By request, then, and with a disclaimer, a reprint of a rant I posted to a trainers' list in 2004.
No, this is not by way of blaming the victim. Those who work with large animals -- horses, elephants, cattle, whales, sharks -- accept certain risks. The risks are greater when an animal is known to be intentionally aggressive, as Tilikum is, but they are always there, even with the most "docile" large animal. Animal trainers are big girls and boys. If they don't robustly understand the risks, then they need to get into a different business. I have no reason to believe that Ms. Brancheau did not accept the risks willingly. She has paid for what may have been a few seconds' complacency with her life; there but for the grace of God go us all.
Elephant handlers in contact management husbandry setups are often berated by the PROC* partisans for using "force" in training and handling. It's widely understood that the alternative to handling with an ankus and a certain amount of posturing by the human is a non-contact facility. Elephants who are not trained traditionally are simply too dangerous to have access to their keepers. Trained elephants are still dangerous, but much less so -- more on the order of a crabby stallion than a five-ton sociopath.
Trained elephants get to have more interesting lives than those warehoused or displayed in non-contact facilities.
The context was, once again, a PROC trainer's relentless claim that all dog trainers needed to do was emulate the photogenic folks in the shortie wetsuits at Sea World, and it will all be hunky-dory. That "you cannot force a whale" and "you cannot punish a whale" -- so whale training defines the desirable methodology and outcome of a training program for a domestic dog.
But dogs aren't captive whales. For which dogs -- and their owners -- have cause to be very grateful.
Thus, my rant:
Take for example, the killer whale. How would YOU get a urine sample from a killer whale with his cooperation?
Okay, first, I would hire men with powerboats and harpoons and nets to terrorize and kidnap the whale -- a powerful wild predator with complex social relations and strong family connections -- pull him out of the water, rendering him completely helpless, and take him away from his family and his home range of many hundreds of square miles.
Then I would put him in a tiny shallow sensory deprivation tank, full of stinking chlorinated water, where his sonar signals and all his distress vocalizations bounce off concrete walls and come back to blast him.
Then I'd deprive him of his natural food and opportunities to hunt and eat normally, and force him to eat the frozen chum that I provide, by hand. (Has the Geneva Convention kicked in yet?) After enough time he might be Keikoized -- incapable of catching his own prey, and so completely dependent on hand-delivered chum.
Then I'd make all access to that chum contingent on him performing the "behaviors" that I require of him. No trick, no eat.
I'd also make his access to any social interaction with other creatures contingent on these "behaviors." Ooh -- ever hear of the Stockholm Syndrome? Well don't trust it too far, because orcas as well as smaller ceteceans attack their handlers with fair frequency. A captive wild "trained" animal is not necessarily tamed, and is never domesticated.
And all access to a slightly larger sensory deprivation tank and opportunities to move, play, and exercise mentally -- also contingent on these "behaviors."
I'll declare 50-70% compliance with my trick cues to be victory -- a "trained" animal.
If, after many years of this brainwashing regimen, I try to transfer the pool tricks to "open water" and the animal actually declines to make for the horizon, or comes back when very hungry (remember, can't catch his own prey anymore -- too debased), I will trumpet my victory. This whale chose to stay with me! When, as is more likely, he disappears entirely, I will keep that as quiet as possible.
Want to know the rest, or has that been "gentle," "positive," and "kindly" enough for you?
I am so @!^%ing sick of the "whale trainers can't use force" argument. What is done to whales is the most sickeningly violent "training" in the universe -- no cattle prods required.
BTW, I have no trouble getting my dogs to provide a urine sample, and it didn't take a clicker or a single cookie to accomplish it.
Eliminating on command is pure classical conditioning, and the dog's "reward" during conditioning is the satisfaction of bladder relief. No +R or -P or any other jargon or gadgets or ideology enter into the equation. Just condition the pup to associate the word with the peeing, and be ready with a pie plate when you need a sample.
The mechanics of cetecean micturation are obscure to me and no doubt present practical challenges, but I'm sure it's pretty much the same training process, once the atrocities are done with and the animal is physically contained and subdued. Mostly.
What's the mystery?
*Positive Reinforcement Operant Conditioning -- i.e., people who claim to believe in the Behaviorist quadrant** schema of all animal learning, but who explicitly discard three of those quadrants and further claim that all animal training need be only in the form of "positive reinforcement," frequently in the form of "free shaping." Many accuse anyone who either uses the other quadrants, or rejects the Skinnerian paradigm altogether, of abuse -- even "torture."
** Often called the "four quadrants" of behaviorism. But really, how many quadrants are there gonna be?
Update: Sea World snatched tragedy from the jaws of decency. Had anyone in the captivity industry wanted to repatriate Tilikum in 1992, it might have been possible. Instead, Sea World essentially goaded the government of Iceland to Just Say No to releasing Tilikum and any other whales in the waters from which they were kidnapped.
The article that dropped the scales from my eyes nine years ago.