When I was looking at doing my thesis, I was reading a lot on ethology, the scientific and objective study of animal behavior. We are all animals; that much is very clear to me. That being said, it always strikes me as something off kilter when people try to “humanize” animals. To assign certain reactions is understandable because the social hierarchy of animals and other elements are part of the day-to-day interaction. But things like assigning “smiling” to animal behavior just make me sit back a little and ask, “really?”
So when 8-year-old Jillian Thomas was filmed by her parents at SeaWorld Orlando, feeding dolphins, I wasn’t surprised at the outcome.
Apparently, everyone was told constantly that they were not to raise the little white trays that held the pieces of fish. When she had no more food, however, Jillian raised her tray to hand it to someone to throw away. In that moment, a dolphin came out of the water and went for the tray, biting her hand as a result.
Now I see various problems with this:
1. The parents argue that they were told that they shouldn’t raise the trays but were never told why.
2. Dolphins are normally taken from the wild and trained to perform in shows. The only successfully bred dolphin in captivity is the bottlenose dolphin.
3. Children are allowed the responsibility to feed said animal.
If you are given instructions before you participate in an activity that you have never done before but the person who tells you has, why would you take the instruction lightly and explain NOT doing it with “I wasn’t aware of what would happen”? Especially if your children were involved?
The parents did not know and that should be recognized. But I wouldn’t take my child to feed dolphins just as I wouldn’t leave my child in a barn with a horse. I don’t know if a horse has had previous trauma and doesn’t like something about the child (smell, noises, movements). We don’t speak the same language.
Case in point: I speak the same language as most of the people on this continent: doesn’t mean I understand them (especially the menfolk).
However, animals have their own ways of reacting. Take the Tilikum incident. Remember him? The Orca that in 2010 scalped, drowned and dismembered SeaWorld trainer, Dawn Brancheau? The same Orca who was also involved in two other deaths? If you factor in the numbers of times people have been attacked by captive whales as opposed to whales in the wild, the numbers are staggering.
I’m not a zoologist nor a properly schooled ethologist but I have observed animals in their habitats and understand their reactions to a certain stimuli.
If aggressive actions occur more in a synthetically created habitat than it does in the wild, wouldn’t that be cause to think twice?