It’s become an unfortunate blemish on the television and film industry: Animals exploited and suffering for entertainment. This fall, we reported that production of the movie, “The Hobbit,” resulted in the death of 27 animals.
On March 6th, a white-tip shark, who was placed into a backyard pool in Los Angeles for use in a Kmart commercial, died after showing signs of severe distress.
The American Humane Association (AHA), the organization that certifies film and TV productions with animals (they’re the ones responsible for the ‘No animals were harmed in the making of’ notices), had a representative at the scene of the shoot and claims that everything possible was done to maintain the shark’s well-being.
The 5-foot shark was placed into a 60,000 gallon outdoor tank in the Van Nuys suburb of Los Angeles, said Karen Rosa, senior adviser for the film and television unit of the AHA.
But the amount of water doesn’t seem to be the issue. First, the shark was shipped from New York to Los Angeles, a long and stressful trek, especially for an aquatic animal. Then, according to a BBC report, actors were jumping in and out of the pool where the shark was kept.
When the shark showed signs of distress, it was “injected with adrenaline and received oxygen from a trainer,” the AHA says. The shark died that afternoon after being moved to a specialist in Long Beach.
In a letter to the AHA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) wrote: “Sharks are sensitive animals who, in captivity, require a highly specialized and controlled environment. Given the delicate nature of this species, why would the AHA approve the transport and use of this animal?”
Howard Riefs, a spokesman for Kmart owner Sears Holdings, said in a statement: “We take this matter seriously and safety is always our paramount concern.” But Kmart’s actions following the shark’s untimely death seem to differ from this sentiment.
According to a statement from the on-set whistle-blower who initially tipped PETA off to the shark’s death, Kmart insisted on using live sharks in the ad against their production company’s recommendation, and continued to push for live animals after the shark died:
“… the production company, Boxer Films of Los Angeles, had recommended against using a live shark. When the animal died, Kmart asked that a second shark be brought on set, but the production company refused and replaced the animal with an animatronic hippopotamus, …”
Perhaps more maddening is that white-tip sharks are on the list of threatened species due to a decline in population following the popularity of shark fin soup, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
In a statement, Karen Rosa, senior advisor for the AHA said: “We honestly don’t know why the animal died. It was not being mistreated. It was not being harmed.”
Clearly, we need to revisit our definition of harm and mistreatment for animals used for entertainment. Forcing a wild animal to travel thousands of miles alone, only to be confined to a backyard pool with people jumping in and out sounds pretty cruel to us.
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