Cruelty: The Truth about Marine Parks and Aquariums
From the Panhandle to the Florida Keys, the scene is familiar:
crowds cheer as splashing orcas leap through the air for a handful
of fish, dolphins are ridden by human performers as if they were
water skis, and sea lions wave to the audience on command. Employees
at marine parks like to tell audiences that the animals wouldn’t
perform if they weren’t happy, and until now this assertion
has gone largely unchallenged. But as news gets out about traumatic
captures, barren concrete tanks, high mortality rates, and aberrant
– even dangerous – animal behavior, people are beginning
to realize that hidden behind the dolphin’s “smile”
is an industry built on suffering.
is the birthplace of, and still the biggest player in the marine
park industry, with 13 attractions and 367 captive sea animals,
more than any other state.
whales, or orcas, are members of the dolphin family. In the
ocean, orcas and dolphins stay with their families, or “pods,”
for their entire lives and communicate with each other in a
“dialect” specific to their family pod. Imagine,
then, the trauma inflicted on these highly social animals when
they are ripped from their families and put in the strange artificial
world of a marine park.
capture of marine mammals is a violent procedure. Pods of orcas
and dolphins are chased to exhaustion using airplanes, boats,
harpoons, and explosives. Once cornered, pods are surrounded with
nets and capture teams search through the terrified groups for
the animals they want. Those selected are taken ashore and will
never see their ocean world or their pod again. Many die from
shock or injuries. Remaining family members often become frantic
upon seeing their captured companions and try to save them. When
Namu, an orca captured off the coast of Canada, was towed to the
Seattle Public Aquarium in a steel cage, her family followed for
The United States still allows dolphins to be captured for marine
parks – now banned in many countries.
to an Alien World
nature, orcas and dolphins enjoy the ability to move freely. Their
streamlined bodies and smooth skin enable them to gain fast speed,
and they are always on the move, swimming up to 100 miles a day.
They spend only 10-20 percent of their time on the water’s
surface and can hold their breath for as long as 30 minutes, diving
to depths of more than 1,640 feet.
captivity, orcas and dolphins are restricted by their tank or
enclosure, which can measure a mere 24 feet by 24 feet wide and
six feet deep. They can only swim a few feet before a wall or
a fence stops them. Captive orcas and dolphins spend more than
half of their time swimming in small circles or simply lying motionless
on the surface of the water. Experts believe that this may account
for the collapsed dorsal fins seen on the majority of captive
copper and other harsh chemicals are used to disinfect animal
wastes and keep the water clear. Animals suffer burning eyes,
peeling skin and can even die from fluctuating or excessive chemicals.
Former dolphin trainer Ric O’Barry, who trained dolphins
for the television show Flipper, believes excessive chlorine
has caused some dolphins to go blind.
order to force newly captured dolphins and orcas to perform inane
circus tricks, trainers must first obtain complete control over
them. This is accomplished by taking advantage of the captive
dolphins’ powerless predicament: They depend totally on
their keepers to be fed. Hungry animals quickly learn that only
when they perform a desired behavior; such as waving at the audience
or tail walking, do they get to eat. Isolating animals who refuse
to perform is another common training method. Former dolphin trainer
Doug Cartlidge maintains that highly social dolphins are punished
by being isolated from other animals: “You put them in a
pen and ignore them. It’s like psychological torture.”
chlorinated tank, without ocean tides or other sea creatures
is an abnormal environment for a dolphin. Their sonar bounces
back at them from concrete walls. They have to swim in endless
circles. Instead of chasing live prey all day, they eat dead
fish dumped from a bucket.
Captivity is a death sentence for orcas and dolphins and more
than 3,850 marine mammals have died in captivity in the last 30
years. In the wild, dolphins can live to be 25 to 50 years old.
Male orcas live between 50 and 60 years, females between 80 and
90 years. Orcas rarely survive more than 10 years in captivity.
Common causes of death include, capture shock, pneumonia, chlorine
poisoning, starvation, stress, drowning, and heat. To the marine
park industry, these facts are accepted as routine operating expenses.
Seaquarium has lost 64 of 89 dolphins since 1972. Of those whose
age could be determined, more than half died at 10 or younger,
including 16 in their first year.
pay the price of admission, the animals pay with their lives.
Lesson in Mis-Education
The often-repeated justifications for marine parks as places of
education and conservation have never stood up against examination.
Traditional exhibits center on animals performing tricks that
are exaggerated variations of their natural behaviors. These tricks
prevent the audience from contemplating the barren concrete enclosures,
so different from the environment from which these animals have
been taken. Jacques Cousteau believed that captive dolphins are
conditioned and deformed and bear little resemblance to dolphins
living in freedom in the sea. It’s like studying human psychology
only in prisons, which leads, obviously, to misinterpretations
and absurd generalizations.
parks have shown no more interest in conserving marine mammals’
natural habitats than they have in educating audiences. In fact,
the industry has actively lobbied to keep small cetaceans, such
as orcas and dolphins, outside the jurisdiction of the International
Whaling Commission (even though this would help to protect these
animals in their natural habitat) because they don’t want
to risk not being able to capture additional animals in the future.
Marine parks destroy captive animals’ abilities to survive
in the ocean and they vehemently oppose release efforts.
Forcing animals to perform silly tricks for the public is nothing
more than cheap circus. The only lesson imparted to the children
is "You can make money by exploiting wildlife"
Federal agencies overseeing marine parks are responsible with
enforcing Animal Welfare Act mandates on water quality levels,
diet, medical care, and space requirements. However the government
does little to enforce those minimum requirements and rarely levies
fines or closes facilities. Repeated violators are allowed to
continue operating for years even after documented contaminated
water, starvation, or deaths.
Inspectors "are generally overworked and there are not many
of them," said David Cottingham, executive director of the
U.S. Marine Mammal Commission. "There are very few who are
trained in marine mammal veterinary sciences."
But No Tanks!
Fortunately, for marine mammals, more and more people are becoming
concerned about marine mammal suffering, and uncomfortable at
sea circuses. Citizens are now speaking out loudly that dolphins
and whales belong in the ocean.
2006, ARFF targeted
the cruel display of whales and dolphins at Orlando marine parks
with a billboard on Florida's Turnpike heading into the city. The
billboard read, "Missing her family, the ocean, her freedom.
A POOL IS NOT A HOME — Please do not support marine mammal
are several ways you can help end the misery of marine mammals
imprisoned in marine parks and aquariums:
Refuse to visit them.
Educate your family, friends and co-workers. Download
Notify ARFF of any substandard conditions you encounter.
Become an ARFF member.