Wednesday, April 06, 2016

SeaWorld Slaps Its New Orca Allies In The Face With Latest Lying Ads

If you watch much cable-network teevee, it’s a statistical near-certainty you’ve seen this ad sometime in the past week, because SeaWorld has been flooding the cables with it. Here’s the script:
Some say, free the whales. For them, nothing else is acceptable. But nothing could be worse for the whales. Most of the orcas at SeaWorld were born here. Sending them into the wild wouldn’t be noble. It could be fatal.

When they freed Keiko, the killer whale of movie fame, the effort was a failure, and he perished. But we also understand that times have changed.

Today, people are concerned about the world’s largest animals like never before. So [sounding slightly annoyed], we too must change.

That’s why the orcas in our care will be the last generation at SeaWorld. There will be no more breeding. We’re also phasing out orca theatrical shows. They’ll continue to receive the highest standard of care available anywhere. And guests can come to see them simply being their majestic selves – inspiring the next generation of people to love them as you do.
Fortunately, I resisted the impulse to hurl my pizza at the screen when watching this for the eighth time. Not sure what would have happened on the ninth had it still been within reach.

Those of us who, early on in this paradigm shift, were inclined to be generous and give SeaWorld credit for having learned to change with the times can be forgiven if this ad induces shudders of déjà vu all over again, because this is just classic SeaWorld cultism reasserting itself: Making straw boogeymen out of the very animal-rights activists you’ve supposedly just allied yourself with, peddling in half-truths and outright fictions, all delivered with a dash of snotty, privileged superiority.

Indeed, you know that it had to have had the folks at Humane Society of the U.S. – SeaWorld’s allies in their new, more “sensitive” approach to handling their captive orcas, the great upshot of which is that SeaWorld will indeed cease breeding its captive stock – had to have been reaching for their heartburn medications, not to mention their Rolodexes, upon seeing this ad.

Already, HSUS has been under a lot of internal fire within the animal-rights community for having aligned itself with SeaWorld in this effort to help the company reform its image – Paul Watson of Sea Shepherd was unsparing, calling HSUS chief Wayne Pacelle SeaWorld’s “Judas.” Now it looked as if the SeaWorld public-relations team was intentionally lobbing uncooked eggs onto Pacelle’s face. Stinky, lying eggs.

First of all, let’s be clear: Not a single animal-rights organization involved in the orca-captivity issue advocates simply “freeing the whales.” What all of these organizations, and certainly HSUS, advocate is a combined program that works to reintroduce wild-born orcas (there are six of them in SeaWorld’s inventory) back into large seapens in their native waters, and to place captive-born orcas in whale “sanctuaries” that give the whales room to roam and explore a complex natural environment while still providing them with human care.

Reducing this thoughtful and scientifically sound concept to a mere caricature of “free the whales” is, however, typical of SeaWorld’s response in all of its dealings with animal-rights activists – namely, to make them out to be a bunch of “extremists” and “radicals.”

And throwing the Keiko story out there as a “failure” was a particular slap in the face to the HSUS, since they had been in charge of the orca when he died in 2003.

Certainly, there was a rueful quality to Pacelle’s post at the HSUS blog defending his organization’s record in its handling of Keiko, not to mention the concept of seapens as rehabilitation facilities for captive orcas.
I understand the impulse among so many advocates to call upon SeaWorld to remove orcas from their enclosures and allow them to live in sea pens. I’ve long talked about that idea, too. We have quite a history with that issue, given that the HSUS was centrally involved in the Keiko project more than 15 years ago and put a million dollars into his release into sea pens and eventually into the wild. Keiko lived in those environments for five years. In terms of improving his individual welfare, I believe the project was a success. Many others, especially the folks at SeaWorld and others from the zoo and aquarium worlds, consider it a failure because Keiko never achieved full independence. But I think everyone – on both sides of this divide — agrees it’s an issue that comes with tremendous challenges and costs and risks and warrants more careful study. It’s probably further complicated by the biographies of the whales at SeaWorld, since all but four of the nearly 30 whales are captive-born, and the few that were wild-born have been in captivity for decades.
This is being kind, and then some. The reality is that Keiko had been doomed by an intransigent and ultimately uncaring marine-park industry to essentially rot to death in his pool in Mexico City, because they feared the papilloma virus he had contracted there might spread to their collections. It was the intervention of animal-rights activists that rescued him, quite successfully, and gained him seven more years of good life, superior to anything experienced by any other captive orcas.

As I explained awhile back:
If the marine-park industry had had its way, Keiko never would have been moved out of Reino Aventura and almost certainly would have died there by 1996, perhaps 1997 at the latest. Period.

Keiko in Oregon, 1996
If you go back to 1994 and '95, when the "Free Keiko" campaign was just getting underway, it had been made painfully clear by the entire marine-park industry that Keiko was not going to be leaving Reino Aventura, the tiny, cramped Mexico City pool where he had been held since 1985, anytime soon. None of the other parks wanted him because of his papilloma-virus infection and his rapidly declining health. And they actively sabotaged an agreement between activists and Reino Aventura to place him in a seapen in Iceland.
Instead, the campaign successfully built a new pool for him in Oregon, bought him from Reino Aventura, and moved him there in January 1996. He was moved a little more than a year after that to the Iceland seapen.

And he wound up living a good life up until late 2003. So the campaign to free Keiko bought him more than seven more years of life.

And they were pretty damned good years, especially for a large male captive orca whose previous life had mainly been stuck inside tiny concrete pools. His pool in Oregon was the nicest orca pool in the world, and he regained his health there, losing the papiloma virus and gaining large amounts of weight. His Icelandic seapen was even better; he grew healthy and strong there, and relearned how to hunt on his own quite efficiently.

Keiko was functionally free beginning in the summer of 1999, allowed to roam at will out of his seapen, but returning voluntarily until that day in August 2002 when he hooked up with a pod of wild orcas and never came back, showing up in Norway instead and reestablishing contact with humans.

The Keiko experiment was not a failure except in reaching a final goal that the industry had a direct hand in ensuring was never reached -- namely, a positive identification of his familial pod so he could be reunited with them. What we learned from Keiko is that such identification is vital to a complete reintegration.

But in every other regard, this was a successful reintroduction to the wild. He learned to feed himself. He was independent. He clearly appeared to be healthy and happy, right up until just before he died. And the lung infection he died from may well have been contracted in captivity anyway.
Here’s what Paul Spong, the great orca scientist, had to say about the Keiko saga:
“My belief is that Keiko would have needed direct contact with members of his immediate family and community in order to fully integrate back into a life in the wild. That did not happen in Iceland, and it is very unlikely that it would have happened in Norway. However, this does not mean that it could not happen, given the appropriate circumstances. Had more been known about Keiko’s social background, it would have been far easier to put him in contact with members of his family. I do not believe he met his mother or any siblings or close cousins while he was swimming freely in Icelandic waters. He did meet and interact with other orcas, but they were not his kin, so he did not join them permanently. That said, Keiko did get to experience the feel and sounds of the ocean once again, after being surrounded by barren concrete walls for most of his life, and that, I believe, must have come as a profound relief to him. For me, the simple fact that Keiko died as a free whale spells success for the grand project that brought him home. Deniers will deny, spinners will spin, but they cannot erase or alter this truth.”
And one more note: During the seven years (1996-2003) that Keiko was enjoying the good life in Oregon and Iceland and Norway, under the care of animal activists, a total of six orcas died at SeaWorld. If SeaWorld and its minions want to imply that the kind of care that Keiko received “killed him,” that’s an accusation that can be hurled straight back at them sixfold.

One can understand the HSUS feeling the need to troop along, despite this obvious public-relations slap in the face from SeaWorld, in maintaining the alliance to help make the captive orcas’ lives better. That no doubt is why Pacelle defends SeaWorld in spite of the churlishness:
While The HSUS is committed to looking at the options that exist for captive animals, I want to encourage animal advocates to celebrate the major progress that SeaWorld has made, as we’ve done, and to inspire the company to take additional positive action across a broad swath of animal protection concerns. What the company has committed to is quite extraordinary, and I urge every advocate to take stock of the unprecedented set of pledges SeaWorld has made – many of them unimaginable even among the core group of advocates and organizations who have been demanding reform for so long.
That makes a certain amount of sense, but nonetheless, no one will be blamed if they continue to be skeptical that SeaWorld will ever really “get” why orcas don’t belong in captivity. Because they obviously don’t now. They’re just finally facing up to the realities of their bottom line, and their remaining cultural impulse is to keep sniping at their critics rather than ever acknowledging those critics were right all along.

What’s also obvious is that Joel Manby has a long row to hoe when it comes to changing the culture within SeaWorld to one that actually understands the bigger picture, and genuinely places the welfare of the whales above their own predilections and bottom lines. The ghost of Fred Jacobs clearly still haunts their public-relations department, so that might be a good place to start making some cultural changes too.

In the meantime, we’ll all be forgiven if we continue to watch SeaWorld make these changes with nothing but deep skepticism. This response ad from PETA pretty much says it all.

Sunday, April 03, 2016

Confederate Heritage Month: It Was About Slavery

It is one of the oldest, hoariest, and most reliable tropes wielded by defenders of the Confederacy: the Civil War wasn't about slavery, it was about "states rights." That's what they actually used to teach us in high school as part of our standard education.

It is a lie. All anyone has to do is go back and survey the original declarations of secession by the various Southern states -- as well as the many speeches on behalf of secession by various Confederacy advocates -- to get a clear understanding of what motivated them.

It was slavery. And white supremacy. And very little else.

The only mention, or discussion, of "states rights" in all of this is actually pointed the other direction: The Confederates were in fact agitated extremely by Northern states who were asserting their states rights by refusing to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which required all non-slave-holding states to return any and all former (usually escaped) slaves who were living within their borders. The fact that the federal government did so little to enforce the act was, in the view of the Confederates, proof positive that the entire federal compact was irrevocably broken.

Here. You'll get a better idea of all this if you scroll through the complete collection of the various Declarations of Secession by the Confederate states.

Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery-- the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin.  ....

... It has nullified the Fugitive Slave Law in almost every free State in the Union, and has utterly broken the compact which our fathers pledged their faith to maintain.

It advocates negro equality, socially and politically, and promotes insurrection and incendiarism in our midst. ...

The people of Georgia having dissolved their political connection with the Government of the United States of America, present to their confederates and the world the causes which have led to the separation. For the last ten years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery. They have endeavored to weaken our security, to disturb our domestic peace and tranquility, and persistently refused to comply with their express constitutional obligations to us in reference to that property, and by the use of their power in the Federal Government have striven to deprive us of an equal enjoyment of the common Territories of the Republic. This hostile policy of our confederates has been pursued with every circumstance of aggravation which could arouse the passions and excite the hatred of our people, and has placed the two sections of the Union for many years past in the condition of virtual civil war. ...

While the subordination and the political and social inequality of the African race was fully conceded by all, it was plainly apparent that slavery would soon disappear from what are now the non-slave-holding States of the original thirteen. The opposition to slavery was then, as now, general in those States and the Constitution was made with direct reference to that fact. But a distinct abolition party was not formed in the United States for more than half a century after the Government went into operation. The main reason was that the North, even if united, could not control both branches of the Legislature during any portion of that time. Therefore such an organization must have resulted either in utter failure or in the total overthrow of the Government. The material prosperity of the North was greatly dependent on the Federal Government; that of the South not at all. ...

... Why? Because by their declared principles and policy they have outlawed $3,000,000,000 of our property in the common territories of the Union; put it under the ban of the Republic in the States where it exists and out of the protection of Federal law everywhere; because they give sanctuary to thieves and incendiaries who assail it to the whole extent of their power, in spite of their most solemn obligations and covenants; because their avowed purpose is to subvert our society and subject us not only to the loss of our property but the destruction of ourselves, our wives, and our children, and the desolation of our homes, our altars, and our firesides....
A depiction of South Carolina's secession convention

South Carolina:
... The right of property in slaves was recognized by giving to free persons distinct political rights, by giving them the right to represent, and burthening them with direct taxes for three-fifths of their slaves; by authorizing the importation of slaves for twenty years; and by stipulating for the rendition of fugitives from labor.

We affirm that these ends for which this Government was instituted have been defeated, and the Government itself has been made destructive of them by the action of the non-slaveholding States. Those States have assume the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions; and have denied the rights of property established in fifteen of the States and recognized by the Constitution; they have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to eloign the property of the citizens of other States. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection.

A banner from South Carolina secessionists.
For twenty-five years this agitation has been steadily increasing, until it has now secured to its aid the power of the common Government. Observing the *forms* [emphasis in the original] of the Constitution, a sectional party has found within that Article establishing the Executive Department, the means of subverting the Constitution itself. A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery. He is to be entrusted with the administration of the common Government, because he has declared that that "Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free," and that the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction.

This sectional combination for the submersion of the Constitution, has been aided in some of the States by elevating to citizenship, persons who, by the supreme law of the land, are incapable of becoming citizens; and their votes have been used to inaugurate a new policy, hostile to the South, and destructive of its beliefs and safety.

On the 4th day of March next, this party will take possession of the Government. It has announced that the South shall be excluded from the common territory, that the judicial tribunals shall be made sectional, and that a war must be waged against slavery until it shall cease throughout the United States.

The guaranties of the Constitution will then no longer exist; the equal rights of the States will be lost. The slaveholding States will no longer have the power of self-government, or self-protection, and the Federal Government will have become their enemy. ...
We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable.

That in this free government *all white men are and of right ought to be entitled to equal civil and political rights* [emphasis in the original]; that the servitude of the African race, as existing in these States, is mutually beneficial to both bond and free, and is abundantly authorized and justified by the experience of mankind, and the revealed will of the Almighty Creator, as recognized by all Christian nations; while the destruction of the existing relations between the two races, as advocated by our sectional enemies, would bring inevitable calamities upon both and desolation upon the fifteen slave-holding states.

By the secession of six of the slave-holding States, and the certainty that others will speedily do likewise, Texas has no alternative but to remain in an isolated connection with the North, or unite her destinies with the South.
The people of Virginia, in their ratification of the Constitution of the United States of America, adopted by them in Convention on the twenty-fifth day of June, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty-eight, having declared that the powers granted under the said Constitution were derived from the people of the United States, and might be resumed whensoever the same should be perverted to their injury and oppression; and the Federal Government, having perverted said powers, not only to the injury of the people of Virginia, but to the oppression of the Southern Slaveholding States.
Upon the principles then announced by Mr. Lincoln and his leading friends, we are bound to expect his administration to be conducted. Hence it is, that in high places, among the Republi­can party, the election of Mr. Lincoln is hailed, not simply as it change of Administration, but as the inauguration of new princi­ples, and a new theory of Government, and even as the downfall of slavery. Therefore it is that the election of Mr. Lincoln cannot be regarded otherwise than a solemn declaration, on the part of a great majority of the Northern people, of hostility to the South, her property and her institutions—nothing less than an open declaration of war—for the triumph of this new theory of Government destroys the property of the South, lays waste her fields, and inaugurates all the horrors of a San Domingo servile insurrection, consigning her citizens to assassinations, and her wives and daughters to pollution and violation, to gratify the lust of half-civilized Africans.  
You can also get a clear picture by reading the Southern press's editorials of the time, such as this one from the Richmond newspaper:
‘The people of the South,’ says a contemporary, ‘are not fighting for slavery but for independence.’ Let us look into this matter. It is an easy task, we think, to show up this new-fangled heresy — a heresy calculated to do us no good, for it cannot deceive foreign statesmen nor peoples, nor mislead any one here nor in Yankeeland. . . Our doctrine is this: WE ARE FIGHTING FOR INDEPENDENCE THAT OUR GREAT AND NECESSARY DOMESTIC INSTITUTION OF SLAVERY SHALL BE PRESERVED, and for the preservation of other institutions of which slavery is the groundwork.

Or you can read the speeches, such as this one by Alexander Stephens of Virginia, at the various secession sessions:
The great truth, I repeat, upon which our system rests, is the inferiority of the African. The enemies of our institutions ignore this truth. They set out with the assumption that the races are equal; that the negro is equal to the white man. If their premises were correct, their conclusions would be legitimate. But their premises being false, their conclusions are false also. Most of that fanatical spirit at the North on this subject, which in its zeal without knowledge, would upturn our society and lay waste our fair country, springs from this false reasoning. Hence so much misapplied sympathy for fancied wrongs and sufferings. These wrongs and sufferings exist only in their heated imaginations. There can be no wrong where there is no violation of nature’s laws. We have heard much of the higher law. I believe myself in the higher law. We stand upon that higher law. I would defend and support no constitution that is against the higher law. I mean by that the law of nature and of God. Human con­stitutions and human laws that are made against the law of nature or of God, ought to be overturned; and if Seward was right the Constitution which he was sworn to support, and is now requiring others to swear to support, ought to have been overthrown long ago. It ought never to have been made. But in point of fact it is he and his associates in this crusade against us, who are warring against the higher law—we stand upon the laws of the Creator, upon the highest of all laws. It is the fanatics of the North, who are warring against the decrees of God Almighty, in their attempts to make things equal which he made unequal. My assurance of ultimate success in this controversy is strong from the conviction, that we stand upon the right.
The only "states right" the South was interested in defending was the right to hold slaves. So please: The next time someone whips out that hoary old lie, just remember that it belongs with all the other false history woven into "Lost Cause" nonsense.