I recently watched a video of a seal jumping aboard a boat to escape some orcas attempting to eat it. I was amazed by the willingness of the seal to throw itself aboard an unknown, floating object, with strange creatures aboard. Of course, it makes perfect sense considering it was probably seconds from death. I had seen plenty of videos showing the deaths of animals, but this one hit me with a sudden insight. Rather than being just a hunk of flesh being chased by a cheetah, or a lump of fat getting minced by a shark, the prey in this video became real. It was no longer just prey, but a specific prey. This wasn’t any seal, but a specific seal, a seal different from every other seal that could possibly exist. All because I seen one primal emotion within it: terror.
Isn’t it odd? These animals live on the razors edge all the time: at any moment a predator can jump out of nowhere and end their life. It seems so simple when just talking about the circle of life or how prey is food for predators. But when you look at the seal, and see the terror in its eyes, it, all of a sudden, is no longer just whale food, but a living being with thoughts and emotions, about to die. Instead of a faceless piece of meat, it is a live, breathing, thinking animal, one of a kind, about to be extinguished forever. It is something terrifying, the idea that a creature can be killed at any point in time, simply to supply energy further up the food chain. This specific seal, was about to die, not because something hated it, or because it believed in an idea, or because it had committed a crime, but because the seal is food.
Natural violent death is practically unknown to humans, we haven’t been prey in hundreds of thousands of years. None of us know what it’s like to be food. We don’t experience the hatchet, the bolt pistol, the fish hook, or the harpoon. The idea that a being such as we can be killed for food is repulsive. Yet, why is it any different from the seal? The difference is we recognize every human as unique. Thinking that a person was autonomous and perhaps had a family, perhaps had some odd thoughts, or perhaps wore size 7 1/2 shoes. These things, that make us all separate entities, are what create disgust for the simple killing of a person for food. If we were all drones, exactly the same, it wouldn’t make a difference. It is the idea that an individual can be reduced to a basic meal that is horrendous. But for animals, we don’t see individuals. We see predator prey. We see a thousand black and white cows, all quietly slaughtered, all the same. We see a caribou running to survive. We don’t see the terror it is feeling, nor its simplistic thoughts. This is why the seal is simply a seal to us, because it looks and acts the same as any other seal that was ever eaten. But I saw the terror within the seal, and with that, I understood that it was just as unique as any human.
In the end we are no different from the seal.