In November, I wrote a story comparing training killer whales to raising obedient, well-adjusted kids. It came from an interview with the author of a new book, “Whale Done Parenting: How to Make Parenting a Positive Experience for you and your Kids,” who translated his decades of experience as an animal trainer at Sea World into some easy-to-follow advice for parents. It made sense: reinforce good behavior, ignore bad behavior. Lather, rinse, repeat until desired results are acheived.
That all sounded great to me until yesterday, when a killer whale at Sea World dragged a trainer to the bottom of the pool, where she drowned.
This was the third time a killer whale has been involved with a trainer’s death, and the incident has reignited claims from animal-rights groups like PETA that wild animals are not here for our amusement.
I agree with those claims. But consider a different takeaway lesson: If training killer whales to fetch a ball on command and, you know, not kill their trainers is roughly the same idea as training your kids not to throw temper tantrums at the toy store, this news is deeply troubling.
Kids aren’t animals. I understand that. And I also don’t think anyone is suggesting that this was pre-meditated murder by a whale that just couldn’t take it anymore. But by all accounts, this was a well-trained and well-behaved animal until yesterday.
And if there are as many similarities between animal training and parenting as we’ve been told, I think one of the two needs to be reevaluated.
Also, you have to wonder what’s going to happen to sales of “Whale Done Parenting.”