I decided to get up as early as possible on a Saturday morning to sketch Brian Feldman as he began his eighteen hours of confinement in a stranger’s bathtub, one hour for each year Tilikum the orca has been held captive in a space of comparative size at SeaWorld® Orlando. In a YouTube video, Jean-Michel Cousteau lamented the tragic death of a Sea World® trainer. Perhaps the time has come to stop keeping these beautiful mammals in captivity. Terry and I had the opportunity to see a pod of orcas as they hunted and played off the coast of Washington State. Terry, who grew up in San Diego, loved to watch Shamu perform at SeaWorld®. After seeing orcas in the open ocean, however, she no longer has any desire to see them jump through hoops for fish handouts.
I got to "Sea House®" at about seven in the morning. There were quite a few cars parked in the street outside the home, so I knew I was in the right place. The sun was just beginning to warm up the sky. I knocked once and then opened the front door. I followed the sound of splashing water and made my way to a tiny bathroom where I found Brian's father sitting on a toilet trying to bring up some YouTube videos of the SeaWorld® Shamu show. Brian was just getting into the tub to begin his performance. On the laptop screen there were two video streams. There was a major problem however, the tub had no stopper! Brian tried to keep the water in the tub by pressing his foot over the drain, but I could hear the water flowing out into the drain. Brian's father put out a request online for anyone to get a stopper. Brian had to lean forward every few minutes to refill the tub. Once he turned the wrong knob and the shower sprayed down on his head.
After I was halfway finished with my sketch, Lili McDonald arrived at the front door with a brand new tub stopper in hand. She was an instant hero. Brian's father had to get to work so he said goodbye. Lili took his inglorious seat and took over laptop duty. For the duration of his performance Brian had the bombastic "inspirational" music from the SeaWorld® Shamu show playing in the background. Lilli, who is techno-savvy, set up the YouTube video to play in a loop so the music went uninterrupted. Having to listen to this music over and over again is enough to make any thinking breathing mammal go postal. I applaud Brian for the unconventional way he demonstrated against keeping orcas in captivity.
I later spoke with Mary Hill, who once worked at SeaWorld®. She pointed out how devastated she was by the conditions of the animals kept in captivity. They were treated humanely, but in the wild they have ranges of thousands of miles. Being restricted in an enclosure is hard for any animal. She used to conduct backstage tours for guests. Backstage there is an area where polar bears go when guests are no longer in the park. She told me there was super thick one-way glass which could keep the bears from seeing or smelling handlers. One bear was particularly neurotic. He would pace in a set pattern all day and rub his head up against a fiberglass "rock" until all the fur on his neck was rubbed raw. They would move the "rock" but then he would just reverse his pattern and then rub the fur off somewhere else in the process. She went into work early in the mornings just to sit with her back against the thick glass, and she would meditate and pray for the animal. On the second day of doing this, the bear sat with his back up against the glass where Mary sat. It is as if he knew she was there sending him good will.
The death of the SeaWorld® trainer is tragic and perhaps it will cause this multi-million dollar industry to rethink using orcas as a form of entertainment if only for a moment.