With All Due Respect: The Cruelty Of Animal Abuse And Offshore Drilling

Aug 5, 2014

I get it. I truly understand and empathize with the uproar and outrage concerning the two teenaged girls who tortured and stomped to death a gopher tortoise on July 16 in Clay County.

We know this because they pridefully took video of their actions and posted it on Facebook – which allowed viewers to simultaneously hear their laughter and cry of "burn baby burn" when they set the creature afire.

Credit Alexander Vasenin / Wikimedia Commons

Ultimately, it's good they did the video. Their hubris led to their arrests on felony animal cruelty charges. Hopefully it also leads to the girls getting counseling as well as punishment, and learning, perhaps life-changing lessons.

Additionally, the firestorm generated by the video going viral created an opportunity for animal advocates to bring attention – not only to protecting endangered animals such as that tortoise – but the importance of respecting all creatures – large and small.

The death of one small turtle and the resulting media and social media probably did more good in that regard than a million public service announcements.

But, compare that with what greeted a story two days later, July 18. That's when the federal government revealed it will permit oil exploration off our coast from Delaware Bay to Cape Canaveral with surveying beginning as early as next spring.

The announcement drew a variety of official comment but no public outrage – even though people have been crying "not our coast" for many years.

The Florida Times-Union ran a thorough page-one story, but media response has be quiet overall.

U.S. Senator Bill Nelson called the move unwise and impractical and said drilling could interfere with military operations off Jacksonville and create environmental hazards.

And the environment is where this story intersects with the murdered tortoise. Because, according to published reports, the surveying process alone could kill or deafen thousands of whales and dolphins along with fish and other aquatic species.

To locate oil and gas beneath the ocean floor, seismic air guns are used to shoot sound waves to locate pockets where the raw fuels might be embedded.

The Times-Union quoted the highly respected Quinton White, executive director of Jacksonville University's Marine Science Research Institute.

He said the seismic blasts could deafen nearby mammals like whales, burst fish swim bladders, and kill single-celled organisms critical to the ecosystem. And the sea turtles we go to such lengths to protect... they'll be affected too.

Moreover, the air gun noise could disorient the sea animals some distance away. White said he worries their confusion might cause them to leave normal migration paths and beach themselves or die of starvation in the ocean.

The bureau of ocean energy management, in an environmental impact study, said guidelines for the seismic oil hunt will ensure crews keep watch for any mammals surfacing and stop operations until the animals move far enough away. It also says some animals will be killed or hurt by the testing, but not "too many."

If dolphins and whales survive but are "only" deafened, one can "only" imagine their pain and their loss of mobility given the sensitivity and importance of their hearing to navigation and communication. Could this process be described as anything other than cruel?

Which brings us back to a pair of girls in their teen-aged years, a time of life not noted for straight thinking.

Messed up? Sure. But if the spontaneous killing of the turtle by immature teens was terrible, what is an act by the greatest country on the planet which, even with extensive planning and time to think about it, will cause the painful deaths of some of that planet's most vital, loved and intelligent creatures?

True, environmental concerns must be balanced against energy independence – but supposedly we now export more oil than we import and renewable energy capacity is growing so, how different is "drill baby drill" from "burn baby burn"?

Jay Solomon is a retired broadcast executive and an occasional contributor to First Coast Connect.