Imagine being involuntarily removed from your home to be kept in a tank as a spectacle. This is the fate of some marine animals, like Orca whales and dolphins, who can commonly be found at different aquariums and SeaWorld locations. As a little girl I enjoyed visiting the local aquarium and learning about the different species of aquatic life, but now I question the animal's quality of life. It is not humane to strip an animal of its natural environment solely for human entertainment. I understand that in some circumstances animals are caught for rehabilitation purposes and then released back into the wild when they are deemed fit for survival, but in many cases the animal's best interest is not considered.
I was enlightened after watching the documentary Blackfish, which follows the life of Tilikum, a captive Orca whale that has taken the lives of several trainers (The Killer in the Pool). This opened my eyes to the inadequate conditions marine life are subjected to in the sea-park industry and how important their natural habitat is to their well being. As humans we take for granted our freedom to move around, but what if we were forced to stay in our beds for the rest of our lives? For orca whales and dolphins, living in a aquarium tank is the equivalent to living in a bathtub, where their only form of stimulation is swimming around in circles.
Tilikum, the Orca whale often used for SeaWorld shows, lashed out and killed one of his trainers, Dawn Brancheau, along with two other people (Aquariums and Marine Parks). The loss of any form of life is devastating, but you can’t help but feel badly for Tilikum, who has spent thirty years living in a tank instead of roaming the open ocean. Richard Ellis, a marine conservationist, said that even though he cannot be sure of what the whale was thinking at the time, he can assume that because killer whales are supposed to be some of the most intelligent species this was no accident (Aquariums and Animal Rights). Whether the animal was in distress, bored, or this was his way of showing his frustration, it should have been a red flag to his caretakers. It also makes you question not only the psychological, but also physical state these animals are in when they have been robbed of their natural environment. The Humane Society of the United States explains the unfortunate result of Killer whales kept in captivity:
This unnatural situation can cause skin problems. In addition, in captive killer whales (orcas), it is the probable cause of dorsal fin collapse, as without the support of water, gravity pulls these tall appendages over as the whale matures. Collapsed fins are experienced by all captive male orcas and many captive female orcas, who were either captured as juveniles or who were born in captivity. However, they are observed in only about 1% of orcas in the wild (Aquariums and Animal Rights)..
Even after the tragic incident between Tilikum and his trainer, orcas and other marine life continue to be used in interactive programs. The tricks these animals are forced to perform are not natural behaviors. This made me question the tactics used to get the animals to cooperate. With further research I uncovered the unethical measures used by places like SeaWorld and other aquariums. In order to keep the the orcas and dolphins interested the trainers will not feed them before a show so they are hungry. This ensures that during the show the animals will corporate in order to receive the positive reinforcement of food. If the animals do not complete the tricks they do not get fed. A combination of hunger and frustration from being contained in adequate spaces would make anyone aggressive.
People argue that unlike humans, marine animals do not feel pain and therefore are not suffering, but that is not true (Aquariums and Animal Rights). In some circumstances the calves of mature orca whales and dolphins are lured away from their mothers so that the calves will grow up used to human contact. This happened to a female orca and her calf in Blackfish, in which once separated both animals demonstrated immense grief. Both the mother and baby’s anguished cries continued on for days. As a result the mother orca maintained her position in one corner of her tank and mourned the loss of her baby.
As humans we can fight against this injustice by avoiding marine parks, zoos, or aquariums that keep aquatic animals in captivity (Aquariums and Marine Parks). If animals are being kept in captivity for rehabilitation they should be allotted more space and aquariums should not be permitted to catch wild animals for human entertainment.
"Aquariums and Marine Parks." PETA. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Apr. 2017.
Lin, Doris. "Why Do Animal Rights Activists Oppose Aquariums?" ThoughtCo. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Apr. 2017.
Zimmermann, Tim. "The Killer in the Pool."outsideonline Mariah Media Network LLC, 30 July 2010. Web. 9 Apr. 2017.