Day 334 5/25/14: Empty the Tanks 2014

Yesterday’s Empty the Tanks protest at $eaWorld San Diego was a resounding success. Since 1989, I’ve attended demonstrations ranging from anti-vivisection rallies to marches through Beverly Hills on Fur-Free-Friday, I have never seen so many “normal” families turning out to support animals. I’m not saying that demonstrations are usually populated only by frothing, paint-throwing extremists—far from it. But yesterday’s crowd, though enthusiastic were quite well-behaved, so much so that the event organizers had to exort them through bullhorns with a COME ON! to sustain chants of “Boycott Seaworld!”

The crowd of over 700 held signs reading THANKS, BUT NO TANKS (a personal favorite of mine) included many children who sat on the grass with large black markers drawing whales inside goldfish bowls with awkwardly incisive declarations like: SEA WORLD? MORE LIKE POOL WORLD! Kids, of course, are all over youtube speaking out against orca captivity and getting busted for protesting the SeaWorld float at the Rose Parade, so I wasn’t completely surprised. It just felt good to know see that despite all of SeaWorld’s toothless arguments to the contrary, this is no fringe movement of “Blackfish”brainwashed weirdos, but evidence of a major shift in consciousness about animals in captivity and animal rights in general.

As I stood with my friends Connie and Gail on the side of the road, I chatted with Cassidy who’d driven all the way from Phoenix to attend the protest. A middle school speech teacher, Cassidy talked about finding ways to integrate Blackfish into her class discussions, and how she’s educated some kids about the reality of SeaWorld. Across the street, Sea Shepherd volunteers handed leaflets to families entering SeaWorld and I thought of late summer when the circus would return to Anaheim with its chained and swaying elephants and the tigers pacing in their cages. Beyond the road, I could see the tall turquoise tower of the SeaWorld roller coaster.

“Isn’t it weird,” Connie said, “to think that beyond that ugly parking lot beyond the roller coaster, there are actually whales?”

How surreal and nauseating to know that beneath the shrieks of delight from the park rides, beneath the surface of the water,  killer whales were swimming in pools. Maybe they were blessed out or hallucinating on the valium dispensed to them to deal with the stress of captivity or the grief of having their children sold. Maybe they were on antibiotics to heal the infections they suffered when other whales attacked them. Maybe they were just floating, waiting for the same stupid show to begin again.

And I thought for the millionth time, of the words of the activist who’d gone undercover at the circus, where the elephants spent 23 hours a day in chains who traveled from town to town in box cars, who suffered cigarette burns and hooks and baseball bats: “I still don’t know how they conceive of time.”

Things don’t change fast enough for me. I want revolutions, epiphanies, coups. I don’t want incremental shifts in human consciousness or one step forward and three back. But then there’s the persistent miracle of Blackfish, the children with their signs, the crowds of activists that keep growing. It feels good to be a small part of that change, to feel it actually happening.


Day 330 5/21/14: Empty the Tanks: Worldwide Protests for Captive Orcas (& Others)

empty-the-tanksSorry for the late sharing, but I just found out about the Empty the Tanks protests happening all over the world this weekend!

I’ll be going returning to SeaWorld San Diego. Click here to find an event at at marine park or zoo near you. Please share with fellow activists, Blackfish fans, and kids who instinctively sense that SeaWorld is a bunch of crap.

Oh, and Taco Bell has severed their relationship with Seaworld. All hail the power of Blackfish!

Day 138 11/10/13: Notes from a Protest: SeaWorld San Diego

1467349_701791979831073_897859947_nA pretty mellow (125 people??) protest at SeaWorld. Hotter today than the protest in September. The weather in Southern California keeps getting warmer and weirder as the department stores fill with Christmas decorations earlier every year.

San Diego high school teacher Anthony Palmiotto, whose Cinematic Arts students made the balanced, yet confrontational  film “Dear Seaworld,” walked among the protestors scribbling notes followed by three young protégés with cameras. “They’re going to be great filmmakers!” Palmiotto enthused. Seeing Palmiotto and his young film crew felt good, since my friend Carolyn and I had been talking about how to get students involved in activism without offering extra credit.

But the youth of America sure turned out today–from the bohemian kids with shimmering pink hair and vegan creeper shoes to the cute chipper girls who handed anti-SeaWorld flyers to admiring guys in 4×4 trucks and the changing roster of young activists donned the hot, velvety killer whale outfit.  These sweltering ambassadors danced as spiritedly as anyone possibly could in a suffocating Orca suit. They held signs that read TURN BACK NOW. SEE BLACKFISH. “It’s about a hundred degrees in there,” one girl revealed, briefly removing the velvety black and white head and swigging Gatorade. “But  the whales have it a lot worse.”

Day 126 10/29/13: Shark Miscellany #3

hqdefaultA hodgepodge of shark/marine welfare news & oddities:

1.Check Out Five Designs Inspired by Ocean Predators

2. Australia: Please keep rejecting OCEARCH! 

3. Greenpeace Serves “Shark fin Soup” to protest New Zealand’s finning laws

4. Death at Seaworld author David Kirby on CNN Vs. Seaworld

5. Would you like to see a shark throw up? Okay, here you go! 

Day 117 10/20/13: Sunday Slacktivism: 5 Easy Ways to Help the Oceans

Large open water fish, like this Northern blue...

Large open water fish, like this Northern bluefin tuna, are oily fish. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here are 5 quick and dandy ways to help the ocean and its animals:

1. Still fuming over Blackfish? Free Lolita the Orca from 43 years in captivity. Sign here.

2. A click a day helps fund Oceana’s sea-saving campaigns.

3. Overfishing, radiation, global warming and overfishing are putting unbelievable pressure on the sea and the animals that live there. Sign Greenpeace’s petition to designate 40% of the world’s oceans as protected marine reserves.

4. Bluefin Tuna are seriously overfished. Urge the National Marine Fisheries Service to take more specific measures to help them.

5. Two words: The Cove.  Ask Japan to stop killing dolphins.

Day 90 9/23/13: New Beginnings & The End of Half-Assed Veganism

After “Sharkwater” ended, I talked with my students about Paul Watson’s remark that major social change always begin with a handful of people, not a miraculous awakening of the masses. “I think we need to do more than protest, though,” a student remarked wistfully. I agreed.  She’d pinpointed a restlessness in me to start something, to go beyond teaching–although today this section, which had felt a bit stilted, became a bit more alive.

“Why don’t classes talk more about things like this?” another student asked. “Things” like the fact that we are living through a mass extinction. On the way out, a young woman asked for advice: she had to give an informative speech. Should she talk about Sea Shepherd’s mission or the plight of sharks? As they gathered their books I overheard a few others talking “Have you seen “Blackfish”? It’s really sad.” I liked that they were talking. Sadness is a beginning. Anger is a beginning.

After the class had ended, I thought about how sharks have shaped the evolution of other animals in the sea, and how they have shaped my evolution as well. Fear and charisma. I think my students would find me weird or sentimental for saying so, but sharks are to me like strange, ancient Gods.

And what should we call the brutality and waste of shark finning but a mortal sin?

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Day 68: 9/1/13: SeaWorld Protest

Driving down to the Seaworld, I stopped just south of the weird double-breasted San Onofre nuke plant to take in an ocean view.  As I pulled into the rest area, I saw what looked like the Partridge Family’s multi-colored bus dominating the tiny beachside lot.  Unlike the Partridge’s squeaky clean pattern, each of this bus’s colored squares contained a crazy religious messages:



The prophet/ driver soon appeared at the driver’s side window, shirtless under his overalls and sporting a long, slightly stained white beard. He thrust a Ritz cracker box toward me.

“Donations fer picture-takin!”

I threw a dollar in. “Thanks PJESUSBULBrecious!” he exclaimed, withdrawing into his mobile temple. I have to admit, it’s been a long time since anyone called me “precious” and perhaps the subsequent warmth I felt wasn’t simply the blinding California sun.

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Day 24: 7/19/2013: See BLACKFISH

English: Tilikum during a ' performance at .

Tilikum during a ‘ performance at . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I loved chatting with Sharksavers about the upcoming JAWS benefit, but what really defined my day was seeing  “Blackfish” the documentary about orcas in captivity.  When I left the Arclight theatre I remembered something an activist once said about elephants in the circus. He’d been detailing the tedium experienced by these intelligent creatures that are chained for 20-some odd hours a day: “I still can’t figure out how they conceive of time.”

What of  Tilikum, the killer whale featured prominently in “Blackfish”, an emotionally damaged animal who has killed three people, but who still performs for the delighted crowds in SeaWorld Orlando?  While my days unfold with routine, but also stimulation, freedom, possibility, Tilikum with his defeated, collapsed dorsal fin performs humiliating tricks, swims in circles in a swimming pool, and listens to the  delighted shrieks of school children through the glass.  I imagine the only pleasurable moment in this whale’s life is when SeaWorld employees collect his sperm  to produce more calves that will also be wrenched from their mothers if the price is right.

Torn from his mother at age three, does Tilikum ever dream of the brief time he knew limitless seas? Beyond frustration and despair, could these murders he committed be a subconscious wish for the ultimate punishment/freedom– his own death?

I feel haunted. And I should. Susan Sontag once said “Let the images of atrocity haunt us.”  Sontag argued that we shouldn’t turn away from pictures of war or death–all the images that remind us of what men do to other men. Nor should we ignore the evidence of what human beings do to non-human creatures. See “Blackfish.”