These parallels will probably come as no surprise to many of you. However, many aspiring dolphin trainers do not realise that the animal training profession doesn’t just involve the “happy” image of Seaworld…but also the brutal realities of abused circus animals. I’ve been looking into circuses lately and what they do behind the scenes. I came across this video on Youtube, which addresses the lives and training of circus elephants. You may watch it if you’d like but I’m going to give a quick narration of the video and the parts that are comparable to cetacean captivity. [This post goes hand-in-hand with my previous post “The Degrading Life of a Captive Dolphin” and an earlier post entitled “Seaworld vs. The Circus”]
1. The animals are trained to perform at young ages.
” Elephants are trained when they are babies or very young.”
This is also true for captive cetaceans. We often see the babies being trained, put on display, and performing in the shows.
2. The corporations responded to the prohibition of wild capture by starting captive breeding programs.
“Most of Ringling’s elephants were taken from their homes and families in the wild…However, since the passage of the Endangered Species Act, it’s very difficult to import an endangered Asian elephant into the United States, so Ringling built an elephant farm in Florida.”
Before capturing cetaceans in US waters became illegal, Seaworld’s supervisors in charge of animal acquisition were brutally tearing them from their families, and even killing them. After
laws were passed to protect wild cetaceans and prohibit their capture, Seaworld and other marine parks responded with their captive breeding programs, just like the circus did with elephants.
3. They both use the conservation and education argument.
“Ringling calls their elephant farm ‘The Center For Elephant Conservation.'”
Seaworld also uses conservation in regards to their captive breeding program. According to Seaworld’s mission statement :
Of course the conservation ploy must be paired with the education ploy. From the Ringling Bros. Website:
“As the steward of the largest sustainable elephant population in the Western Hemisphere, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey® takes its responsibility to educate the public about these magnificent animals…The big cats showcased at Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey® have a relationship with their trainers based on mutual trust and respect… Our training methods are based on reinforcement in the form of food rewards and words of praise”
Does that sound familiar to you? The 3 arguments most used to justify animal exploitation must be “research,” “conservation,” and “education.” And of course the image of happy family trainer-animal bond is pushed in order to cover up the artificial lives of the animals.
4. The animals are separated from their families, often at young ages.
The baby elephants at Ringling are taken from their mothers for the purpose of “breaking their spirit.” While this may not be true for every cetacean at seaworld, many of them have been taken from their mothers at very young ages. Although they would naturally stay together their entire lives, 16 of Seaworld’s orca calves were taken away from their mothers before the age of 5, and nearly every orca is currently separated from its mom. Since orcas have a similar life span to ours, this would be equivalent to taking a 5 year old child from their mother! A case that comes to mind is Keto; a rough orca calf with some bad habits…in order to break him of these habits, he was taken from his mother at a young age and transferred multiple times. It’s also likely the reason why he is now placed in a Spanish amusement park
with the rest of Seaworlds “excess” orcas.
If the baby dolphins and whales are not taken from their mothers and moved to another park, they are often separated in different pools and tanks. Another issue that was mentioned in the video, is that Ringling elephant mothers will kill their offspring. This has also been seen in captive orcas. Babies that are not miscarried are often rejected by their mothers.
Sea World – Orlando (1998): August through November – The following attack was described as a “culminating incident” of repeated aggression between mother and calf orcas. One source described the mother as “actively pursuing the calf aggressively and tried to get out of the tank, pursuing it on slide-outs.”
In this specific incident, the mother, Taima, swam under her three-month-old calf Sumar during a performance, swatting the calf with her flukes and tossing the calf out of the water, onto the trainer platform. Taima then slid out onto the platform, pinned Sumar against the wall, and began to bite him. Guests were evacuated the show arena while trainers pulled the mother into a back pool via harness. Shortly afterward, Taima and Sumar were permanently separated into different pools due to “poor parenting”; Sumar was transferred to SW San Diego and later raised by Corky II. (Various sources; WDCS report Orcas: Dying to Entertain You, pg. 60).
Here is a video of Kohana giving birth to her calf Adan, showing her clear indifference and rejection of him.
5. They both argue that the animals are doing tricks based on “natural behaviors.”
“Ringling is fond of lying to the public and the media by telling them that the circus tricks are based on the elephants natural behaviors…”
This is an argument that is heard all too often from Seaworld and Seaworld supporters. It is also the same argument that is used by Ringling Bros. to justify their circus performances. The tricks are not natural because the animals must be conditioned and trained to perform them. In fact, many of the elephant tricks we see in the circus shows, are similar to the ones we see in dolphin shows, ie, making poses on pedestals or platforms, or trainers riding and standing
on them. In both cases, the tricks are unnatural. Both shows are essentially synchronized animal and trainer tricks set to music as a form of entertainment to show people how humans have tamed, dominated, and controlled, large, more powerful animals.
Many of the arguments that come from the pro captivity side could apply just as well to the circus. Perhaps the animals need the show to be mentally stimulated, and to remain physically healthy. Perhaps its okay to put tigers and elephants in the circus because people will better appreciate their species and will want to conserve them in the wild.
6. They both will continue the show for monetary gain, in spite of the animal’s welfare.
Just like Ringling Bros, Seaworld’s orca and dolphin shows will go on in spite of the welfare of the animals or the employees. Seaworld rarely puts its show on hold even if an animal or a trainer dies. If one gets sick, there are always backups and they must continue breeding their captive orcas to supply the next generation of performer for their atrocious displays of dominance. I invite captivity supporters to ask themselves why these animals are kept captive, and why they must perform in the captive environment? It makes no sense to make an argument for Seaworld, and in also make one against circuses because they are so similar in nature.