Friday, February 26, 2010

On Working With Wild Animals

This is Telly. Courtesy

This is Tillikum, or "Tilly"

I hate how the media is portraying Tillikum as an awful murderous beast. He's definitely not that. He's a beautiful creature that deserves the utmost respect from his handlers and anybody who knows him.

But that's not what I'm here to talk about. I'm here to talk about my experience with working with wild animals, and how it's a risk of life.

Kiume, a male lion and I

J.D., a black leopard cub, and I

A very sleepy/lazy Montana (cougar) and I! He was NOT drugged in any way.

Me and a newborn sperm whale

What the average layperson doesn't realize is that what I do, even with all of the years of experience that I have, I can still get killed by these animals that I have devoted my entire life to. It doesn't matter if I have raised them from birth, I am still liable to be killed by them.

When working with a wild animal, it is, in my opinion, a priority to teach them what is "appropriate play" with humans. Us humans are so fragile, compared to the gnashing teeth, razor-sharp claws, toxic venom and poison, and brute strength of the majority of the animal kingdom. They don't realize that, compared to them, us humans are merely weak mortals, and will suffer from serious injury or death if they tried to play with us like they did their animal brethren.

When I interact with my "kitties" (okay, so they're not really Felis domesticus... they belong to the Panthera genus), I start teaching them "no bite", "no hooks", and "gentle" at a very young age. When they bite or use their claws, I usually bite them on the ear, and then yell "NO HOOKS" or "NO BITE" at them, and they clearly learn the message. Of course, they are usually a bit shocked that I scolded them like their mother would if they were in the wild, but with a few reassuring chuffs or other sort of vocalization, the cats and I are back in perfect harmony. If they continue to play rough, they go back in their enclousre for a "time out", just like your sons or daughters might if they behave badly. Let it be known that I only put the cats in "time out" for a very short time, usually only about a minute... I would NEVER punish an animal, regardless of what it has done to me.

Because let's face it, who can stay mad at an animal for long? I certainly can't... In fact, I don't remember ever getting mad at an animal for anything! On the contrary, they receive constant love, affection, and admiration from me.

I would also like to say that, if it ever happens, that it will not be the animal's fault if I succumb to it. It will be 100% my fault; I gladly take all the blame.

On another side note, I have fallen in love with the sport of curling. Gotta thank my friend Jennifer Stuber for that one! She's an amazing photographer, and you should check out her website!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


From left to right: Malia, Taima, and Dawn Brancheau

My deepest condolences go out to Dawn Brancheau, her family and friends, the SeaWorld employees, the die-hard SeaWorld fans (and groupies), and most importantly the trainers who dedicate their lives to these beautiful, powerful, intelligent, majestic, and wild creatures. May she rest in peace.

I have spoken to a few marine mammal trainers (including some current/former SeaWorld whale trainers) about this incident, however I will not post our opinions at this time, out of respect for those involved.

As a frequent visitor of SeaWorld Orlando, I personally know Dawn, and the whale that was involved in the incident, Tillikum. Once again, I will not post my personal feelings towards this incident, out of respect for those involved. I apologize for any inconveniences regarding this matter.

For those concerned on Tillikum's fate, SeaWorld made an official statement on their Facebook, saying that they will keep him at their facility, and continue to work with him.

Tillikum, the whale that was involved in the incident

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Dolphin Skin

Chubby, a dolphin at the MarineLand Dolphin Conservation Center

I am often asked what a dolphin feels like, and the typical answer I give is "like a killer whale". However, killer whales are dolphins, and, like all of the different species of dolphins that I have been fortunate enough to touch, feel the same. I've heard many descriptions on what a dolphin feels like; a few are listed below:
  • Wet, peeled, hard-boiled egg
  • Vinyl disc
  • Wet rubber beach ball
  • An opened wet rain umbrella
  • A wet white-water raft
  • Wet rubber
Cetaceans have extremely smooth skin, which aids in their hydrodynamic locomotion. Unlike our skin, which is covered with extremely fine hair, whales and dolphins are virtually hairless (with a few exceptions, especially in mysticetes, aka baleen whales). When cetaceans are born, they have a few hairs along the upper "lip" of their rostrum, which fall off shortly after birth. If you've watched competitive swimming in humans, you may have noticed that most of the males shave their heads, arms, legs, etc. This is because hair creates drag, which slows them down in the water. Hence why cetaceans have virtually no hair.

To keep their skin extremely smooth, cetaceans undergo something called "sloughing". This is when the skin naturally sheds off of the body, to be replaced by a new skin layer. Oftentimes, cetaceans can be seen rubbing up against each other and/or their environment to aid in the sloughing process (a good example of this is the rock lagoons that some of the British Columbia orcas use for rubbing). The sloughing rate of cetaceans is about nine times faster than that of humans.

A sperm whale sloughing skin. Photo courtesy (

For me personally, being around cetacean is extremely therapeutic. I enjoy being around such an intelligent creature, who seems to "get" what I'm conveying to them. Cetacean blows are one of my favoruite sounds to hear; I love resting by a dolphin enclosure at night when the cetaceans are logging and just hearing their blows. I can't get enough of cetaceans, and I love talking about them. My main goal is to become a vet for cetaceans.

On a side note, I am rather irked at my anthropology book. It denotes cetaceans as being less intelligent than great apes; it also states that there is only one instance of cetacean tool use. Cetaceans are just as intelligent as the great apes, if not even moreso.


Judy, an Asian elephant that I was so fortunate to work with for a day, and I.

I usually don't like to introduce myself, or rather, create a custom introduction for all of the websites that I frequent. I don't change my personality from website to website, as I am the same person every day. I don't like unexpected change, so I don't change that much.

I suppose I'll leave you with the self-description that is on my deviantArt page: "I'm an animal-loving Thespian who indulges in the pleasures of the great outdoors and the animals that live in it. My dad owns a wildlife sanctuary and I am fortunate to work with some of the world's fiercest predators such as lions, tigers, and leopards. I am actively enrolled in college, and am majoring in marine biology; from there I'm going to become a veterinarian. Finally, I have autism, and am a strong advocate for this "dis"ability."

I might also add that even though I have autism, I don't know a lot about it. I'm not super-obsessed with it, nor do I talk to a lot of people with it. Of course, I am happy to advocate for autistics, but I'm much more at ease talking about animals and their behavior. Please, treat me like a typically-functioning person, as I am one. I don't want to be bullied; this isn't the purpose of this blog. Thanks in advance.

Please also note that most of this blog will be animal-based.