Utter B.S.

This morning I saw one of the much-maligned tv ads for BP and how sorry they are and how committed they are to fixing the massive oil spill they’ve caused. bp oil spill bird rehabI don’t blame them for trying to control their image (although I don’t think it’s going to work given what they’ve done) but I take major offense at the image on the left. As a person who worked at SeaWorld for almost ten years and spent some time with rescued animals, I can tell you for 100% certain that this image of smiley, happy people surrounded by clean, sudsy birds is utter bullshit. And it infuriates me- and it should infuriate you too.

I’ve worked with a few rescued animals and you know what it’s like? Dirty. D-I-R-T-Y. And back breaking, exhausting, and potentially dangerous. And you know what happens at the end of all that? Most of the time, the rescued animal dies anyway, breaking your heart. The heroes who really do this work all the time operate on the same level as emergency room doctors: no time to get too upset about one loss, since they’ve got dozens more to try and save where that one came from.

I’ll share one personal story to illustrate: one year while I was at SeaWorld there were a number of common dolphins who beached themselves and needed to be rescued. (Right there, that’s heart breaking, right?) At any given time we had between 1-3 beached dolphins being rehabbed to be re-released after they healed. The demand to take care of these animals 24/7 was so great the animal care specialists asked for help from some folks in the education department, which is where I came in. My first shift began at 2 in the morning. I was to don those sexy Helly Hansen yellows and get in the water with this common dolphin (who was having too many problems to stay upright to breathe for himself) and physically walk him around the pool for two hours in the dead of night. As I walked up, I realized the dolphin was really, really sick. Just after I arrived he died – the single most beautiful animal I have ever seen die in front of me. I cried. At two thirty in the morning, the three of us carried this gorgeous dead dolphin out of the pool to the necropsy room to await analysis. (Do you know how heavy dolphins are?) The other two folks I was there with left, and I went back to counting respirations of the remaining rescued dolphins until dawn when the regular animal care team arrived to relieve me. At that time i learned one of the beached baby harbor seals they had rescued had died as well. When I got home I couldn’t eat until I had taken a hot shower, not knowing what sort of bacteria or viruses I had been exposed to in the prior hours.

Please tell me what part of that story sounds like that PR photo above. Add on top of that the death of COUNTLESS dolphins, sea turtles, fish, invertebrates, corals, and more – all the animals I spent ten years of my life teaching kids to value and conserve – it’s an absolute outrage. Maybe it’s time for bike baby, bike.

If you want to be brave, get people to do something new

Make natural behaviors happen more frequently …But if you want to be smart, figure out what they do naturally and see if you can get more people to do it, or get people to do it more often.

From an operant conditioning standpoint, it’s a lot easier to train established behaviors to happen on cue, a lot harder to shape an entirely new behavior. How do I know? I used to teach a Marine Mammal Behavior and Training class at SDSU Extended Studies during my many years of working in Education at SeaWorld.

Some of the “easier” training at SeaWorld happens when trainers see the animal doing a behavior they’d like to repeat on cue. They reinforce the behavior immediately, which increases the likelihood of the behavior happening again. (Kind of like kindergarten teachers give “caught you being good” awards)

So there you go: license to be a little lazy/smart: to increase your success rate, focus your marketing efforts on doing something you know happens organically.