Killer whales, Politics and Animal-Rights.

I am sure that this animal-rights led pantomime will continue to roll on. Unfortunately, I am minded to think that the only people who will profit from this are lawyers and the least likely are going to be the killer whales and their care at SeaWorld. 

Perhaps it should be a given that politicians should be very wary of getting involved in areas of science where they have very little or no specialist knowledge. This is particularly true in the area of animal welfare – which actually can be considered a science that can be objectively studied. This situation has become even more complex since the inception of the philosophical concept of animal-rights which as many have pointed out bears little relationship to issues of animal welfare.

A recent case in point is the continuing controversy regarding the SeaWorld's zoological parks and their care and husbandry of killer whales. This has been exacerbated by the much promoted film Blackfish which those who have regularly read the comments and blogs on this site will be very familiar with. The problems with this particular film have been discussed elsewhere and therefore I will not revisit old ground in this particular article.

The latest developments in the saga of the animal-rights lobby groups particular the organisation People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PeTA) is an ongoing campaign to stop the SeaWorld Park developing larger habitats for their killer whales. This recently culminated in this organisation and its supporters lobbying the California Coastal Commission who have jurisdiction on allowing planning permission for SeaWorld's to undertake the new killer whale exhibit in San Diego. The resultant current outcome of the Commission's ruling aptly demonstrates the concerns regarding politics and animal welfare alluded to at the beginning of this article.

First, the California Coastal Commission is there to undertake stewardship of coastal resources in California and is primarily involved in making sure that planning decisions do not negatively impact on the environment. However, they are not there to make moral or other judgements on how organisations or businesses operate beyond that point. For them to give permission for the extension of the killer whale habitat at SeaWorld's but then bind it to issues regarding the husbandry of their animals - the cessation of their killer whale breeding programme and a banning of movements of animals within zoological facilities - is clearly not within their legal remit. For those people who do not understand this position a way to think of it is this: would it be acceptable for this same Commission to grant permission to allow the building of a new carnivore exhibit at San Diego zoo or Wild Animal Park and then turned round to that institution and tell them that they cannot breed these animals or move them to other facilities. This would be particularly pertinent if the animals concerned were also part of an international breeding programme.

Clearly it was the actions of the lobbying of PeTA that seems to have forced the Commissions hand in introducing these Draconian amendments to the planning permission of SeaWorld's new killer whale habitat. Interestingly, the same set of criteria was forcibly imposed on the publicly owned Vancouver Aquarium last year. The board that oversees the aquariums operation tried to initially ban the display cetaceans at the aquarium and when this failed tried to force a ruling that banned animal breeding and movement between other zoological facilities. Again this was a group of local politicians who had been influenced or had sympathies with the animal-rights movement. Fortunately, the animal management team at the Vancouver Aquarium challenge this ruling and it was overturned.

A second point to ponder is that PeTA and their associated protesters – who lobbied at the Commission meeting – have all publicly made declarations they wish to acquire the killer whales at SeaWorld's to be takento a sanctuary (zoo) run by themselves or their associates. Therefore, it would seem that here we may well have a legal conflict of interest insomuch that these animal-rights lobby groups and their supporters are actually taking action against a "business competitor" e.g. SeaWorld's which may well be at the very least legally dubious. This seems to have been something that the Commission has not fully realised.

I am sure that this animal-rights led pantomime will continue to roll on. Unfortunately, I am minded to think that the only people who will profit from this are lawyers and the least likely are going to be the killer whales and their care at SeaWorld. 

As a final thought, because we are now seeing a considerable amount of blurring of lines between a political ideology of animal-rights and the realities of animal welfare – not helped by the involvement of naive politicians – we are going to depressingly see considerably more examples of this nonsense in years to come.

Update: 15 October 2015.
SeaWorld announced that it will challenge  ruling that banned the company from breeding captive killer whales at its San Diego park.