Here's some commonly asked questions I've gotten while pitching my work.
What's your agenda?
I'm a storyteller and an academic. I'm exploring a foreign world and writing about my experiences. If there's any agenda, it's one of storytelling. That's all.
Are you an activist?
No. See above.
Why are you able to tell this story?
I often think about this question too. To tell a story is to crystalize, humanize, analyze. I don't have any ties to the industry, which allows me to be rather upfront and critical with what I see, regardless of its viewpoint. I'm also not making a career out of writing, so I'm not looking for publicity or "scandalous" content. I've talked with trainers, activists, behaviorists, philosophers, historians, industry leaders, and much more. I've also had the honor to hear the life story of a current killer whale trainer, and I have in my possession around a thousand articles and a pile of books on the subject. As a total outsider, I started off knowing very little. But I am willing to learn and to engage.
Isn't it a no-brainer to oppose the keeping of killer whales in captivity?
Listen, I'm a computer scientist. I might even be an armchair environmentalist, but that's as far as I'll go. Because I don't naturally view things through an animal rights lens, I don't see why this is immediately obvious. The current public opinion on the industry crystallized from Blackfish and snowballed through internet misinformation. As a result, the ethical complexities of this industry are often oversimplified. The things I'm discovering do not always fit the anti-industry rhetoric, but that's why it's so interesting!
What are your thoughts on Blackfish?
As a person who enjoys seeing works of persuasion, I deeply admire Blackfish and the social impact it had. However, as a writer who occasionally thinks about the ethics of storytelling, I have my reservations on the content of Blackfish. I am certainly not alone. Members of Dawn Brancheau's family, a large group of people from the industry, and even a historian have expressed similar concerns. Unfortunately, their voices are often never heard. Acknowledging these shortcomings of Blackfish, I hope to tell the story in an ethical, bipartisan manner.
What's the weirdest/coolest thing you've found?
If you live in the Pacific Northwest, you might know the story of Ted Griffin and killer whale Namu. Namu was the first "real" orca to be kept in captivity, and Griffin developed a strong rapport with him. He was even featured in a movie called "Namu My Best Friend." The movie starts and ends with a ballad. The chorus? "Live and let live, let nature be your teacher, respect the life of your fellow creature..."
Why do you care?
This whole project started on a pandemic-driven impulse to do something with my spare time. As a middle-schooler, I was quite involved with both the anti-captivity and pro-captivity communities, often back-to-back. This story was something I had actively tried to suppress during my high school years because it didn't fit my narrative as a budding mad scientist. But pandemic isolation and self-reflection made me realize that I have one hell of a story to discover and tell.