Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Hey, Hi, Hello!

Salutations readers! I’m Jessica, a Boston native and a nature nerd. I constantly encounter environmental issues that I want to inform people about. As you probably noted from the description, this blog will contain a variety of critical discussions, mostly focused upon zoological issues (because animals are awesome). These issues, and bits of information, can address anything from animal behavior to extinction awareness.

What follows is a short example of what you, as readers, can expect from this blog.

I’ve been told by multiple people that I tend to be a bit of a buzz-kill when it comes to “cute” animal videos. Well, too bad! This past week I saw a video that showed a captive Beluga whale “teasing” two children who were observing it in an underwater enclosure. Here is the link to the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hh84Oe8JxUQ.

Yahoo News’s caption to this video is as follows: “A trip to the aquarium is usually a chance for children to watch sea animals go about their own business, oblivious to outside observers. In this video, a beluga whale turns the tables as it teases two startled kids, pressing its mouth against the glass panel dividing them. Watch their brilliant reaction as the mischievous mammal then turns his back on the pair, pretending to have forgotten about them, only to turn around and startle them again and again.”

Now granted, I don’t pretend to take Yahoo News as anything close to an authoritative zoological news source, but many people do use Yahoo for their daily news. That’s why it is so concerning to me that this caption is so painfully wrong about what is going on in the video.

The actions of the whale in this video are actually major signs of aggression in cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises). Dr. Lori Marino, a beluga behavior specialist, says that, “the open mouth and posturing are typical of the way cetaceans express aggression and I’ve seen a lot in captivity in the very same circumstances.” As Marino affirms, the whale’s behavior is actually a “threat” to the children.

Unfortunately nearly every news source I encountered, except for a select minority, misrepresented this behavior. Most of the news sources dub it “peekaboo.” Among these news sources are: CBS, KTLA, The Telegraph, Metro and NBC. Fox also said that “Officials said that this is a form of play for the creature.” Huffington Post quotes Dr. Tracy Romano, the aquarium’s chief marine biologist saying that “He’s really just playing with them … He’s playing peekaboo … the kids getting his reaction is really what’s spurring him on to keep doing it.”

This misguided personification of animals, especially those in captivity, is a major issue in modern society. All animals have an extremely different social structure from humans, and they have a multitude of emotions and behaviors that we don’t understand. Moreover, captivity often causes severe mental distress in intelligent animals. And this distress translates to aggression in many animals.

Yay pessimism! That’s all for now, but I have posted some links to other helpful articles below. Happy reading!




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