Former Vernon resident fights for animal rights

By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Vernon - posted Fri., Jan. 31, 2014
Chris Merrow holds a protest sign while awaiting the SeaWorld float in the Rose Parade in Pasadena on Jan. 1. Courtesy photos. - Contributed Photo

Former Vernon resident Christopher Merrow was recently arrested, but he said the experience was for a good cause and well-worthwhile. Merrow, who grew up in Vernon and is a 2005 graduate of Rockville High School, is a member and employee of Peta, and took part in a demonstration against SeaWorld during the Rose Parade on Jan. 1 in Pasadena, Calif.

Merrow and others ran out in front of the SeaWorld float and delayed the parade briefly before being arrested by police. Nineteen people were arrested for protesting SeaWorld's methods of caring for killer whales – or orcas – claiming that they are kept in pools too small to be healthy for the marine mammals.

Merrow said he had always been concerned with animal rights and became more involved with activism after going to college in Florida. He has been involved with Peta for about eight years, and now residing in Los Angeles, he works as a tour and event manager for Peta2 – the organization's youth division, working with bands and sponsorships for tours and festival events.

Merrow said he was shocked to learn that the parade committee included the SeaWorld float, which depicted animals in the wild, but, in his words, “glorifies the miserable lives of captive orcas.” That prompted him to take part in the protest. It was the first time he's been arrested.

He was in the jail for only a few hours, and is awaiting a court date on the misdemeanor of “interfering with a special event,” which is a local ordinance in Pasadena and could carry a maximum sentence of a year in jail (although that severe a penalty is rare).

“I think it was very successful,” he said. “Being in jail for a few hours is nothing when compared to the lifetime of imprisonment that orcas face at SeaWorld. They are confined to a space that is the human equivalent of a bathtub.”

Merrow claims that SeaWorld takes whales away from their families soon after being born, and that they typically swim hundreds of miles per day in the wild, which they cannot in a small pool. He cited the movie “Blackfish” – which is available for free on the Netflix service – as a documentary on the problem.

Merrow said SeaWorld has been encouraged to put the whales in larger oceanside sanctuaries, but hasn't done so.

SeaWorld called the “Blackfish” movie “inaccurate and misleading,” in an October 2013 statement sent to CNN. SeaWorld Vice President of Communications Fred Jacobs (also in a CNN interview from 2013) said SeaWorld is very active in the rehabilitation and rescue of orcas and other species of animals.

“While a killer whale can and occasionally might travel as much as 100 miles in a day, it should be said that swimming that distance is not integral to a whale's health and well-being,” Jacobs said, in the interview. Jacobs also said the seaside sanctuaries are “effective for transitioning a rescued animal back to life in the open ocean, but they are not appropriate for long-term care.”

Calling the demonstration successful, Merrow said the crowd cheered and supported the protesters. “I really wanted to do something to show the truth,” he said. “The crowd was very supportive. There were more than 100 people protesting, and a lot of people who didn't want [SeaWorld] there. All of the protestors, including myself, have shown that people don't support mistreating of orcas.”

Merrow said that each person who adopts a vegan lifestyle saves about 100 animals per year from being abused. “The easiest way to help animals is simply by not eating them,” he said.

He said he has no plans to get arrested again, but would take part in future demonstrations.

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