February 27, 2010

When the whale killed Dawn Brancheau... was it an instance of domestic violence?

"They really develop an interesting intimate relationship with these whales!" That is said about Dawn Brancheau, in this video depicting her with a killer whale, in happier days:



"Animals are real, sensitive to the touch, and they can feel all those things," Brancheau explains as she demonstrates her practice of rubbing the whale. Brancheau was rubbing the whale's nose when he turned on her and dragged her to her death.

Here are 6 theories of why the whale may have killed Brancheau. #3 is:
He was feeling sexual

[Whale expert] Nancy Black has also said it might have been a hormonal outburst from the killer whale. The killer whale was often isolated and encouraged to breed.

"He was used a lot [by SeaWorld] for mating and could have even been enacting a mating behavior during the incident," said Black.
Now, obviously, I don't know the extent to which the woman and the whale had a sexual relationship. I don't know it either from her perspective or the whale's. But the whale is an intelligent creature with feelings and in need of relationships, and the woman — if we listen to her own words — believed that she was providing a relationship. But think of it from the whale's perspective. Imagine the whale's sexuality. Imagine the frustration, tension, and deep longings.

No, you can't get that far trying to imagine how the whale felt. Animals are real, sensitive to the touch, and they can feel all those things. What things?! We don't really know. And yet we use them, for our purposes, which they cannot possibly understand. We imagine that we provide them love and companionship and touching. But we must know that even if a human being could fully grasp what the whale felt, she could never give him what he really needs.

***
The whale's name? Tilikum: 'Til I come.

76 comments:

Pogo said...

One drive all animals share, including humans, is eating. Obesity amid plenty is proof enough of that.

The man who trained her spoke of her crucial mistake: the pony tail in the water. He didn't make the connection except to suggest 'maybe the whale was playing'. But I thought it would look just like the little fish they are fed.

Any way, it's a Killer Whale. If only there were some kind of clue what it was feeling.

Roger J. said...

As I said before, two victims in this sad story-Ms Brancheau and the whale--wild animals belong in their habitat, and humans belong in theirs--we mix those habitats at our peril

And the sexual analysis is both crass and stupid.

Sheepman said...

Makes me think of this:
Nov 2, 1999; FRENCH zookeeper Jean Ducuing was crushed to death yesterday after being rammed by a hippo jealous of his new tractor. The four-ton animal flew into a rage when the 60-year-old keeper went to take it for a walk in his zoo in Pessac, western France.

Roger J. said...

Sorry--to be clear my criticsm of then "sexual" explanation was not directed at our hostess but the "whale expert."

AllenS said...

Tilikum: 'Til I cum'

traditionalguy said...

A sweet and salty post if ever I read one. I am speechless this early in the morning. Do you know what a whale penis looks like? They do not need viagra because they have a real bone inside of it that is always there. Are you saying that Dawn finally teased him one time to many?

NewHam said...

#7

I spoke with Senator Harry Reid and he explained to me that Tilikum was between gigs, so, naturally, he was just taking his frustrations out on the nearest female.

Chip Ahoy said...

And let the anthropomorphizing begin.

The whales have thoughts and feelings, much like human thoughts and feelings. This is how they can be understood. This is all quite evident in the way they go around collecting human specimens and train them for whale entertainment and displayed in specially built cages called Air World. The humans do tricks and catch potato crisps in their mouths. Then they dive into the water where they can be viewed by the whales, large porpoises really, and do more swimming tricks little swimming dances in harmony with their trainers.

jag said...

The fundamental mistake made is this: the trainer convinced herself and the audience of some mystical bond with the whale. The whale, on the other hand, is a whale and a natural killer. It wasn't designed to do tricks for humans. Why are we always so shocked when wild creatures behave wildly?

Moose said...

Is Titus guest blogging or something?

Chip Ahoy said...

Do you think whales and dolphins are disturbed by undersea earthquakes? Do tsunami waves going by cause them to think, "Oh boy, this is going to be a problem for the land dwellers."

Pogo said...

Why does a serial killer keep killing?

It's what they do.

It's the lesson of the Grizzly Man, Timothy Treadwell. The only true answer is that nature is unforgiving and wild. Man's attempts at taming it are ephemeral.

Pogo said...

"When the whale killed Dawn Brancheau... was it an instance of domestic violence?"

I never noticed it before, but the killer whale's natural coloring does resemble a 'wife-beater' undershirt.

Roux said...

I wonder what grilled Killer Whale steaks taste like? A little butter and garlic and viola ....

rick said...

What part of the word "killer" don't these people understand.

This incident really reminds me of pit bull dogs killing unsuspecting victims.

Another incident comes to mind ...remember the chimp who slept with it's owner...then proceeded to chew a neighbor's face off.

No matter how hard we try, we can't read their minds.

Meade said...

The humans do tricks and catch potato crisps in their mouths.

Potato crisps rather than cheeseburgers makes me think these whales must be capturing and training not Sexually charged Killer Humans but Pacifist Kumbayah Vegan Humans.

Jason (the commenter) said...

This talk of the victim rubbing up against the whale and criticism of the way she did her hair sounds an awful lot like the blaming of victims in rape cases. So, why stop at asking if this was domestic violence? Why not ask if it was attempted rape?

While we are on that note, "encouraged to breed" as they say in the article, makes it sound as if fertile females were presented to the whale and had no choice but to have sex with him. Almost as if they were trying to create a rape-machine. I'm sure his handlers would say "he bred very successfully" but it's the same thing.

DaveW said...

The sexual reference is something I had to read several times. Finally, I decided this is one of those subtle things you post at times that just goes over my head professor.

There are 5 theories in the source article not 6. What strikes me as missing from the list is the possibility he was playing with her (like a toy). I've seen film of killer whales literally playing with prey, flipping seals back and forth to each other, prior to eating them.

Jason (the commenter) said...

I suppose if we want to imagine sea-mammals as intelligent beings, then they are all pretty much rapists and murderers who should be locked up or given the death penalty.

Treacle said...

Loretta Lynn sang about this already:

"I'm gonna' grab her by her phony ponytail / and sling her around and around"

John Lynch said...

People who romanticize animals either haven't spent much time with them, or are willfully blind.

Animals can be far, far, crueler than people. If I treated a mouse the way my cat does, I could be charged with animal cruelty. That's why we used to say of a deranged person, "they acted like an animal." There's good video of killer whales playing volleyball with sea lion pups that they've caught but haven't killed. I'm not convinced that playing with live prey serves any purpose other than entertainment.

Maybe we should admit that we are morally superior to animals? I'm OK with understanding that they do what they do because they have to, but I don't think we should elevate animals to the same moral plane as people. Trying to make excuses for this whale is an example of that.

People like to talk about animal societies and how they get along famously, but the truth is that animals are extremely violent. Force is far more prevalent in the animal kingdom than in the human world. Force decides who lives and dies, and who gets to mate. There's no "harmony" in nature. It's a lot of animals trying to survive.

I've never had a cat that didn't get into a fight, and one of my dogs lost an eye to another dog. These are domestic animals, that are less violent than wild ones.

If you read about orca and porpoise mating behavior, it would be rape if humans did it. If orcas are so smart, shouldn't they be accountable morally for that? If not, are they really that smart? Maybe intelligence and morality are not connected?

One of our chief accomplishments as humans has been to reduce the level of violence in our lives. Really, what we've been trying to do is to act less like animals. Animal behavior is not an example to emulate.

Jason said...

"So long, and thanks for all the fish!"

Richard Dolan said...

"Imagine" is the key word here. No point in complaining about the anthropomorphizing -- it's too obvious. The trick is to do something with it that isn't obvious.

It's an invitation to write a script for the movie (it would never work as a play), on the understanding that it can't repeat the two- (OK, one-) dimensional treatment in, say, Flipper (on the one hand) or Jaws (on the other). So in depicting the Whale, you have to avoid the cute/terrifying shtick, while also not reducing the Whale into Moby D redux. That's too freighted and literary for today's movie audience, with the Whale ending up as symbol rather than central character. And it can't be a silly beast-lady romance a la King Kong. Been there, done that, didn't like it much the first time.

The only author that I think might be able to pull it off is Jim Crace (Being Dead, Stones, Pesitlence, etc.). But I don't think he writes movie scripts.

Scott said...

"When the whale killed Dawn Brancheau... was it an instance of domestic violence?"

Do words mean anything?

Truly ugly is the notion that a human can have "domestic relations" with an anthropomorphic animal love object (the fragrant theories of Peter Singer notwithstanding). The palate of concepts that can be clearly communicated between humans and animals are only the shades of gray between aggression and submission; not an adequate foundation for building a domestic relationship. Beyond that, it's all anthropomorphism fueled by narcissism.*

But let's set that aside. Is it possible to have "domestic relations" with a slave? That's what this killer whale is. The notion of domestic relations goes beyond merely sharing the same space for a period of time.** There has to be an element of free will; to be able to (rightly or wrongly) walk--or swim--away from the relationship.

- - - - -

* "A dog can bark or wag its tail, but he cannot tell you that his father was poor but honest."

** If this were not the case, we would all be signing prenuptual agreements when checking into a hotel.

Ann Althouse said...

"This talk of the victim rubbing up against the whale and criticism of the way she did her hair sounds an awful lot like the blaming of victims in rape cases. So, why stop at asking if this was domestic violence? Why not ask if it was attempted rape?"

See the next post. Dolphins are rapists. It is the dolphin way of life. Are you going to *blame* them? In fact, I do blame the people who deprive dolphins of their natural environment and their instinctual sexuality. The victim is in fact the dolphin, and the whole notion of blame is a human one. The human beings must therefore either take the blame or understand that there is no relevant concept of blame.

kathleen said...

soooo...she was asking for it. right.

kathleen said...

Dolphins don't know what rape is, therefore they can't be rapists. Therefore rape cannot possibly be their "way of life"

John Lynch said...

I think the female dolphin knows what it is. Otherwise why do they try so hard to get away?

I find it hard to believe that animals accept things for any reason other than they have to.

AllenS said...

I used to raise beef cattle. You never, ever turn your back on the bull. Never.

Scott said...

kathleen is correct. Rape is specific to humans. The word isn't merely a synonym for "sex," it describes a moral dimension that you can't ascribe to animals without engaging in naked anthropomorphism.

Do words mean anything?

former law student said...

Shame on all your dirty minds. Killer whales come from the Pacific Northwest, and his name meant "friend."

Tillikum (also tillicum)
From the Chinook language of the lower Columbia River, meaning friends, relations, tribe, nation, common people.

John Lynch said...

Or get between a cow and her calf.

That's another thing. Many admirable "human" behaviors are shared by animals, particularly mammals. We care a lot for children, but so does a cow. We help our friends, but so do wolves. And so on.

I think what makes us different from animals, besides being more intelligent, is limiting our bad behaviors. It's not the good ones, because we share those with a lot of other species. It's limiting the bad that makes us human.

Theo Boehm said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Scott said...

@Theo: Indeed. And we don't know if dolphins, or killer whales, or any other species of mammals with big brains ate of the fruit of that tree.

Fred4Pres said...

If it was a "killer" attack he would have taken a chunk out of her. Doesn't appear that happened. Rather than ascribing malice, this is a 12 ton animal. A little fooling around can quickly get dangerous.

We have dogs that without warning bite. We have people who screwing around accidently kill loved ones and friends.

Why would it be any different for a bored giant dolphin in a little tank?

Fred4Pres said...

As Mark Twain said: Man is the only animal that blushes - or needs to.

Scott said...

@John Lynch: Yeah, you do have a point that we draw from personal experience and infer parallels in animal behavior. But behavioral scientists are (or are expected to be) extremely careful not to slide down the slippery slope of anthropomorphism. Otherwise it might lead them to fanciful and unuseful notions like characterizing male dolphin sexual activity as rape.

We can only hope that scientists studying the clicks and squeaks of dolphinn can someday decode them and translate it into English. Then dolphins will be able to defend themselves against the speciesist attacks on their morals by loafing law professors.

Scott said...

previous post: dolphinn = dolphins .

Paddy O. said...

"you can't ascribe to animals without engaging in naked anthropomorphism."

This is a weird argument. A female dolphin wants to get away. Male dolphins gang up to prevent her. She is forced into sexual activities with dolphins she tries to resist.

If there's a moral issue here it is not anthropomorphism. It is observation. Attempts to describe behavior that is similar to human behavior is not ascribing morals to dolphins it is describing dolphin behavior in ways that blurs the line between our supposedly advanced state of being and theirs.

They are intelligent and make choices, and choices are imposed on them they try to resist. That's not anthropomorphizing. That's acknowledgment we're not the only creatures this reality applies to.

If there is a natural human morality that is based on communal interaction, then animals can certainly be said to have their own moral structures of behavior. Denying this reality is much more of a philosophical choice than objective.

Martha said...

NEWHAM SAID: I spoke with Senator Harry Reid and he explained to me that Tilikum was between gigs, so, naturally, he was just taking his frustrations out on the nearest female.

Could be some truth to that--MSNBC had animal expert Jack Hanna on this morning and he said Tilikum had behaved strangely in the earlier show the day he killed the trainer--he would not follow commands. Perhaps Tilikum had had enough with performing on command for the day and went all killer whale on the trainer when she demanded another performance from him.

Oligonicella said...

John Lynch --

"Maybe intelligence and morality are not connected?"

They are not. Not in animals. Not in humans.

"was it an instance of domestic violence?"

No. That is axiomatic from the word domestic.

Scott said...

"They are intelligent and make choices, and choices are imposed on them they try to resist. That's not anthropomorphizing. That's acknowledgment we're not the only creatures this reality applies to."

You not-so-deftly substitute "reality" for "morality". Rape doesn't describe sex, it describes the context of the sex in moral terms. When you overlay human morals on observed animal behavior, that's anthropomorphism, period. That kind of 19th century rhetoric may allow certain people to bask in the heat-lamps of their own egos, but it's useless from a scientific perspective to gain an understanding or appreciation of dolphin behavior.

We humans share a common morality. But since morality is only articulated in values expressed in language, we cannot know what dolphin morality is without dolphins telling us. And since they have no language that we can understand, they cannot express to us what their morality is.

It is the height of interspecies arrogance and cultural hegemony to infer that human "reality," as you put it, must define dolphin "reality."

Kirby Olson said...

At the Aquarium in Vancouver, Canada, the trainer said, when I was visiting this place in about 1984, "We are fortunate to be surrounded by Killer whales!"

Maybe you had to be there.

Peter V. Bella said...

The whale just got tired of laying around the pool all day unemployed. It was a case of DV. Just ask the expert on idiocy, Harry Reid.

prairie wind said...

Roux, I'd be glad to join you for a dinner of whale steak but why just a viola? Why not a string quartet?

Roux said...

@Prairie Wind.... I'm better at cooking than I am a proofreading my posts.... viola should have been voila...

edutcher said...

This is the bunnyhugger movement taken to its logical conclusion. Animals have "rights". People should be allowed to marry them.

AllenS has it right when he takes Ann's pun and moves it one step further. There are people who really think this way and, as the fairly sane crew that populates this blog has noted, most of these attacks were made by non-domesticated animals and even domesticated ones aren't entirely safe. It wasn't that the whale killed her, it was that the whale treated her like the equal she thought, wrongly, she was. We may (stress the 'may') be smarter, but they are stronger and fiercer.

ricpic said...

Imagine the whale's sexuality. Imagine the frustration, tension and deep longings.

Next you're going to tell us a killer whale is spiritual. I can imagine no such thing. And neither can you. It's a beast. Deep longings? Puhleez. The fact that so many women are subject to empathy of this type (and empathy's flip side) may make them natural nurturers but also makes it the terror of a lifetime to come up before a female judge.

amba said...

Theory #7: "I think he just went a little nuts, like Amy Bishop at the University of Alabama." ~ Richard Ellis, marine conservationist at the American Museum of Natural History.
An amusing and intelligent interview.

amba said...

Why does it have to be lust? Why not lust for power? He's a virile prisoner, confined by annoying guards no bigger than his prey. Every once in a while he gets pissed off and kills one.

vw: bowfinfi

AllenS said...

Clint Eastwood: "If you want to play lumberjack, you have to hold up your end of the saw".

AllenS: "If you want to play whale, you have to hold up your end during foreplay."

Der Hahn said...

This is just goofy.

Anybody who has lived with a dog (or watched a few episodes of 'Dog Whispherer') comes to a real quick conclusion.

Animals simply do not understand the world in the same way humans do.

One day on a walk my English Springer pup investigated a small frog sitting on the sidewalk, and was mildly startled when it jumped. For a good six months after that, he intently investigated every single dark spot on the ground that we passed.

I could tell instantly that the spot wasn't a frog. He wasn't going to be sure until he'd satisfied himself that it wasn't going to move (I think, I can't ask him, of course).

We can observe animal behavior, and develop strategies and tatics to control it to a certain degree, sometimes quite sucessfully. But no matter how hard we try, we are as incapable of understanding their motivations and desires as they are of understanding ours.

As soon as you start thinking an animal understands you (or vice versa) you're in for trouble.

traditionalguy said...

Many of the comments about understanding dolphin thinking also apply to Italian women. Just saying.

Joan said...

This incident (I had written "attack" but changed it, since it's not as if the whale tried to eat the trainer) occurred almost a year to the day after the horrendous chimpanzee attack in Connecticut.

Two different species, same problem: animals are not people.

amba said...

Funny you should say that, since infinitely more people are killed by people than are ever killed by either chimpanzees or orcas.

Titus said...

When I was little I stuck my little peepee in a stuffed rainbow trouts mouth. It has teeth.

I also stuck my peepee in a stuffed deer's mouth. The deers tongue was sticking out.

DaveW said...

I think the female dolphin knows what it is. Otherwise why do they try so hard to get away?

Who knows how that evolved? Perhaps if they can get away the males are genetically inferior and therefore unsuitable mates.

amba said...

Another theory - not of why Tilly killed ("hey, who's callin' me Tilly?"), but of why he wasn't put down for it.

kathleen said...

"I think the female dolphin knows what it is. Otherwise why do they try so hard to get away?"

Because she's a tease, obviously. You know she wants it.

inmypajamas said...

What I don't understand is why an animal that has killed humans before is still allowed contact with humans? Does he bring in so much money that the owner can afford the wrongful death lawsuit that is sure to be coming from this woman's family?

Joan said...

Amba: I didn't say that people aren't animals.

wv: soduckoo - logic game for waterfowl

Penny said...

"There's no "harmony" in nature. It's a lot of animals trying to survive."

Lest any of us ever forget. I thought it worthy of repeat.

Penny said...

In the original clip, it is said of Brancheau that she always dreamed of working with killer whales, and "this one pulled her under water".

No need for us to wonder how her dream ended, but also no need for us to think that in the course of her work, she hadn't already contemplated the possibility of such an end. It didn't keep her from her dream. Face it, we will all die somehow, some way, some day, yet so few of us will be doing what we love in that moment.

Life well lived! Now, RIP Ms. Brandeau.

ken in sc said...

Philippine house lizards reproduce by what might be called rape. They look like 2 inch sand colored alligators. People tolerate them because they eat mosquitoes. The males chase down the females and grab them by the throat. They hold them down while forcibly copulating with them. While this is going one, the nails of the females turn bright blood red. I wondered when I first saw this if this is where our predilection for finding red fingernails attractive comes from—our reptile brain.

LordSomber said...

A white blonde female and a black male. How long before the media plays the race card?

And will Kato Kaelin testify?

TRO said...

Some times you write some strange shit, Professor. But even then I enjoy it.

comatus said...

"I think he just went a little nuts, like Amy Bishop at the University of Alabama"

The hell? I didn't know Sea World had tenure...

rhhardin said...

"That hunted female; cruelly importuned; and those male hunters, grumblers, musicians. This lasts a good week...(more perhaps: I'll correct it when it's over). What maniacs those dogs. What stubbornness. What heavy brutes. What chumps! Sad. Narrow-minded. A pain in the ass! Ridiculously stubborn. Plaintive. Ears cocked, on the scent. Busy. Scenting. Raising and knitting their brows, sadly, comically. Everything strained: ears, backs, legs. Growling. Plaintive. Blind and dumb to everything else but their specific determinations. (Compare this to the grace and the violence of cats. To the grace of horses also).

But she wasn't my bitch. She belonged to my neighbor, Fiaux the postman: I was unable to get close enough, to observe the organs of the lady, her smell, her trails, her loss of seed. I was unable to determine if she had begun by being provocative, or if it had only come to her (her condition, first of all, then her discharges, her smell, then the males and their attention, so long, so importunate), if it had only been for her a surprise, only a timid groan, with calculated and consenting movements. What a sad story, after all! How life, revealed to her at that moment, must have appeared harassing, bothersome, absurd! And there she is, wounded for life,-mortally, too! But she will have her pretty little puppies... Alone to herself, for a little while... Then those males will stop hanging around, and what joy with her little ones, even what fun, what fullness,-despite an occasional traffic jam between her paws and under her belly, and a lot of fatigue."

Francis Ponge, _The Nuptial Habits of Dogs_

Exordium said...

Ann, your blog keeps getting dumber and dumber.

C said...

IMHO, he was just messing with her... no idea she would die. If she had been another whale, a little flipping and time under water would not have drowned her. Do we really expect a whale to "know" that humans have to breath and that their skin is so fragile? As if they "understand" our limitations. I do not think the concept of Seaworld is bad, but I think this trainer "trusted" that the whale would not hurt her- spent a lot of time training it- got less cautious- and she was wrong.

pduggie said...

" And yet we use them, for our porpoises, which they cannot possibly understand. "

Fixed it for ya. :)

kmg said...

I still say that the incident was more the whale playing with a human who proved to be too delicate and unable to hold her breath as long as the whale assumed.

How can the whale possibly know that human's can't survive underwater for as long as the Orca can?

Unless there was actual biting (in which case the woman's body would be totally mangled), it was not an 'attack'.

A creature that is capable of biting a human in half is not going to simply drag her underwater and not bite, if he was being hostile.

kmg said...

A white blonde female and a black male. How long before the media plays the race card?

Not just any black male, but one with multiple offspring with many baby mommas.

He also has a record of violence, and a 36-inch penis.

Image of Orca penis.

The dude is a gangstaplaya.

Ann Althouse said...

@kmg I looked at that picture and...

1. Isn't girth more important than length?

2. Considering the size of the whale, it's not that big.

3. Why is the man holding it?

kmg said...

Ann,

As a streamlined creature, the penis of all cetaceans has to fully recede into the body when unused.

Since whales have no 'hip joint', the penis has to travel all the way to the female while both whales are belly to belly.

A blue whale penis can be 8 feet long.

I don't know why the man is holding it.

sosolobi said...

isn't it violence to exploit and keep this large animals in small tanks for their whole life? If he really had attacked her, he would have shred her to pieces like these whales do with seals in the wild. He's been triggered by something. It's a wild animal. Instinct kicks in and we have a dead trainer. Don't mess with wild animals. Thinking they are friends is sheer arrogance. Risk you take when you work with them.