In 2010, Dawn Brancheau, a Seaworld trainer, died after an attack from Tilikum, an orca whale at Seaworld and one of the San Diego park’s main attractions. The documentary Blackfish tells the story of Tilikum and his long-term trainer Brancheau, and the psychological trauma and stress the whales in the water park endure while in captivity. Blackfish also describes Tilikum’s journey to Seaworld, and how the multi-billion dollar animal park industry runs despite pressure from animal rights groups to shut down. Brancheau, who had 17 years of experience, was feeding Tilikum and having bonding time with him when Tilikum suddenly dragged her into the water and violently tossed her around. Brancheau ultimately drowned and died from horrible injuries.
Death at Seaworld author David Kirby told CNN that Seaworld blamed the trainer for her death. Following her death, the amusement park company insisted that Brancheau shouldn’t have put herself in such a dangerous position and allowed her ponytail to come close to Tilikum’s mouth, which prompted him to drag her into the water.
After four Seaworld employees said that the trainer completely followed protocol, Kirby concluded that the trainer’s death was not her fault. The reason for the attack was due to the whale’s stress from being held in captivity.
“I’ve spoken to scientists who tell me that they believe there are signs these animals are stressed out…in the wild we don’t get up close with killer whales, it only happens at Seaworld,” he said. Normally, killer whales in the wild do not attack humans, only when they’re away from their homes, families, and friends, have there been incidents.
While Kirby and the consulted scientists believe animals should not perform in animal entertainment shows, English circus trainer, Thomas Chipperfield, believes otherwise. Chopperfield runs a show called “”An Evening with Lions and Tigers,” where he trains animals to perform tricks in front of a live audience. The professional believes that because the animals have regular health checks and are properly trained, there is no issue with them performing in circus shows.
“I’ve never been worried working with my animals, I’ve always respected what they are and remembered what they are when working with them, and I don’t force them into performing actions they’re not comfortable doing, that’s not the way I work with my animals. The way I introduce them to new actions is on a gradual basis,” Chipperfield said.
He also claims that the general public approves of the entertainment form (despite what the polls say), because otherwise, he wouldn’t be able to do what he does. As long as the animals are well cared for, there is no issue with using animals as entertainment value, he said.
Below are a few pros and cons of having animals perform in circus shows:
- Animals provide entertainment/amusement
- They can be used as animal education
- Animals are kept safe/ healthy with regimented food and medication that they
wouldn’t get in the wild.
- Anyone could have access to an exhibit, which could connect people to animals, and serve as educational lessons about animals
- Animals are forced to do the tricks that do not come naturally and are the result of endless hours of training and sometimes abuse
- They’re kept in cages, or (shallow tanks) while circuses travel
- Animals are taken away from their families and become lonely and sad
- Animals sometimes suffer from abuse (some trainers whip and beat animals)
- Not much is learned by watching animals perform tricks that they’ve been taught by trainers, the best way to learn about animals is to see them in their natural habitat
- The acts could be a public safety hazard because the animals are unpredictable and often become violent or aggressive towards people as they experience such harsh conditions. People could get hurt
- They live in close confinement and have restricted movement, which restricts
natural behaviors and leads to animals living with other creatures they shouldn’t be exposed to. This could be dangerous for the animals who aren’t used to certain predators.
Animal entertainment shows have long been part of our entertainment. It’s not only the spectators who benefit from these shows. The ticket profits can also help the economy as sales bring visitors to a city. Park owners also benefit by making more than enough to support themselves and their business. Now, there aren’t as many animal circus acts in the world, because animal rights protestors and groups have worked hard to protect the animals from being abused. Peta is the largest animal rights group in the world and they urge everyone not to purchase Seaworld tickets, visit the parks, or support it in any way. Peta protesters claim that captivity (whether at Seaworld or in a circus act) “kills these animals, and they deserve to be safely returned to their home while still benefiting from humans’ care for as long as they might need to.”