Captive Marine Animals: Educational or Exploitive?Published May 19, 2010
Hardly a day passes at our household when my husband and I are not found glued to our television as we avidly watch the Congressional hearings on C-Span. Ranging from the Banking and Insurance Industry hearings, to the investigation of the recent tragic BP disaster, these programs are both revealing and disturbing.
But the other day as we watched a re-run of a hearing held on April 27 2010 by the Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife, of the House Natural Resources Committee, which explored the worth of captive displays and performances using dolphins, whales and other marine animals, and to examine if, in fact, whether the theme parks which feature these exhibits are using these mammals for entertaining educational purposes or just for entertainment alone. This was the first full-scale congressional investigative action concerning captive marine animals held in 16 years.
And as I viewed the presentation, I found myself becoming very uncomfortable and disturbed. While I am by no means an expert on this species of the denizens of the deep, I am completely drawn and fascinated by these highly intelligent and magnificent mammals. I now find myself becoming increasingly concerned about their welfare and if they are really being exploited in order to bolster the pocketbooks of some theme parks.
In defense of the "captive" industry, those representing it talked about its educational value, claiming that after watching these mammals perform during a visit to a theme park, children became inspired to become trainers or scientists, while on the other hand, Dr. Naomi Rose, marine mammal scientist for The HSUS and the Humane Society International claimed these programs have generally provided misleading or plainly inaccurate information circulated to the public based on recent analysis. One really compelling statement made by a marine scientist who abhors the condition in which captive marine animals live really touched my heart, by saying that watching and studying these animals that live in small tanks in a completely unnatural habitat can be compared to trying to understand human being by observing prisoners locked in solitary confinement.
The tragic drowning of the Orlando SeaWorld trainer, Dawn Brancheau by Orca Tilikum was followed by his banishment to a tank out of public view. Since he was involved in the death of three people since 1991 his future is uncertain. However it is public knowledge that he is now being used for breeding purposes. This incident has led some of the members of this key committee to wonder if an orca who has killed before and who may kill again to be still considered "educational".
Living in deep oceanic waters, which range from the arctic to the tropics, dolphins and orcas can be found in oceans around the world and in most of the seas. While Orcas enter estuaries sometimes, they rarely venture far from the sea. Orcas live in pods ranging from 6-40 and form deep familial bonds. They are very social animals, hunting together and sharing large prey. Highly protective of one another, they are well known for taking care of their young, sick or injured pod members.
Dolphins can be found in every ocean and sea, but also in major river systems. Dolphins can live in fresh water, salt water or a combination of both, known as "brackish" water. Living in both coastal waters and the open ocean, the majority prefer to live in shallow water. Their pod size is based on the availability of prey.
And while there are researchers, marine animal scientists and veterinarians whose missions is to preserve and ensure the protection of marine animals, who treat injured dolphins, orcas and whales and contribute to their welfare, I have to wonder whether these popular theme parks and circuses are just exploiting these amazing animals to make a huge profit. Since these animals have often been cruelly captured and forcibly removed from their natural environments, aren't we just rationalizing that what we "learn" about them to be accurate. In my opinion, these marine animals should be free to roam the open waters and observed in their natural habitats through the use of the excellent educational documentaries filmed in the wild, that are easily available.
For more information about the plight of captive marine animals, watch this compelling video uploaded to YouTube by Super Slow Down.
Photo credit: Wikipedia Bottlenose Dolphin -Notojima Aquarium -Ishikawa -Japan
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