Day 342 6/12/14: Tell Groupon to Drop SeaWorld & Ringling Brothers

Please sign this petition to ask Groupon to stop offering deals to the circus and to SeaWorld.

We’re all well-versed in the evils of SeaWorld by now, but in case you didn’t know, this is how Ringling Brothers starts training its elephants. (Baseball bats and lit cigarettes are not pictured)

Now for something uplifting: Click here to see Sunder the elephant in his beautiful new home!



Day 341 6/1/14: Two Weird Orca Stories for a Sunday

This first story is about how orcas around the Farallon Islands up by San Francisco keep the local great white population in check. Nature is brutal, and orcas are smart, dispatching our heroes with “stuns” and “karate chops.”

The second piece is about the World Wildlife Fund’s support for SeaWorld. While I recognize that it’s impossible not to be a hypocrite in this world (To cite one example out of many in my life, I oppose industrialized fishing and factory farming and yet participate in by buying food for my cats), some of these ethical conflicts are really glaring and galling. It’s good for SeaWorld’s image to support the WWF, but how can the WWF fight to protect the vanishing habitat of wild animals with money from an organization that keeps whales in swimming pools? If you’re not too burned out, please sign the petition asking the WWF to end its relationship with SeaWorld. images-4


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 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 65 8/29/13: Ron Burgundy & The Politics of Captivity

Ron's SportsCenter audition.

Ron’s SportsCenter audition. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While editing my shark syllabus,  I realized I ordered a textbook for my class penned by OCEARCH supporter Greg Skomal. Ugh. The only positive is that the  chapter on shark tagging, replete with pictures of sharks being landed on decks with no running water over their gills, and assorted disturbing “research” shots–one of which shows a a live sandbar shark being held upside down with a pipe down its throat–gives me a perfect way to explain the “fishermen posing as scientist” mission of OCEARCH and hopefully encourage  some student action. Sigh.

Signed a petition asking the producers of “Anchorman 2” to nix footage of Seaworld from their new movie. Apparently in the sequel, Ron Burgundy’s career has sunk to such an abysmal low that he’s become an announcer at Seaworld.

I loved “Anchorman,” and appreciate that at least that stupid hellhole is the butt of a joke, but why give it any publicity at all?

In related news, I RSVP’d to a protest at SeaWorld San Diego this Sunday. Can’t wait!

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.”