Carla the Cat, ‘Blackfish’ and tweeting like a buzzard

I like Bobby’s cat Carla, but I can’t say how she feels about me.

I’d like to say she was crazy, but what do I know about cat psychology.

She comes around while I sit at the table typing away on my laptop and walks back and forth—thankfully not on the keyboard. I hold out my hand for her to mark, which she does repeatedly. I’ll carefully pet her on the head, but it’s always at risk. Sometimes she lets me, sometimes she snarls and bites.

There’s no way of knowing what she’ll do. She never purrs.

Bobby always says, “Carla, you’re a good kitty cat. Yes you are!” He means it, and Carla seems to appreciate it. I could say it and mean it, too, but no guarantee it would be likewise accepted.

I’ve tried watching Blackfish on CNN a number of times. It’s just too awful. The subject, that is. The movie is incredible. I just can’t watch it.

The whole thing, that is. I did watch bits and pieces, if I can put it that way, the documentary being about what happens when killer whales—orcas, which are captured and trained for entertainment value in businesses like SeaWorld—live up to their name.

I did catch a few interview segments with former trainers who have come to understand the role they played, inadvertently and unintentionally, in multi-leveled tragedy, in particular, the 2010 death of a SeaWorld Florida veteran trainer who was mauled by her charge—the biggest captive male orca in the world.

“Maybe it’s just our naivete,” one trainer stated somberly, “or whatever.”

Being an inveterate tweeter with a soft spot for most higher cognitive animals, I put up the comment in quote marks, attributing it to an orca trainer in the movie and adding my own three-character commentary, “Duh!”

Almost as soon as I hit the “Enter” key, I felt apprehensive, that my 140 characters or less, in this case, might leave an incomplete impression. So I followed it quickly with, “Actually, I can’t watch Blackfish more than a few minutes. Makes me feel like a co-conspirator.”

It wasn’t long before my fears were proven true.

“Not sure what u mean,” was the first tweet response, from Cheryl, obviously in reference to my initial tweet. “These trainers loved these animals but now know captivity is wrong.”

“Yes, exactly, due to their now-realized naivete, maybe,” I said, again not particularly clear unless you followed closely—and appreciated my too subtle use of the word “maybe.”

Cheryl came back with, “I believe the trainers over the money hungry #seaworld any day! Plz learn the truth #Blackfish.”

Hmmm. I could see we weren’t exactly in synch. But here things got really amazing, if not way out of hand. Cheryl had been hashtagging @johnjhargrove, who now jumped into what started to look like a fray.

John was grateful for Cheryl (her Twitter name, by the way, is Crazyforlions). “thank you! Especially since we spoke from the heart and did not financially profit.”

Wait! Could this be one of the trainers? Remember, I hadn’t seen the whole Blackfish, just enough to be made so uncomfortable I’d switch channels. Looking at John’s Twitter profile, I found out that sure enough, he’d been one of SeaWorld’s elite killer whale trainers for nearly 20 years before blowing the whistle.

Cheryl quickly favorited John’s first tweet. He followed it with, “and I was never naive, I was always fully aware of what these whales are capable of.”

Man! I didn’t mean to suggest anything different! Here began a frantic flurry of tweets and retweets, me now feeling terrible for making John and his fellow trainers, naïve then but now heroic, feel bad.

“Didn’t at all mean to suggest anything else. The trainers did everyone a huge service,” I tweeted, but that wasn’t enough.

“Must clarify earlier ‘Blackfish’ tweet by saying how much respect and appreciation I have for the former trainers who spoke out.”

If not for them, I was hoping to convey, there would be no movie, let alone this intense ethical debate.

“The danger is when we convince ourselves that confining wild animals for our enjoyment is a good thing and something they’re good with.” This one, I was happy to see, got favorited by eight people. I was on a Twitter roll.

“Who doesn’t love going to zoos and seeing the variety and beauty of nature, that is, except the animals who are confined there?”

Or as  @johnjhargrove said in an interview about Blackfish, regarding an orca he was especially close to, “She’s stuck. She has no choice. She has to stay in that pool.”

I tried to close with “Thank you @johnjhargrove and all who speak out on behalf of compassion to fellow creatures,” then kind of blew it with “Sorry for the misunderstanding! If I could talk to the animals…” I figured by throwing in a little Dr. Dolittle I could get out by playing it cute, even if half the people in the thread missed the point.

Cheryl seemed to get it: “exactly! Twitter can easily lead to misunderstandings.” Both John and someone named “Orca friend” retweeted.

Yes. I know that you have to leave a lot out when you’re limited to 140 characters. That’s why I often string two or three together. But I don’t want this to disintegrate further into what an idiot I am.

“Usually my tweets fall on deaf ears, but not ‘Blackfish.’ Thanks to all thoughtful respondents,” I said as a final sign-off.

John proved my point: “haha. Thanks Jim. I understand where you’re coming from but as have learned too, twitter is tricky.”

Cheryl was nice: “great! Thought u were saying something negative against the trainers. Apologies.”

Wish it had ended there.

“A guy thought I was mad at him all day before I had time to respond but I wasn’t at all,” John tweeted, then included me in a tweet to Cheryl: “thanks for being our watchdog- poor Jim, lol.”

Poor, poor pitiful me. Oh, well, at least everyone’s making good points. LOL.

“Ha ha,” tweeted Cheryl. “Having to say all ur thoughts in only a few words is most of the problem. Fb is easier ;-).”

I send all my tweets to Facebook and should probably reconsider.

Someone named Jean had the penultimate word: “And, it’s hard to get your point across in 140 characters! But Twitter is awesome!”

I guess.

The problem, of course, is, you can’t talk to the animals. You can maybe get them to wag their tales and jump through hoops, but you can’t make them understand that it’s good for them to be cooped up in the house or the pool for our pleasure.

No matter how smart they are, no matter what feelings they have, you can only anthropomorphize them so far. See Grizzly Man.

Or maybe you’ve heard that wonderful story of the fisherman in Australia who freed the big female Great White that got caught up in his nets, and she followed him around lovingly for the next two years, even letting him pet her.

Yeah, I fell for that one, too. Turns out it’s a French magazine’s April Fool’s joke from 2006.

It really just the old joke of us projecting ourselves onto others, like the fable of the scorpion and the frog, you know, the scorpion asks the frog to carry him across the stream, the frog seeks assurance he won’t get stung, the scorpion says he won’t becasue if he does, they’ll both drown, then stings the frog midstream anyway. “Why?” says the frog in its dying breath. “It’s my nature,” says the also doomed scorpion.

I’ve lived in New York over 30 years and still haven’t been to the Bronx Zoo. I used to go to the Milwaukee County Zoo when I was a kid all the time. I still remember standing mouth agape in front of the bazooka-proof glass separating us from Samson, the giant silverback gorilla, who glared back at us from 1950 to 1981.

God, I loved Sampson. It was front page news when he died, from a massive heart attack (it had to be massive, since he weighted 652 pounds, and all he did for 31 years was sit alone in a glassed in cage and sometimes play with a swinging tractor tire while people stared at him and hoped he’d sit on a giant scale). His skeleton’s on display in the Milwaukee County Museum, and they have an annual Samson Stomp & Romp! race in honor of him, to raise money to support the Zoo’s living animal collection.

I loved Monkey Island, too. Milwaukee had the first Monkey Island, so far as I know. I used to love watching them fight and frolic. They’re so much like us. I remember the King of Monkey Island, Joe, who ruled for an incredible 17 years, I think, before they had to take him out and seclude him. He was so old his teeth had fallen out and the ascendants to the thrown would have torn him apart limb from limb. He’s buried there.

I have a friend who goes diving all over the world and has some great shark stories—not like the Australian fisherman’s! I went diving once, in Key Largo, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. Not scuba but snuba–breathing through a 20-foot air line tethered to a floating raft with the air supply. Only needed an hour training in the hotel pool.

I went down for half an hour or so, 20 feet. Swear to God, I was three feet from a shark!

Okay, it was a nurse shark, not much more than three-feet long itself, probably, more afraid of me than vice-versa, darting away quickly. But I’ll say this: It was a shark. I couldn’t identify another fish besides maybe a goldfish, but a shark is a shark. It’s unmistakable.

And only one thing went through my head at that moment of being three feet from a shark 20 feet down. Don’t matter if it’s a nurse shark, a flight attendant shark or a cocktail waitress shark, a shark is a shark is a shark. And a shark is supposed to be there in the water, and you ain’t.

My final tweet was “Thanks to ‘Blackfish,’ maybe we’ll start thinking about how we treat the other creatures with whom we share this fragile planet.”

Some twitterer named The Bloody Nerve retweeted and favorited it.

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