“And entertainment has nothing to do with reality. Entertainment is antithetical to reality.” ― Michael Crichton, Jurassic Park
I packed eight books for leisure beach reading on my birthday vacation last month. A tad ambitious, as I read four, got about a third of the way through a fifth (which I did eventually finish), and the remaining three have yet to be so much as flicked open. The third vacay book I read was Spying on Whales by paleontologist Nick Pyenson. It’s an excellent, engaging read if you are fascinated by whales, and since pretty much everyone is fascinated by whales – with good reason – this concerns you.
Instead of offering a book review or literary critique per se, absolute non-qualifications of mine, I’m going to obsessively fixate on one small portion of the book and fall down a mental rabbit hole, all while dragging you along for the ride.
Pyenson writes about orcas, or killer whales, in the next-to-last chapter. He never mentions SeaWorld. I repeat, lest I accidentally misrepresent him, he never mentions SeaWorld. But holy shit, it was all I could think about. Orcas are riveting, complex, awe-inspiring creatures, and as I read Pyenson’s research, the only phrase coursing through my brain was:
“SeaWorld, what the fuck were you thinking?!”
Now, I assume you’ve watched Blackfish, still streaming on Netflix. If you haven’t, perform your civic duty and do so. Blackfish concentrates on the moral question of whether we should hold orcas in captivity, and compels the I-would-assume-now-obvious answer of NO. Of course we shouldn’t. It’s cruel, it’s exploitative, it’s immoral. If you are here because you willingly subject yourself to my feminazi diatribes, either we are blood related or you are a choir member in no mood for a sermon.
Instead of preaching, I’ll focus on the aspect Blackfish doesn’t, the aspect Pyenson’s book lays out in stark terms, perhaps unintentionally. Yes, humans holding killer whales captive is immoral and exploitative, but can we talk for a minute about how it’s also just colossally stupid? Let’s take the ethical question off the table for a second and examine an idea like SeaWorld from a purely mercenary perspective. Even taking moral qualms off the table, SeaWorld is quite possibly the dumbest idea humans have ever, ever had.
Shall we dive in, pun intended, and explore some fun facts about Shamu and her tribe? Let’s!
Orcas are of course technically dolphins, not whales, but never mistake them for those gray bobbing-head animals with the pink balls you can pet if you pay extra fees to already overpriced resorts in The Bahamas. No, these sleek, black and white sea mammals grow up to thirty feet in length and can weigh up to ten tons. They are known as “the supreme predator of the ocean”: as in, they have no natural predators on this planet. Their diet includes great white sharks, baleen whales, other dolphins, porpoises, sea lions, salmon, squid, deer, and moose. You read that correctly: deer and moose. When they spot a deer or moose wading in shallow waters, they are known to attack, kill, and eat those land mammals. Can we stop for a second and imagine how awkward it would be to attack and eat a moose if you have no opposable thumbs or weapons? Yet orcas manage just fine. If they can take down a large, gangly, hooved, ANTLERED, four-legged mammal, do you think they have a problem with soft, six-foot, bipedal, upright creatures, aka humans?
Let’s continue. Orcas pack hunt. Their predation styles are analogous to wolves. WOLVES. But wait, there’s more. They kill for sport, which should give anyone pause. But what I found perhaps most terrifying of all is that they understand how to drown mammals. I’ll repeat, they understand how to drown mammals, including blue whales, who are, oh, just the largest living species on earth. Isn’t that nice.
Orcas are extremely intelligent. According to EQ (encephalization quotient) measurements, orcas are the second smartest species on the planet, second only to humans. They are smarter than chimpanzees, and certainly smart enough to figure out when they are held captive. Also, their brains are quite similar to human brains, which tells us they have a comparable emotional and cultural experience to the world, BUT it seems relevant to mention here that orca brains are millions of years older than human brains. As in, they are more highly evolved. Dear god.
Killer whales also have a very sophisticated means of communication. Debate rages on whether their communications qualify as a language; but whatever it is, scientists and linguists agree it is extremely complex and advanced, and that humans have not one clue how to translate it.
Let’s recap! Humans, in all our infinite wisdom or whatever, actually thought nothing bad would happen if we created an entertainment venue that required complete control over the second smartest species on earth, who grow to five times the size of us, know how to drown us, will pack hunt us for sport, and can seamlessly communicate with each other in a manner we humans have no way of understanding. Bless our hubristic little hearts.
Does SeaWorld sound like a good idea to you? Because to me, it sounds like some Jurassic Park-level shit just without the cloning. To me, it sounds like a group of canaries trying to hold house cats captive. It sounds like a bunch of gazelles thinking it’s an okay idea to train lions to perform neat tricks for an audience. You’re right, what could possibly go wrong?
Chorizo Chili with an Avo Baked Egg
- CHORIZO CHILI:
- Slight drizzle of olive or canola oil
- 1 lb fresh raw Mexican chorizo
- 1 lb fatty ground pork
- 1 red bell pepper, diced
- 1 yellow onion, diced
- 2 jalapenos, diced (seeded if desired)
- ¼ cup ancho chile powder
- 2 tbs ground cumin
- 1 tbs garlic powder
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- ¼ tsp ground allspice
- Kosher salt, to taste
- 2 chipotle in adobo, minced (optional)
- 3 tbs tomato paste
- 1 12 ounce bottle of beer (I prefer Shiner Bock or a light Mexican variety like Dos Equis or Tecate)
- 1 28 ounce can of fire-roasted crushed tomatoes
- 1 15 ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained
- Toppings bar to your liking: cilantro, scallions, pickled or raw sliced jalapenos, more cheese, chips for scooping...
- CHIPOTLE CREMA:
- 1 cup sour cream
- 1-3 canned chipotles in adobo, minced
- Zest and juice of 1 lime
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- Kosher salt, to taste
- AVO BAKED EGG:
- 3 slightly underripe Hass avocados, halved evenly, peeled, and pit removed
- 6 large eggs
- About 4 oz Pepper Jack cheese, shredded
- CHORIZO CHILI:
- Preheat a large Dutch oven or soup pot over medium-high heat. Drizzle in a small amount of olive or canola oil, then add the Mexican chorizo and ground pork. Cook until thoroughly brown and no traces of pink remain, breaking it up with a wooden spoon as you go. Add the bell pepper, onion, and jalapeno to the meat and cook, stirring frequently, until the veggies are softened but not brown. Now add the ancho chile powder, cumin, garlic powder, cinnamon, allspice, and a good amount of kosher salt. Stir to coat the meat and veggies thoroughly. Add the chipotles if using and the tomato paste. Stir to break up the paste and combine everything.
- Deglaze with the beer, stirring to scrape up all the flavorful bits stuck to the bottom of the pot. Let the beer boil down for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes, then fill the tomato can about halfway up with water. Add the water, plus the beans, and stir well.
- Let the chili simmer and cook down, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching on the bottom of the pot, for a good 2 hours or so. You want it thick enough to scoop onto a chip. When it’s to your liking, taste for seasoning and adjust as needed. You’ll likely need more salt.
- To serve, scoop chili into a deep bowl, then top with an avo baked egg, a dollop of chipotle crema, and whatever other toppings you prefer (I like more shredded cheese plus a little minced cilantro, and of course chips on the side).
- CHIPOTLE CREMA:
- Whisk all ingredients together in a small bowl until smooth. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed. Let it hang out in the fridge while the chili simmers away.
- AVO BAKED EGG:
- Preheat oven to 425℉. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Use a spoon to carefully hollow out the wells in each avocado - not by much, but you need a little more room than they naturally provide for the egg. Place each avocado half on the sheet, cut side up. Crack the eggs into individual prep bowls. Carefully lift a yolk with your hands, catching some whites with it and transfer to an avocado well. If there’s space, spoon a little more whites in there. Bake for 10 minutes. Set your oven to broil, transfer the rack as close to the broiler as you can, then sprinkle shredded cheese over the avocado halves. How much is fairly subjective, and runoff is a good thing. Broil a few minutes, until the cheese is gooey and bubbly.
- This will make about 6 servings.