The Stunningly Cruel Details Of The Shark Dragging Case

Portraits Of Cruelty (and Stupidity)

Sometimes it is hard to believe how cruel, and lacking in humanity, people can be (though sometimes I worry that it is all too easy to believe). The shark-dragging case is one of those times:

While fishing in state waters near Egmont Key in Hillsborough County, Benac shot a blacknose shark with a speargun at about 3 p.m. Heintz took a photo of Benac holding the speargun and Wenzel holding a gaffed blacknose shark with a spear through it.

Twenty minutes later, Wenzel shot a video as Benac, Easterling and Heintz danced on the bow of the boat. Benac was holding the speargun.

Less than two hours later, Benac caught a six-foot blacktip shark on a hook and line in state waters near Egmont Key, the reports said.

At 5:08 p.m., Heintz recorded Benac retrieving the shark. In the 10-second video, as the shark is pulled near the right side of the boat by Benac, Wenzel shoots the shark one time with a .38 revolver in the left side of the head, near the gills, the report said.

“All occupants can be heard celebrating by laughing,” according to the report.

At 5:10 p.m., Heintz recorded Benac continuing to fight with the shark. The eight-second video shows Wenzel shoot at the shark three times with the same revolver as it is pulled close to the left side of the boat, the report said.

After the shooting, all occupants cheered and erupted into laughter, the report said.

The report said it was unknown whether any of the bullets hit the shark. However, after being shot at, the shark tried again to flee.

At 5:14 p.m., the shark was landed and Wenzel recorded it lying on its back and tail roped. During the video, the occupants are heard laughing while Easterling holds the rope.

The next 10-second video shows Wenzel driving the boat while Benac records the shark as it’s dragged at high speed. The shark can be seen bouncing and skipping across the surface of the water.

As the camera pans to the port side, Heintz is seen recording the same incident. In both videos, all of the men are seen and heard laughing while the shark is dragged.

These guys are beyond redemption (and beyond stupid for posting their cruelty on social media). But what gives me hope is the strong reaction to their cruelty. Maybe this incident, like the starving polar bear I posted earlier, can help people break through their disconnectedness to the natural world, and inspire them to do more to protect the interests of nonhuman animals and the environments they live in.

Pigs, Politics, and Chris Christie

“Psst. I hear Christie might spring us.” “Nah. These days he cares more about what Iowa thinks than what New Jersey thinks.”

Want to know how you will be able to tell whether Chris Christie has decided to run for President in 2016? If he vetoes a widely popular law to ban gestation crates in New Jersey.

The Daily Beast explains:

In 2013, a measure to make illegal an inhumane farming practice made its way to Christie’s desk. S.1921 would have banned gestation crates—small, metal cages which are used to contain breeding sows during industrial pork production. There was no reason to assume Christie would veto it. For one thing, the cages—so small that the animals can barely move at all or lie down—were not even thought to be used much among the 250 pig farmers in the state, meaning the ban would be more of a symbolic gesture than one that would really impact farming methods. But more than that, the bill had passed almost unanimously in both chambers of the legislature and was supported by 91 percent of voters, making it perhaps the most popular idea to be floated in the Garden State since Bruce Springsteen had been inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame several years earlier.

When Christie vetoed the bill, he claimed that it was because two obscure national veterinarian groups had not endorsed it (although a coalition of 100 others had) and that the Department of Agriculture wasn’t involved enough. But many assumed that it had more to do with his dreams of the White House, for which he would need the support of voters and donors in Iowa—a pork manufacturing wonderland—to obtain.

“Why wouldn’t he [Christie] ban them, except for the fact that the first Republican presidential caucus is in Iowa?” S.1921’s sponsor, Senator Ray Lesniak, told me at the time. “He has no values. His only value is himself.” He repeated it again, slowly: “He has no valuesHe has no moral compass whatsoever.”

A year later, Lesniak is back with another bill to ban the crates—S.998…Per Christie’s complaint, the new bill defers to the Department of Agriculture, and simply asks that breeding sows be able to move in their crates—not that they should be able to roam freely through fields. “For us, there should be no reason for him to veto [the new bill], if he was being honest with his reason for vetoing it last year,” Dominguez said, with an eyebrow raised. “The one out that he has is that he said he had a concern, and we’ve addressed it. He has no reason to veto this bill.”

Well, maybe one: Continue reading “Pigs, Politics, and Chris Christie”

Seeing Is Important: The Ghosts In Our Machine

Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur/We Animals

Empathy is difficult without awareness. And the single most important reason that humanity tolerates horrific cruelty to animals–in multiple industries, from food, to cosmetics, to furs, to entertainment, to health research–is that the true experience of animals at the hands of humans is mostly, and intentionally, hidden.

Enter photographer Jo-Anne McArthur, whose life mission is to document the lives of animals–their experiences, their conditions, their emotions, their helplessness–who are subordinated to human needs and industries. It is incredibly powerful work, partly because McArthur is tireless in her efforts to get behind the smokescreens and obstacles thrown up to hide reality, partly because she is a good photographer, and mostly because what humans do to animals in humanity’s constant pursuit of profit and self-gratification is simply unconscionable.

McArthur’s mission and work is featured in an affecting new documentary, The Ghosts In Our Machine, by director Liz Marshall. That is a perfect title, I think, and I love to idea that the film and McArthur’s photography seeks to bring the ghosts, which are so easy to ignore or miss, to life. You can’t feel good about a fox fur coat after you see McArthur’s haunting photos of foxes in pens at a fur farm.

Credit: Jo-Anne McArthur/We Animals

In the documentary, the cameras follow McArthur in her work, as she sneaks into facilities to photograph animals, as she tries to pitch her photos to photo editors who worry they are too shocking and unnerving for the public (well, that’s the point!), and as she recovers and draws strength from a farm sanctuary, where animals live more natural, and meaningful lives. “I feel like a war photographer,” McArthur says, and she is. There is a war on animals, and most people are in denial about it. Which is why McArthur’s photo odyssey, and The Ghosts In Our Machine, are important creative works.

Many viewers will find the scenes in The Ghosts In Our Machine shocking, and maybe revelatory (though sometimes I wonder how anyone can NOT know what is happening to animals, how anyone can remain honestly ignorant). And for anyone who really does not know what happens at a factory farm, McArthur’s photos alone are probably sufficient to open eyes and inspire questions. Still, we are a society that likes to learn via video, and I have seen the power of documentary to reach people through the Blackfish experience.

So, while The Ghosts In Our Machine does not really have a true narrative or take viewers much beyond the fact of animal cruelty (it is more like a meditation), it is critical that we first acknowledge the cruelty. So it is very powerful to see McArthur at work, and hopefully her choices as a human, and her dedication to revealing the truth, will wake people up and help them examine more closely their own lives and how their own choices affect the lives of animals across the planet.

The (Orwellian) Language Of Pig Farming

Last week Mercy For Animals released typically horrifying video from an undercover investigation of pig farming. The video is below, but steel yourself, because this is what it shows:

MFA’s hidden-camera video exposes the following horrific abuses:

  • Thousands of mother pigs confined to filthy, metal gestation crates so small they are unable to even turn around or lie down comfortably for nearly their entire lives
  • Workers beating, throwing, slapping, hitting and screaming obscenities at pigs
  • Workers slamming piglets into the ground and leaving them to suffer and slowly die
  • Workers ripping out the testicles and slicing off the tails of fully conscious piglets without the use of any painkillers

It’s hard to believe that anyone who still eats pork isn’t aware on some level that this is what is behind the cheap bacon that they love to celebrate. But maybe there are bacon-lovers who somehow just have no clue. And if there are, then perhaps part of the explanation for how this can be is the startling and twisted use of language that Big Meat uses to try and sanitize its operations for the public.

It’s positively Orwellian, and the New York Time Lede blog comes up with a classic example, courtesy of Luke Minion, CEO of the agribusiness which owns the farm depicted:

Luke Minion, the chief executive of Pipestone Systems, which owns the Rosewood Farm and others, said in an interview that he fired one employee and reassigned another as a result of the activists’ investigation. “There are things depicted on the video that are not defensible nor are they our policies,” Mr. Minion said. “We want to be better than what’s on that video.”

Mr. Minion, a trained veterinarian, also said that castrating piglets and docking their tails without anesthesia is normal procedure and defended the gestation crates, which he called “individual maternity pens.” The crates, he said, “are an appropriate option.” He added, “We who raise the livestock ought to be able to keep that choice.”

“Individual maternity pens?” But that sounds kinda nice. And note Mr. Minion’s sly positioning of the issue of gestation crates as a question of “options” and “choice” for the farms. Options and choices are about freedom, right? And we all love freedom, right?

This is the familiar language of PR and spin, which has long been used by Big Tobacco and Big Oil, among other industries, to anesthetize the sometimes willing and often gullible public to the reality of their businesses.

It also known as the Big Lie. But even the Big Lie can’t survive the persistence of video truth. So good for MFA for continuing to shock us all with the rampant cruelty tat takes place behind the guarded walls.

De-Beaking

Of all the practices that convey the casual cruelty and industrialization of the modern livestock industry, cutting the beaks off young chicks with a hot knife machine has to be one of the most revelatory.

Whenever people ask my why they can’t eat eggs from “happy chickens,” de-beaking (which is used on cage-free, organic, free-range, you name it, chickens) is one of the reasons I give. Tossing newborn male chicks alive into a grinder, because they have no value in the egg industry, is another.

You don’t need to watch much of this to get the idea.

Here’s a fuller explanation:

The debeaking machine depicted in this video is exactly the same as those used on U.S. farms, but because the video was made as a marketing demo by a company that sells the machines, it provides a fuller picture of what actually happens to hens during the debeaking process. Debeaking, also known euphemistically as “beak trimming,” is a painful procedure in which ½ to ⅔ of each bird’s sensitive beak is seared off with a hot blade, without anesthetic. While farmers will often dismiss the practice as harmless by comparing it to clipping our own fingernails, chickens’ beaks are the avian equivalent not of human fingernails, but fingertips— loaded with blood vessels, pain receptors, and specialized sensory nerves that facilitate food detection in the wild. Debeaking is so painful for these birds that some die of shock on the spot; others die of starvation or dehydration because using their beaks is so excruciating, or their mutilations are so disfiguring that they cannot properly grasp and swallow food.

The more you know….

Is Humane Slaughter Humane?

This has always been a question I have puzzled over. I don’t have any doubt that the lives and deaths of livestock at factory farms involve suffering and cruelty.

But meat-eating friends argue that if they buy meat from organic, humane, farmers who allow livestock to lead natural lives and slaughter the animals with care, then they are addressing the moral issues around meat-eating (note: it doesn’t deal with the environmental impact).

So, if an animal leads a reasonable farm life, and is slaughtered with care, is that cruel? Or is it humane? Writer Mac McClelland set out to answer exactly that question by witnessing the slaughter of cows at the Prather Ranch Meat Company, which produces some of the most humanely raised and slaughtered beef in the country:

Technically, humane slaughter became law in the United States with the 1958 Humane Slaughter Act, intended to prevent the “needless suffering” of livestock during slaughter. Compliance, though, historically has been hit-or-miss, and in the intervening decades, after sensational undercover investigations and Internet animal cruelty videos and activist PR campaigns, eaters have begun to demand information about the way meat meets its maker.

If Prather Ranch’s callers are any indication, that concern is growing into its own movement. And while it’s one thing to understand slaughter practices on a theoretical level, it’s another to be in the same room when a cow dies.

To that end, I wanted to find out about slaughter from the most progressive part of the meat industry. Are big slaughterhouses as bad as we imagine? Should we be paying as much attention to how animals die as to how they live? Even under the best circumstances, just how humane can slaughter ever be?

Here’s McClelland’s description of the key moment:

Early the next snowy morning, we enter a compact room in the Prather slaughterhouse. All the available space is taken up by one hanging cow being sliced, another hanging cow being skinned and a third, just-stunned cow hanging and being cut open while 5 gallons of blood gush from its body a few feet away from me. Moments ago, we heard this very cow mooing from the knock box on the other side of the wall.

Mary had warned us that “vocalization is not necessarily a good thing,” yet there are low, deep, booming bellows echoing off the walls. Grandin—whom the Rickerts have met, and who sits on the Scientific Committee behind the nonprofit Certified Humane label—considers this a sign of distress. Mary says that Grandin once told her Prather cows might moo because they smell blood and get hip to the scheme.

The next cow, the cow I watch die, is quiet. It is black. It comes casually down a walkway. It steps into a squeeze chute, the metal hugging cage that closes in on the cows’ sides to calm them. Scott Towne, the guy in charge of the killing, hits it with a CASH Knocker, a blank shell shooting from a metal apparatus at the end of the long, wooden-handled device and into the front of the head above the eyes, denting the skull but not penetrating its brain, rendering the animal insensible. Instantly the cow’s eyes close. Its neck is lax and its mouth open, easy as a child asleep at the dinner table, or a businessman asleep on a plane.

So, is this humane, moral, acceptable? McClelland decides that he can live with it (though I seriously doubt that all the meat he eats comes from Prather). And, certainly, it would be a revolution, and greatly reduce the inhumanity and cruelty of meat-eating is all meat was raised and slaughtered to the Prather standard (as unrealistic as that possibility might be).

For me, though, the scene McClelland describes remains too brutal, too raw. I have reached the point that I can’t be comfortable with the idea of food that involves hanging a live animal from a chain and slicing its throat open, even if it is insensible.

And even if slaughter didn’t involve any pain or suffering whatsoever (which I don’t believe it can), what about the social and emotional connections between the slaughtered cow and the rest of the herd? There are too many alternatives that don’t even raise a question of cruelty (in addition to the health and environmental reasons to shun meat, even if slaughter were perfectly humane).

Regardless of where you come down on the question of whether slaughter can be “humane,” McClelland has asked, and tried to answer, a very important question for all of us. (Interestingly, the photo editor and photographer Michael Friberg seem to have reached a different conclusion than McClelland, at least judging from the photos they chose to publish with the article, some of which I have included here).

Tale Of A Pig Farmer Redeemed (Sort Of)

It’s still pig farming, and that never works out well for the pigs in the end. But it’s nice to see there are farmers who elevate morality and compassion above the pure profit lure of agribusiness:

To get more profit from the land, which his family had farmed for five generations, [Russ] Kremer erected a long, low warehouse-like building and cycled 2,400 hogs a year through his operation. It wasn’t pretty. The sows that produced his piglets spent their entire lives confined to gestation and farrowing crates — metal enclosures barely larger than the animals themselves, which barely allowed them to move. The piglets grew up cheek by jowl in metal pens. Stressed and sickly, the animals were fed a constant diet of commercial feed laced with low levels of antibiotics. Slatted concrete floors allowed their excrement to drop into a vast pit below the barn. Massive fans pushed out poisonous gasses from the pit. In the mid-1980s, a thunderstorm struck in the predawn hours of a Sunday morning, knocking out power. Within a few hours, more than 200 hogs suffocated from the gas. Instead of going to church that morning, Kremer dug a pit and buried them.

“Raising pigs like that was the worst mistake I ever made,” he says.

That’s partly because Kremer was almost killed by an antibiotic-resistant bacterial infection that he helped nurture with his factory farm methods. But Kremer also found that there was another way to be a pig farmer:

So Kremer did the unthinkable: he bought new pigs and began to raise them without antibiotics. “I went cold turkey. Everyone I talked to told me I was crazy,” he said. “All my pigs would die.”

They were wrong. The first drug-free year, Kremer saved $16,000 in veterinary bills, and his hogs flourished. Unfortunately, the hog market collapsed in the late 1990s. One after the other, small family hog farmers in the county went out of business, often unable to sell pigs at any price to slaughterhouses designed to handle thousands of animals a day.

To survive, Kremer had to reinvent his approach to farming a second time. He and 33 other hog producers formed the Ozark Mountain Pork Cooperative to market their meat directly to commercial customers at premium prices. Members agreed to abide by a set of strict regulations: no antibiotics would be fed to the pigs. The animals had to have access to pasture. Their diet would consist of unadultered corn, soy, and oats. Sows could not be confined to crates. At slaughter, Ozark pigs would be killed painlessly after being rendered insentient by carbon dioxide gas. “I called it retro hog raising,” Kremer says.

I’d prefer if no one would raise pigs for slaughter, but if they are going to do so I’d prefer that they farm pigs like Kremer does. Kremer’s coop has grown to about 60 farmers and he is wise enough to stop there.

His story inspired this video (made by Chipotle which was inspired to buy Kremer’s pork), and hopefully it will inspire some other hog farmers:

(Yet!) One More Round On The Taiji Cruelty Report

Following the recent release of a paper on the inhumanity of the Taiji dolphin drive hunt (previous here, here, here, and here!), Lori Marino of Emory University voiced strong concerns about the language and approach of the paper, most prominently here.

Lori is as passionate, dedicated, and smart as they come when it comes to advocating for the rights of nonhumans. And she bravely raised completely legitimate points (though I personally did not agree completely with them). But she has reconsidered the sharpness and tone of her response, and has just released an open statement to the report authors:

Note to Self: It’s Not About Us

Open Statement to the authors of the Butterworth et al.(2013) paper: A Veterinary and Behavioral Analysis of Dolphin Killing Methods Currently Used in the “Drive Hunt” in Taiji, Japan

In response to the outpouring of strong reactions to this paper, both negative and positive, I need to say that my own criticisms of the paper reflect a very deep commitment to a particular stance on how we should oppose dolphin exploitation and abuse. They were not meant as a personal attack on the motivations of the authors, and I apologize and take full responsibility for any hurt the tone of my reaction and my comments have caused.

We are all frustrated over the ongoing abuses of dolphins and other animals. And we all have strong opinions about how to bring an end to those abuses. My own view is that a strong rights-based stance is the only one that will lead to real change, and that when we give the impression that we’re endorsing more “humane” ways of killing nonhuman animals, we have stepped over a “line in the sand” with regard to being respectful to the lives of the animals we are setting out to protect.

So I have very real concerns that a paper of this kind can backfire in terms of our goal, despite the good intentions.

More to the point, there is a respectful discussion to be had about these issues, and my reactions to this paper should have been more considerate and constructive.

I hope, in the future, to be able to reach out to my colleagues and friends as we all work to find ways to combat the abuses all around us – abuses that clearly leave deep marks on all of us.

Thank you,

Lori

I personally have no problem with sharp debates over this issue, or any issue. But it is important that debates not undermine the basic collegiality of all who care about dolphin issues, or undermine their ability to work together toward protecting dolphins. So I think this is a classy move on Lori’s part and I hope it succeeds in soothing any hurt feelings or ill will.

A Deep Dive Behind The New Report On Taiji Cruelty

Courtney Vail, one of the authors of this newly published paper detailing the extreme nature of the killing methods used in the Taiji dolphin drives, explains in more detail how off the charts the killing methods really are:

But what hasn’t changed is the desire of the fishermen to keep the activities in the cove hidden from public view.  If culture and tradition, why such secrecy and shame? Albert Schweitzer, in a call to unveil the cruel activities in the name of tradition everywhere, stated “The thinking (person) must oppose all cruel customs, no matter how deeply rooted in tradition and surrounded by a halo. When we have a choice, we must avoid bringing torment and injury into the life of another.” What is deplorable is the disparity between how dolphins and other animals are treated, even within Japan.   The current techniques employed in the drive hunts violate even current animal welfare regulations within Japan where domesticated animals are afforded protection under their equivalent of the Animal Welfare Act. These guidelines intended to minimize pain, suffering, fear, and “agony” are outlined for species such as horses, cattle, sheep, pigs, dogs, and other animals under human care or management.  Dolphins and whales are not protected by this law, nor are they afforded protection under the wildlife protection and hunting laws. Instead, dolphins and whales fall under the jurisdiction of the Fisheries Agency under the Department of Agriculture, which affords them little protection.  This is in sharp contrast to the protection for dolphins and whales in legislation in other parts of the world where the slaughter of whales and dolphin is strictly prohibited and even their harassment incurs penalties.

Even Japan’s stranding guidelines, issued by the very same agency (Japan Fisheries Agency) responsible for issuing quotas for the dolphin hunts across Japan, cite the necessity of involving a veterinarian in the humane euthanasia or slaughter of a stranded dolphin, and only under extreme circumstances where the individual animal is not likely to survive.  Here, the stranding manual suggests that the spinal incision method, similar to killing method in the drive hunts (without the utilization of the wooden plug), ‘gives psychological damage to observers’ and that spectators should be eliminated from the site, and drugs used instead to “execute” small cetaceans such as dolphins.  In the drive hunts, dozens are killed at a time, dragged to the shoreline by their tailstocks after an exhausting round up at sea.  Under many commercial slaughter regulations, and even compassionate euthanasia standards, it is required that animals should not be in close proximity when killed to avoid the distress associated with the sight, sounds, and smells of slaughter. For example, in the US and UK, the regulations and guidelines governing the humane treatment and slaughter of animals prohibit the killing of an animal in the presence of other animals. From a scientific, humane, and ethical perspective, the treatment of dolphins in these drive hunts sharply contradict current animal welfare standards employed in most modern and technologically advanced societies.

There has been some hard pushback on the paper, because it could be interpreted to be arguing that if the Taiji fishermen simply used accepted livestock slaughter practices then the drive hunts would be okay. While I think the pushback makes a legitimate criticism of the report, there is a benefit to detailing how completely abhorrent–and completely distinct from the slaughter of ANY animal– the Taiji killing methods are. Yes, every discussion about the Taiji dolphin drive should make crystal clear that it should end, without qualification, and that the entire concept of herding and killing dolphins is inhumane and immoral, period. But to the extent that the report shocks people with a deeper understanding of the unusual and extreme cruelty involved, I think it helps build revulsion and opposition to the very idea of the Taiji dolphin drives, regardless of whether the fishermen ever tried to adopt more accepted livestock slaughter practices. That is important.