If a tiger or a lion in a zoo killed one human, that big cat would be dead before it hit the ground. (No “dead cat bounce” jokes, please.) Tillicum, the bull orca that drowned its trainer at SeaWorld on Wednesday, has now killed three. Yet he will live on at SeaWorld and will even continue to perform for the public. Why the double standard?
One reason is money. I heard them say on TV that a captive orca is worth 2 million dollars, and Tillicum breeds them, so he’s like a valued stud in horse racing. He’s reportedly insured for $5 million.
But I wonder if there isn’t another reason: dolphins, of which the killer whale is the largest, have a special status with us. With their uncanny, sociable intelligence, so alien and yet so kindred (they’re the only nonprimate that can recognize itself in a mirror), they’re the objects not only of curiosity and wonder, but of . . . there’s no avoiding the word . . . reverence. (Silly-ass reverence as it may be.)
I would propose that the Delphinidae are the gods, or embodiments of the gods, of the new nature worship. Gods aren’t gods unless they deal out power and danger along with spiritual benevolence. How convenient then that the smiling dolphin family also features the orca, a multiton ball of muscle with a fin like a church steeple and the coloring of a yin-yang symbol. Here’s a god even the less sentimental can relate to: a predator, like us. Just as Zeus took the form of a bull, Gaia’s avenging consort might feel comfortable in the skin of a bull killer whale. And when such a god claims a human sacrifice, do we turn on the god, or do we grovel and figure we’ve got it coming?