with no-nonsense correction and I feel no pity for him at that time. Confusion and fear are one thing but demanding something from me will get him nowhere. Day 3 of ownership and the pawing is already subsiding with a reminder. These are smart animals, deserving of fair treatment but many people treat them like they’re idiots – and they are certainly happy to oblige in kind.

    • I think you are describing a person who is becoming very common at stables and boarding barns everywhere. Not to stir things up, but I call them “women-afraid-of-their-horses”. They have all the CDs from every TV trainer, all of the special equipment, and just got back from the latest seminar, where, with several hundred of their fellow acolytes, they were deeply, deeply impressed when a horse was saddled and ridden (for the first time!) in 40 minutes.
      Somehow, their horse never advances beyond going in bewildered circles while they flourish their bright colored paddle at them. In the barn where I board my 3 year olds while we train, we have several women (sorry, but I have never seen a man do this) who have been working for more than a year to get a saddle on their precious darlings.
      It would not be such a bad thing, at least for the horse who is kind of enjoying himself otherwise, but for the fact that the horse is essentially useless and when the owner is no longer able to afford the board, or moves on to another breed (Frisians, Gypsy Vanners, etc.), the horse is going to end up at an auction where the fact that it does nothing will practically guarantee it a bad end.

        • I agree with your perception, for the most part. While I think much of the NH is positive, I think a drawback is that it makes some people try to be so attuned to their horse that they simply do not get anything done, for fear of doing some psychic damage. Sometimes you just have to shut up, climb up and ride.
          I also think men tend to choose the horse sport they are in by their own sense of how they want to be regarded by others. “Conquest” of the horse by training/breaking may be part of that.

          • Women nurture, men dominate, that’s being human. Understanding it and tempering it, or embracing a bit of our ‘opposite’ when the situation calls for it is the entire purpose of moving forward with balance. Women need to be less wishy-washy, men need to be less ‘Conan’ when working with animals.

            Of course that’s just a generalization, so don’t anybody get bent out of shape if you’ve already found a good balance between the ying and yang in your life.

  7. Thanks for nothing…yes, I’m going off track although I agree with what every one has said. I saw the title of this post and got all excited. I thought maybe it was going to talk about some magnificent black horse, or grooming a black horse or genetics. Either way, black is my favorite coat color so I was excited. You can imagine how utterly crushed, not to mention depressed, I was when I read what this was really about.

  8. Sounds like fear, and I can totally relate. Having a lesson plan or goal each time I saddle up helps me achieve what I set out to do. Maybe suggest something of the sort?

  9. Yes, sick and sad. Especially when you know a bit about the history and behavior of marine mammals. I recently saw (on my wonderful netflix documentary section) a great documentary on the life of a whale. As an antidote to this horrible situation, it’s well worth watching.

    • The agenda being what? That people stop thinking they know what’s best for whales? That people stop taking them out of the wild, putting them in ‘cages’, and making them perform for a paying audience? That people grow a brain and realize that a mammal of that size, no matter how well ‘treated’ or ‘trained’ can in a blink of an eye turn around and kill?

      Of course it’s agenda slanted, just as the other side of the coin was agenda slanted when hiring people with no practical knowledge or experience with whales were saying, ‘Oh, don’t worry, it’s perfectly safe to interact with whales.’ ‘Oh, don’t worry, the whale is being taken care of better than if it was in the wild, just do what we say and you’ll be fine.’ ‘Oh, those open, bleeding sores are nothing to worry about, the whale is fine.’

      I suppose I’ve also drunk the Kool-Aid if I believe half of what was recorded for The Cove. Or if I believed that last week a guy was arrested in Oakland for selling shark fins. I had an even bigger dose of Kool-Aid after watching Gorilla’s In The Mist and then researching Dian Fossey.

      I don’t have to buy into anything to know when people are being dinks.

    • Carolyn, the bottom line is that we have domesticated animals and wild animals. And the only wild animals who should be kept in captivity are those that for whatever reason, like an injury, would not allow them to be returned to the wild, and let them be ambassadors for their species.

      • Have you ever spoke with a trainer at SeaWorld? Not just taking what these “trainers” say on the film? Do you not realize the ” That people grow a brain and realize that a mammal of that size, no matter how well ‘treated’ or ‘trained’ can in a blink of an eye turn around and kill?” statement can also fit a horse? Do you know of all the good SeaWorld does behind the scenes? Do you realize other cultures really on those shark fins just like dogs for coat making? Yes, I don’t like it either, but who am I to take away that China mans means of living?

        • “…statement can also fit a horse?”

          Clearly you did not read my blog in its entirety or you have reading comprehension problems as I said EXACTLY that. Let me quote for you:

          ‘While the horse is not nearly so big and powerful as a killer whale, it’s still big and powerful enough to put you in the ground before you can blink; always have the utmost respect for that.’

          ” Do you realize other cultures really on those shark fins just like dogs for coat making?”

          I can’t make any sense out of the sentence. There are words missing or something. However, pulling sharks out of the water, cutting off a fin, then tossing them back into the water to die a slow, painful, horrible death is NOT okay, regardless of someone’s ‘culture’.

          I will give a lot of leeway for cultural differences, except when it involves cruelty/abuse and the like to innocents.

          I am sure there are lots of good things that go on behind the scenes at SeaWorld, but that’s not the point. Just because something good happens, doesn’t mean it nullifies the bad or somehow cancels the bad out.

          And yes, I’ve spoken to a previous SeaWorld trainer. Again, you clearly didn’t read my blog article thoroughly as I mention being at a demonstration given by a SeaWorld trainer. I spoke with her at length at that event.

  10. I think there is probably also some dangerous generalizations made about whales in the general population. Yes, you have your gentle giant strainer-mouthed balleen-feeding lummocks (too big for any acquarium), and your playful porpoises (taught Moby Dick last term LOL). But orcas, killer whales, are high-end predators. They have no problem killing and eating seals. The have teeth. Down the East Coast of Australia there’s an old whaling village where the human whalers had a symbiotic relationships with the orcas for a long time; the orcas would chase the whales into the bay and the whalers would kill them and the orcas would get the leftovers. Training an orca, to my mind, is potentially more like training a tiger than a dolphin. But I think these days all whales get lumped together as cuddly Baby Belugas. And possibly it’s being a predator, a carnivore, that makes orcas easier to train to do tricks? I know my last cat taught herself to play fetch and initiated the whole idea with me; most dogs catch on fast; but it has taken 8 months to get the Paint Mare to play fetch, and i don’t think she will ever actually run for the target. So maybe its the orca hunting instincts that make it trainable, but also dangerous.

    • If human kind had done that all along we wouldn’t have “domesticated” animals. I imagine you are against exotic animal ownership?

      • Said as if a) we’ve somehow done animals some huge favor by domesticating them – (breeding and perpetuating various horrific genetic issues, experimenting on them, encouraging over population, using them in our wars against each other, puppy mills and the like. etc…), and b) that it’s a good idea to own monkeys, lions and tigers, oh yeah – let’s ask people who’ve lost life, limb or face.

        Carolyn; I encourage rational discussions. There’s nothing more I’d love to have than a big cat. I love cats as much as I love horses. That’s a lot of love. But as an intelligent, mature, thinking, and caring human being, I understand that’s just not something I should do or encourage others to do. It’s wrong on so many levels. If that has to be explained to you, then we’ll not ever have a meeting of minds on this matter.

        I support zoos/sanctuaries/organizations/individuals that keep and care for exotic/wild animals that have been injured, are old, to0 young to look after themselves, can’t be returned to the wild, or are part of a ‘serious’ breeding program to restore populations/prevent extinction. I do not support them or individuals who keep them for fun, strictly for profit, or because ‘they want one.’

          • OK, I’ll accept that. But I do think your referring to shark fining and dog slaughter as cultural is bizarre.

          • Shark fins are used for soup and it is a ‘cultural’ dish. Suggesting that it’s okay to harvest the shark fin the way it is widely done (as I already described) is crap on a stick.

            Raising dogs for ‘fur’, I had not heard of before. However, if they do that, I’m as okay with that as I am raising cattle (sheep, horse, buffalo…) for ‘fur’. Which is to say, as long as the animals are well-cared for and slaughtered ethically, then if someone of a particular culture wishes to also eat that animal and use their hide for clothing, some other commodity, have at it. I won’t partake in it, but neither will I prevent them from a cultural traditions. That’s entirely different and Carolyn knows it. If the dogs are being mistreated in any way then hiding behind ‘culture’ won’t prevent me from naming those people as the dinks they are.

          • You can call all the Chinese fur farmers, fin harvesters “dinks” all you like. What will that change? I do agree with you that I think its wrong. However this is how these people make a living. I am not *hiding* behind cultural thereby OK, but until different means are made available to these folks to make a living, basically means it goes on. Name calling, i.e. “dinks” helps what? They are not as fortunate as us, and if killing a shark puts food on the table and pays the bill, its going to happen. I have spent a year at SeaWorld Orlando. Not just talking to a trainer or watching a movie. I am thinking you are smart enough too know just because it is on the internet, or made into a movie, or a book doesn’t make it TRUTH.

          • Stop making excuses for the brutality of innocents; cultural, poverty, it’s all just a sick justification for mankind’s cruelty. I’m poor, therefore it’s okay to abandon moral and ethical standards.

            If you’d like to provide other sources that refute the video shown in Blackfish, feel free to provide it. Or evidence that that killer whale didn’t actually kill those people, feel free to provide it. Or evidence that he wasn’t ‘harvested’ from his pod in the wild, that he wasn’t kept ‘caged’ his whole life, that all those bleeding wounds were just ‘Hollywood makeup’, feel free to provide it.

            You’ve made suggestions of hidden agendas, asked rhetorical questions, but you’ve yet to provide any evidence contrary to the documentary. You asked me if I’d ever talked to a SeaWorld trainer, thinking that I’d never done it. And now that it turns out I have, now it’s not good enough. Now I have to have worked for SeaWorld. What will it be next if I told you I’ve actually worked for SeaWorld?

      • I’ll comment on this….I am absolutely against exotic animal ownership as in most, if not all cases, the animals are kept and housed in unsuitable, completely unnatural environments. I have cats that CHOOSE to come in from the cold and CHOOSE to sleep on my lap whereas a tiger would CHOOSE to have habitat, to roam, prowl and be with its own kind – not be housed up in a high-rise in Manhattan. They are both of the cat family yet inherently different creatures when it comes to stability and domestic capacity. Their size difference alone is enough to tell the average human that the larger animal needs room to roam, needs to be with its own kind just as humans need to be with our own kind. Nobody is superhuman enough to take a feral, instinctive animal and provide it with enough “love” to sustain its natural well being. Except then for those of us who have met too many of the latter and now find the comfort of an animal’s outlook and honesty a breath of fresh air from the human race.

        • This is a sad topic, there are those few “wild” or exotic animals that don’t have a natural habitat anymore, or it’s completely taken over by humans. So in favor of trying to save the last few, yes to human intervention. Not the ideal, but sometimes we have to deal with reality.

  11. Totally off topic but I’m so glad someone else uses the term “dinks” as I do. lol. My absolute favourite go-to word for all the ignoramuses I have to deal with on a daily basis. It’s become something of a catch phrase for me … “Oh, don’t be a dink!”

  12. Carry on Sheeple, carry on….
    Believe every film and any ex-employee who says it is so…
    Don’t spend any time in the real world you are condemning…
    You know best….

    • Again, I ask for you to point us to contrary evidence. A link to a scientific paper showing that captive killer whales actually thrive more than in the wild? A YouTube documentary showing all the wonderful things that happen behind the scenes? Throw us a bone, Carolyn. You’ve got the stage, but so far you’ve done nothing but stand there working your mouth without any sound coming out.

    • If there isn’t an Internet debate rule that the first person to use the word “sheeple” has lost the argument, there should be

    • What counts as “real” world? I grew up next door to Tilikum. I knew him my entire life, saw him weekly, and followed his life after he moved to SeaWorld. I had plenty of opinions on his existence, personality, and well being. Everything about that Orca’s story hurt my heart, well before I saw this film. I find the film to be quite balanced. What aspect to the story do you think that the members here are neglecting to consider?

  13. I have enjoyed and learned a lot from this blog after spouting from “Fugly” . I didn’t find “Fugly Horse” nice. Entertaining, yes. Too critical, definitely. None of us are perfect.

  14. This is going to be VERY long, hope it copies as it’s from my dad’s book (which I call his mindless drivel), and although much of what he writes is likely from RARA propoganda, he makes some good points, and I’m happy that he has thought a little about these issues, even if he doesn’t have the complete facts. Some things just take common sense, and Carolyn, you need to give your head a shake trying to excuse mistreatment of animals, not matter the agenda of those involved.

    *HANGOVERS… and other atrocities…

    Killing animals for food is one thing, but killing majestic animals for body parts and then letting the rest of the beast rot away is only ecstasy for vultures. Bears are killed for their bile and gonads, polar bears for their skins, rhinos for their tusks. And in spite of more awareness and compassion, it, like so many other things is getting worse rather than better. As for rhinos, in 2007 thirteen were dispatched in South Africa alone. In 2011 four hundred and fifty were annihilated! And 450 is only what we know about! This year?… only God knows!

    How?… with better weapons of course, including helicopters and night-vision goggles.

    Who?… sophisticated criminal syndicates that smuggle horns to Asia, according to the head of the World Wildlife Fund’s South African branch. Even zoos are now putting rhinos under video watch for their safety against poachers who could kill them… for just for their horns!

    Why? From an article by Alex Ballingal – Maclean’s Jan. 30, 2012, rhino horns fetch $50,000 per kilogram according to the International Rhino Foundation. High demand in East Asia, where rhino horns are considered a luxury… and get this, a remedy for hangovers! I got drunk once fifty years ago, and swore I would never do that again, but I didn’t realize how far one could still throw up so many years later.

    Another slump buster from Asian mythology: if you eat rhino tusks you will be able to screw for 2 or 3 hours straight (pun intended). And let’s not forget tiger teeth and claws… they say these worn as amulets, or on key chains, will bring you protection.

    The “Medicine Market” in Guangzhou is perhaps the capital of animal trafficking for so called health benefits. The market has acres of live turtles in bags, alligator parts, shark fins, and all sorts of dried-up creatures, for sale at exorbitant prices to mythically deal with every condition invented by man. A small portion of bear bile goes for $1000, and you don’t want to know what happened to the bear.

    The animal trafficking trade garners some 52 billion dollars annually, rivaling the biggest electronic industries. If the Asian culture wants to remain naïve and uneducated in their beliefs, so be it, but how millions of animals are treated, suffer and die, that is outrageous. How would the Chinese feel if we killed their precious pandas for their pelts, or just certain body parts because they are a delicacy?

    Animals have most of the characteristics of what humans have, and have the same basic needs. They have intelligence, self-awareness, autonomy and social complexities…and their basic needs are to be able to stay alive, to not be confined without escape routes. The same applies to whales, sharks and dolphins. They too have the same needs, including engaging in social interaction. Dolphins have been proven to be second only to humans in brain power…however they are defenseless against man’s trickery…

    A gruesome spectacle of dolphins being slaughtered for profit has returned to Taiji, Japan, just as international condemnation of the Japanese town’s annual cull reaches a crescendo. At least 100 bottlenose dolphins and 50 pilot whales have been taken in the first hunt of the season. Over the next six months the town’s fishermen will catch about 2,300 of Japan’s annual quota of 20,000 dolphins.

    In a typical hunt the fishermen pursue pods of dolphins across open seas, banging metal poles together beneath the water to confuse their hypersensitive sonar. The exhausted animals are driven into a large cove sealed off by nets to stop them escaping and dragged backwards into secluded inlets the following morning to be butchered with knives and spears. What is clear is that a siege mentality has taken hold in Taiji, an isolated town of 3,500 on the Pacific coast of Wakayama prefecture.

    Criticism of the dolphin hunts intensified last summer with the release of the award-winning US documentary “The Cove”, whose makers used remote-controlled helicopters and hidden underwater cameras to record the hunters at work.

    “Taiji is regarded as the spiritual home of Japan’s whaling industry. The first hunts took place in the early 1600s, according to the town’s whaling museum, but the industry went into decline after the introduction of a global ban on commercial whaling in 1986.” – Justin McCurry – This article was published on 14 September 14, 2009.

    To be clear, this is not about employment or feeding the poor…a mere two dozen of the town’s 500 fishermen will catch up to 2,300 dolphins, which is just more than one-tenth the national quota (who sets these quotas??). Some of the dolphins caught will end up in the freezers and fridges of the town’s only supermarket, where a 200-gram block of the meat is priced at about $13. Other, more prized varieties, such as the better-known bottlenose dolphin, are sold to aquariums and dolphinariums in Japan and China and are reported to fetch as much as $150,000 per head.

    And get this: Japan is spending 29 million dollars from its supplementary budget for tsunami reconstruction, to finance the country’s annual whale hunt in the Antarctic Ocean. (AP)

    Elsewhere inhabitants of the Faroe Islands (a group of islands under the sovereignty of Denmark situated roughly halfway between Norway and Iceland) during the summer months celebrate a cultural tradition called the “grindadrap” or the “grind,” but literally it translates as “whale murder.”

    In Russia the whaling fleet’s main purpose for killing whales is for their oil…but get this…that oil’s primary use is for their nuclear weapon industry! Don’t ask me how it’s used; I don’t know, but is it not ironic that the mass slaughter of these magnificent creatures by human beings is used for an industry capable for mass extermination of human beings?

    Are these not atrocities…or what??

    Not here you say? On top of those 70,000 seals to be killed (Dumb and dumber chapter), on a smaller scale: Zak and Mika were two seals captured from the wild in the spring as newborn pups by Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans for the purpose of providing them to the Aquarium des Iles in Quebec for a tourism display. When the tourist season was over, the Aquarium planned to kill them. More than 100,000 signatures from an outraged public temporarily bought these two adorable animals a stay of execution. Then the situation took a bizarre extortion twist… the Aquarium demanded $73,000 from the public, within six days, for temporary care until Zak and Mika were either placed or released. I am flummoxed, but that story is small spuds…there is a whole other world out there we don’t know exists.

    “It is an important and popular fact that things are not always what they seem. For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much – the wheel, New York, wars and so on – whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man – for precisely the same reasons.” – Douglas Adams, The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

  15. The whole ‘it’s culture’ or ‘it’s the way I make my living’ thing really gets me angry. It’s no excuse for brutality anywhere in the world. Whether it’s the horrors of factory farms in North America that give us cheap meat or beating dogs to death slowly so they taste better in Korea. The way we treat those who are powerless to defend themselves is a true gauge of our own humanity. Period. And I am not vegan or PETA – just someone who tries not to close my eyes because it’s easier not to know.

    • I hope that we can agree that there are some fundamental values that should underlie the way all human beings are treated everywhere in the world. If we found those values being violated anywhere, even in the name of religion, we would step in and stop it on principle if we could, and we would not be dissuaded by thinking that there are “cultural differences” that we need to respect. We would say that the survival of individual human beings is more important. I’m not going to step into the firestorm by trying to list those values, but I invite you to fill it in with whatever values and principles you hold.

      Likewise, I think that it is O.K. to have fundamental values that we believe should underlie the way all animals are treated by human beings, everywhere in the world. I don’t mean that these values are the same as the principles we apply to humans (no-one is going to argue that every young animal has a right to a basic education) but just that we can hold such values.

      It is true that sometimes the rights of humans to apparent self-determination and the rights of animals come into apparent conflict. However, I think that in the most obvious cases of cruelty and waste to animals, we are not dealing with true subsistence-level living. The internationally illegal harvesting of animal parts (ivory, bile, shark fin) is not really about poor people trying to eke out a living with one skinny donkey and a couple of chickens, and it is not really about local, long-term cultural practice, either. It is more like the international drug trade: supplying illegal luxury goods at inflated prices, with no regard to the damage to the ecosystem or anyone else.

      I once saw an airport display case filled with confiscated animal products, and the crap level of the ivory and leopard skin souvenirs was astounding. Sharkfin soup is extremely expensive, not apparently all that tasty, but a “high status” menu item for big banquets, and in our city (with a large Chinese population) has I think been outlawed. The sharks are close to extinct now anyhow, I understand. And cultures evolve. Wealthy people can find another way to do competitive consumption. Everyone eats differently than they would have 100 years ago, in China as well as North America. You don’t destroy a culture by one luxury food being outlawed, or disappearing through over-harvesting. And cultures themselves can and do evolve, and look back in horror at what they used to do to animals (or people). In modern urban China, for instance, cute small pet dogs have become enormously popular and prestigous after centuries of dogs being considered filthy, scavenging, dangerous (and occaisionally food).

      Moreover, it’s important to note that large nations are complex entities with lots of regional and cultural differences within them; the most shocking examples of cruelty that we hear about are often not culturally sanctioned or legal even in that country. What if someone overseas found out about Big Lick Tennessee Walkers in the U.S. and decided that was how all Americans treat horses? Or all Americans fight pit bulls, or hoard starving Arabians?

      So I think there is nothing wrong with having clear basic values about how animals should be treated, across cultures.

      And as far as the difference between wild animals and domestic animals: there is some fundamental difference, for sure. You can take a horse that’s been feral for many generations, and tame it and ride it, and in a few years it is indistinguishable from any other horse, except as far as it stays a bit smarter and a bit tougher, due to its early life. If you get a feral barn kitten young enough you can make it into a house cat. Somehow that potential to integrate into the human world is there with feral domestic animals in a way that it isn’t with true wild animals.

    • Really, culture isn’t distinguished by any one factor and the word itself exists for pairing like ‘things’ together. Whether it’s the Big Lick, WP peanut rollers, Rollkur enthusiasts, Russians, Vegans, etc. and it irritates me to no end that anyone thinks it’s inappropriate to label a type ‘culture’. We are all intelligent enough to know that there are exceptions to every rule and can edit our thoughts to give everyone a chance to prove us wrong. But most won’t and therefore there is culture. I sleep fine at night despising certain groups (cultures) of people because of their greedy, heartless, cruel treatment of animals, disrespect for the earth and life in general. Humans are top of the heap for taking more than they need, narcissism, gloating, materialism and self righteousness that has no bounds. Tusks, exotic animal ownership, furs, dog-fighting, bull fighting, big lick, etc, etc. are all products of ego gratification, bragging rights and need to be the center of attention and I have no sympathy for the cultures who heartlessly take at the expense of animals. And some will read this and justify hate for ME for stating this and will try to sympathize with the cultures, instead. This in itself is a travesty of the times when as the superior brains on the planet continue barbaric ways in the name of self.

  16. I think I am having a hard time making myself understood. I do support SeaWorld, Circus and exotic animal ownership. I can not speak for every state, but here I have to have a license. And no I don’t have big cats.

    That aside. In so far as shark fin soup, dog fur coats, beaten dog meat. I am with you. I DON’T LIKE IT! IT SICKENS ME. I said that above. We can sit here at our PCs and say this and say that. What does it change? That person is still going to do what they have too, too survive bottom line. Until at least they have a choice/chance to do otherwise. I am not anyone to tell someone else not to feed their kids and neither are you. I don’t like it, yet it is their way of making a living. We, at our PCs are in a first world country (Sorry Mercedes that I thought you were a US citizen). I am all for giving them a different livelihood. Are you going to haul ass over there to do so? Yeah, I didn’t think so. There organizations trying to do what they can. I suggest you look into E.A.R.S. and Soi Dogs and several others that are trying to change a culture. And believe me there are many wanting in here to change us. We are not the world police.

    I am outta here, say what you will.

    • The way we change things is by applying public, legal and political pressure in whatever ways we are able and have the time and resources to do. Some people make this their vocation or avocation, and join actual groups; others don’t.

      It’s worth noting that much of this activity is in fact illegal already in the countries in which it takes place (ivory poachers often invade protested wilderness preserves), but that there aren’t the resources, or perhaps the political will, to make enforcement a priority. However, making such activities illegal is already a big first step and one that can help change public opinion and make enforcement more possible.

      It’s also important to note that the really wasteful slaughter of animals for small body parts (tusks, bile, horns, fins) is not part of any traditional cultural practice anywhere. When people live closer to the edge they do not kill and leave whole bears or sharks (or even dogs) to rot; they would eat them and use them up. This really wasteful slaughter is a modern phenomena, made possible by the use of modern weapons as well, and driven by a modern international market in illegal luxuries; it is closer to the international drug trade than it is to sustainable, traditional community practices. I expect that a lot of the consumers of these products don’t give much thought to how they are obtained, and finding out the truth could go a long way to changing people’s minds. The consumers after all are driving the market, and if for instance wealthier Chinese decided sharkfin soup was shameful, not prestigous, then trade would stop.

      In any case, it will soon stop because the target shark species are close to extinction.

      We often feel like we can’t do much to change public opinion. But when I look back on the past 35 years that I’ve been aware of public issues, there have been amazing changes in opionion and practice, absolute about-faces, that I would never have predicted. Two that come to mind are public opinions and laws about smoking (everyone smoked everywhere when I was a teen) and gay rights. Two very different issues, but both driven by a lot of grass-roots pressure, which resulted in laws, and also in a shift in public opinion. Neither of these outcomes seemed remotely possible in 1978, believe me (nor did legalizing marijuana). Neither did ending apartheid in South Africa, btw, if you want an example of something that involved international pressure.

      Now I realize that all my examples here involve human rights, not animal rights, and human rights have more “traction,” more urgency, and much more funding. But I think the same process still applies. And, yes, you need to be strategic, you need to be informed, you need to have an understanding of the facts, etc. Discussing these issues with other concerned people obviously isn’t the total solution, but it is a step in thinking through these points, and in deciding if you want to pursue it further.

  17. There is some hope for animal rights as well as human rights in the new emphasis on shutting down puppy mills in states like Missouri, and most currently, the progress of the P.A.S.T. act through the Congress, with the goal of finally effectively ending the shame of the Tennessee Walking Horse soring. People are beginning to see animals as more than fur, ivory, meat. China and the Far East lag behind the west, and it will be a race to see if the rhinos and elephants are extinct in the wild before those cultures realize the wrong that they do, but at least it is a matter of international concern and recognition.

  18. I’m late with any substantive comment because I just FINALLY had the chance to watch the documentary. Well done, and absolutely had an agenda… but one that was well researched and well articulated. It also prompted me to do some more research where I learned that there is video footage of Dawn Brancheau’s death that Sea World fought an extensive legal battle to keep from releasing – so it has not been released. I do not believe it should be on Youtube or anything like that, but there are experts in orca behaviour who would benefit from knowing exactly what happened.

    It also reminded me of the sheer joy that I experienced as a young child on a family vacation to Sea World. The orcas captivated and fascinated me in a way that Mickey Mouse did not. However, I also remember an explanation given that the whale’s fin was flopped over because they did not get to swim enough in their pools to keep the muscles strong. Even at 8 years old, I remember an uncomfortable feeling about that. But at that age, I lacked the critical thinking skills to really do anything about that feeling.

    So even having experienced childhood joy at seeing orcas at Sea World… I still do not believe we should keep these animals in captivity. I am not 100% against all zoos and wildlife parks, I agree they have a valid place in education and in making people think and care about animals. But I think we need to look on a species by species basis. There are some animals that seem to do well enough in captivity (especially where the individual was injured or otherwise cannot be rehabiltated to the wild). But where there is animal that we cannot keep in captivity without serious detriment to that animal’s health and well being, then we should not keep that animal in captivity. Orcas are one such animal.

    I can say this in part because I’ve also had the pleasure of seeing orcas in the wild off the coast of British Columbia. There is a huge difference between seeing a pod of wild orcas swimming in their native habitat versus the Shamu show at Sea World but they are both amazing experiences. I say this to point out that even if there were no orcas at Sea World, this doesn’t mean no one will ever see an orca again. Instead of taking the family to Sea World for a show, take your family to British Columbia and take a tour with a reputable, responsible whale watching operator. See these animals how they were meant to live, rather than doing tricks in a concrete pool.

    • …take your family to British Columbia and take a tour with a reputable…

      Gosh, ChestnutMare, that sounds like you have an agenda. You don’t work for BC Tourism, do you? *beg*

      I did some research on dorsal fin collapse and there are a number of reasons for it to happen, but yes, not being able to swim and dive is a main reason.

      • Haha, I’m sure Mercedes is being sarcastic, but in case I came across as a bit of cheerleader to anyone else, I have no connections to the B.C. tourism industry. Just trying to get out ahead of the the idea that if we didn’t have orcas kept in places like Sea World, no one would ever get to see them. Sea World is not a cheap destination, they are not offering a public service.

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