Mark Hawthorne wrote Bleating Hearts because he wanted to ‘examine animal exploitation that does not get enough (or any) attention.’ (4) As you might expect, this is a book that is a catalog of our inhumanity to animals. It’s not an easy read but each chapter concludes with a ‘What You Can Do’ section. The best way to read it is to take chapters in turn depending upon your interest or need to know. Hawthorne is a writer of integrity. If he says it, you can trust it. I recognised Bleating Hearts as one of my Best Animal Rights Books in 2013. Indeed, Bleating Hearts is so important that not only does it deserve a place on everyone’s bookshelf but also it warrants further examination here.
Take, for example, Chapter 6 ‘The Age of Aquariums: Animals in Entertainment.’ Sixty pages devoted to indefensible activities such as imprisoning dolphins, orcas, and killer whales and conditioning them to perform silly tricks to entertain people. As with other marine mammal displays, roadside attractions, and zoos, there’s no real educational benefit. Studies show that visitors don’t necessarily learn anything about the trapped animals other than perhaps recalling the thrill of being splashed with water. Wild animals are no less wild just because they’re wild-caught or bred (in-bred more like). Most likely from boredom, frustration, and anger, they attack and kill people when they’re provoked or have the opportunity to do so. Hawthorne explains how parks get their orcas.
The orca slave trade took off in 1965 when Ted Griffin, then owner of the Seattle Public Aquarium, captured a young whale, harpooning and killing her mother in the process. The calf, the first in a long line of orcas to be given the name Shamu, was sold to San Diego’s newly built Sea World for what would be half a million US dollars today. Suddenly, marine parks everywhere were eager to shell out big money for these animals, and there were people willing to do anything for a piece of it. (305-6)
Then, there’s artificial insemination. Hawthorne describes how male orcas are taught to allow trainers to masturbate them and collect their semen. Female orcas are also trained to accept trainers insert an endoscope into their uterus to deliver the sperm. Next up are dolphins, who are caught, trained, and conditioned to swim with people for profit and supposedly for therapy assistance.
The rest of the chapter describes the injustices inflicted upon animals in circuses, zoos, in film and on TV, fighting (dogs, horses, bears), kickboxing (orangutans), wrestling (camels, alligators, crocodiles, pigs), and, perhaps the most ‘celebrated’ of all animals in entertainment, bullfighting.
But there’s much that can be done by everyone to dump so-called ‘animal entertainments’ into the trashcan of history.
The first and most important step you can take to help animals exploited for entertainment is not to support the enterprises and institutions that profit from animal abuse. (355)
Bleating Hearts is among the most important books anyone who cares deeply about animals would want to have on their bookshelf. The hidden world of animal suffering is that much more known thanks to Mark Hawthorne, whose writing is clear and compelling, and research impeccable and trustworthy. If ever there is a must-have book that’s well-read, this is it.