|I totally self-medicated. Not with alcohol, but with these amazing brownies one of my coworkers made. OMGGGGG|
If you've read The Middle Flipper long enough, hopefully you have the impression that my goal is to unite not just animal care professionals, but animal lovers everywhere. I don't stay middle-of-the-road on most topics because I don't have an opinion, or because I'm afraid of upsetting people. I try to stay neutral on here because I think being approachable and open-minded allows for better conversation, better solutions.
When I saw the news about SeaWorld, it was very early in the morning...before the world of social media exploded with very strongly-worded opinions. But as I saw the reaction unfold, I felt it would be silly of me to publish this blog just a few days after this huge news and not talk about it.
|Disclaimer: The Middle Flipper is not authorized to give medical advice. This is merely a suggestion.|
First, we don't have to agree with SeaWorld's executive management to partner up with the Humane Society of the U.S. We also don't have to all agree on "phasing out" orcas. Both of these topics require careful consideration and understanding.
I also completely understand why SeaWorld employees are deeply upset, considering that this sort of news was broken to them in the way that it was. This is one of the biggest news stories to affect us in the zoological field. It's completely understandable why we are reacting the way that we are. However, we still need to be careful, especially those of us who do not work at SeaWorld. If we continue to make very emotional, cut-and-dry statements we may unintentionally drive a wedge between us and basically anyone affiliated with SeaWorld, not the HSUS.
Second, we all know that the marine mammal field is changing; not just because of Blackfish. We provide fantastic medical and behavioral care for the animals we know and love, and are ahead of the game there. But how many of us would deny our animals a larger or more naturalistic habitat? How many of us would get excited about new methods of reaching the general public? Probably a whole lot of us. HOW those changes happen, or how we INTERPRET those changes is going to differ from place to place. We may not agree with or understand why a particular place chooses a path.
|Those philosophers sure can make a point.|
Third, and I'm going to put this in caps because it's so obnoxiously true, WE THE ANIMAL CARE PROFESSIONALS SHOULD BE AT THE FRONT OF THIS CHANGE. NOT the extremists.
So what does all this mean?
If we continue to turn our back on SeaWorld right now in these early stages, when everything is emotional and confusing, we are going to fracture as a collective. Don't give the animal rights extremists the power to fracture our community.
We can't all do the same thing, or agree on every point. And on the precipice of change, scary stuff is going to happen. I'd be willing to bet that any major, positive change is going to start out seeming impossible or completely terrifying. What we do from that point on is what really counts.
|Everyone does! Because it's scary!|
For those of us who do not work at SeaWorld, let's think about the ramifications of making it known publicly that we do not support the company. Even when we say that we still support the animal care professionals working there, we are basically turning our back on them. By saying, "Well, your company just made a stupid decision, and may destroy our field. But we still support you, the people on the ground", we think we're rallying around the right people. But what we are really doing is sending another message: we are saying, "Wow, so sorry you're going down and the company you work for is evil."
How would we feel if people we respected in this field (at any sphere of influence) started saying how they no longer supported the facility we worked for? Would we still want to work there? We'd surely have a major internal battle of "should I stay for the animals? Or do I need to jump ship?" I know that some of you out there already know this feeling.
This is where we are going to struggle the most as a field. We have to stick together. That doesn't mean we agree on everything. That doesn't mean we don't piss each other off, sometimes. It's okay if one facility thinks all dolphin habitats should be 25 acres. It's okay if another thinks theatrical shows are the way to connect to people. We shouldn't all be the same, we shouldn't all protect each other just because we want to stay the same. We should protect each other when a place decides to take a chance, for the sake of improving animals' lives.
My ideal vision in this situation? I want SeaWorld as a whole to know that our field supports them overall. We support their effort to make a change in this changing world. That doesn't change the fact that we want to know why they partnered with HSUS. We want to know what their future plans are. Inside, some of us may be wary, scared, angry. But we can't turn our backs, even if some of us are livid. We just don't have enough to go on, right now. And the people working at SeaWorld who were just blind-sided need us.
Our collective voices have centuries of combined years of experience with marine mammals. We, the experts, are the ones who must take charge of the next step of this field. If we are moving towards naturalistic exhibits, and moving towards managing animals in more naturalistic social groups, then we are the ones who oughta design the habitats. If we want to change how the general public view the animals in our care, we decide what that means. And I'll bet many of us have different ideas about the best way to do that. Some of us may stay two million miles away from anyone associated with an animal rights' group. Some of us may think they need to buddy up with them. I don't know what the right path is, but we've got to try to find it (or them).
But what I know is that if we, the experts, use emotionally-charged voices to publicly humiliate and become irate with SeaWorld, our intelligent, experienced voices are silenced. If ever there was a chance at bridging the gap between "us" and "them" (the actvistists, in this case HSUS), now is as good a time as any. We don't want to listen to them when they scream and shout; why would they listen to us if we do the same? More importantly, shouldn't we as a community model the behavior we want others to use? Shouldn't we set the example by saying, "Okay, what's the plan, CEO of SeaWorld? Can we be of any assistance? We have some thoughts." I'd much rather have a calm discussion with someone I disagree with and have the hope of coming to a compromise than I would to be completely tuned out, only to watch something spiral into a disaster with the blind leading the blind.
We can't control what SeaWorld or any other facility does. But we can control what WE, the animal care professionals do.
|If anyone can do it, we can!|
Trainers at SeaWorld, I read a lot of comments both from you and others that your voices have been silenced. I can't imagine what you went through with this announcement. But let me reassure you that you DO have a voice. Some of you have posted some really inspirational things, saying that even though you don't understand why your facility made the decision it did, you are still going to show up amidst the confusion and take the best care of the animals you love. I mean, if that's not inspiring, I don't know what is. You guys are rockstars.
You are experiencing a very massive change. There is still a lot that has to settle. And you, by continuing to dedicate your lives and providing fantastic care to the animals, are speaking loud and clear. You don't need to be embarrassed or ashamed to work at SeaWorld. You are still working for a company that sets the bar for many facets of animal care and rescue. You are working for a company that has consistently said, "Yeah, we're good. But we won't settle. Let's always try to do the next best thing."
We are a strong community. We are a smart community. We need guidance, support, and creativity. No matter if you're an entry-level trainer or a curator, you've got what it takes to continue to not just maintain the incredible animal care we provide, but to continue moving this field forward. Let's rally around each other, even in these times of unsure fear. Let's lead by our fantastic example.