Celebrate World Oceans Day by Rejecting Captivity
World Oceans Day is this Saturday, June 8, and is an annual celebration intended to honor the Earth’s oceans and to inspire people to protect marine animals and their habitats. Despite these noble goals, it is surprising that this day is coopted by multiple facilities, institutions, and corporations that imprison cetaceans for “entertainment,” including SeaWorld and the American Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).
Cetaceans are intelligent, complex, and self-aware beings who are capable of many feats once thought of as being exclusively human, such as using tools. Confining such highly evolved individuals to cramped concrete tanks, and compelling them to perform arbitrary, repetitive tricks is by no means “honoring” them. Instead, it gives the troubling and misguided impression that they, and by extension the ocean ecosystems they’re part of, are resources that humans have the right to exploit for profit. The trivialization of these beings in aquariums is arguably the epitome of human arrogance towards the natural world.
Dolphins and other cetaceans suffer immensely in captivity. They are denied the ability to engage in natural behaviors, travel long distances, and develop complex social structures; this leads to intense boredom and frustration. Cetaceans also develop ailments in captivity like tooth rot and collapsed dorsal fins, which cause them physical pain.
Research shows that visitors do not retain most of the information presented to them during dolphin shows, making captive cetacean facilities of virtually no educational value. Captivity drastically alters dolphins’ behavior and is known to cause cetaceans to become more aggressive, which may mislead visitors about dolphins’ needs and behaviors.
For example, captive dolphins spend most of their time at the surface, while wild ones spend most of their time beneath the surface. Research further suggests that viewing endangered wild animals in unnatural captive settings can falsely imply that they have stable wild populations, and in turn lead to misunderstandings and inaction.
To fulfill the true mission of World Oceans Day, SeaWorld and the AZA must acknowledge how their actions impact the cetaceans imprisoned in marine parks. If, as a society, we cannot come to understand that these mentally and emotionally complex animals deserve respect and consideration, what hope is there for all of the animals who inhabit our planet?
To learn more and take action for captive dolphins, click here.