How SeaWorld's Treatment of Killer Whales Violates Jewish Law

Keeping Giant Marine Mammals in Captivity Is Affront to Faith

Born Free: The orca Tilikum was sold to SeaWorld after being separated from its mother in the wild.
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Born Free: The orca Tilikum was sold to SeaWorld after being separated from its mother in the wild.

By Deena Shanker

Published September 02, 2013, issue of September 06, 2013.
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The Torah also instructs us to consider the differences between animals and their abilities: It forbids tying together an ox and a donkey to plow a field; these two animals don’t naturally work at the same pace, so pairing them will likely cause injury or pain. If Tilikum’s trainers had taken this lesson into account when training him, he might not have spent his nights under attack from the other whales.

But by far the most emotional, heart-wrenching tragedy shown in “Blackfish” is the mother-baby separation, which occurred in the wild with Tilikum’s capture and now continues in captivity every time a female orca gives birth and the powers that be decide to move the baby to a different water park. The Torah’s stance on the existence of a mother-child bond in animals is unwavering. Examples include the prohibition of boiling of a kid in its mother’s milk — mentioned three times (Exodus 23:19; Exodus 34:26; Deuteronomy. 14:21) — and forbidding us from slaughtering a cow or sheep on the same day its young is slaughtered (Leviticus 22:28).

“Blackfish” only begins to tell the story of the abuse that makes venues like SeaWorld possible, and orcas are not the only animals that are exploited. The 2009 Oscar-winning documentary “The Cove” explains how creating a market for live dolphins (they are sold to water parks for around $200,000 each) also creates a market for dead ones.

Every year, fishermen in Taiji, Japan, corral more than 20,000 dolphins into a cove, where trainers come, pick their favorites and take them to their new “homes” to be coached into performers. Those who aren’t chosen are then slaughtered en masse and sold as meat. While SeaWorld has stopped buying its dolphins from Taiji, it hasn’t used its authority in the world of dolphinariums to end the practices, either. Why?

As Fred Jacobs, vice president of communications for Busch Entertainment Corp., SeaWorld’s corporate parent, told MSNBC, “We do not want to be accused of being disingenuous… if we go to an aquarium in China and say, ‘You guys should not be involved,’ the first thing out of their mouths will be, ‘Well, you did it,’ and we cannot argue that point.” That might be fine for a giant, mega-corporation, but as we know, Jews are not allowed to sit idly by while an animal, whoever the owner is, suffers.

Deena Shanker is a writer and occasional attorney living in New York City. You can see more of her work on her website, www.deenashanker.com and follow her on Twitter, @deenashanker


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