By Sarah Brill, Science and Technology Editor
For many years, countries across the globe have normalized the marine entertainment and education industry. Pleasure is received from seeing a sea animal jump through hoops or perform stunts that they have rehearsed with their trainers. What the audience doesn’t see behind the closed doors of the amusement park is how sea animals are torn away from their families or bred in captivity.
One of the most common sea animals that have been used in this industry are killer whales, also known as orcas. Orcas are of the most intelligent animals to be found in the ocean. According to Lori Marino, a marine mammal neuroscientist, founder of the Utah-based Kimmela Center for Animal Advocacy, and executive director of the Whale Sanctuary Project, “[orcas] have a brain that obtains pleasure in figuring out how to go places, how to get prey with others, in swimming and deep diving, even in navigating their social lives and communicating over long distances.” With these evolved adaptations, being locked in a confined space with no ability to communicate with other orcas or move freely, can greatly affect the animal.
These animals, evolved to navigate the ocean, are either taken into captivity at a young age or are bred within the confines of the facility. At least 166 orcas have been taken into captivity from the wild since 1961 and 129 of those are now dead from unnatural causes. In an enclosed space, orcas either become depressed or suffer from pneumonia — causing them to die. The conditions provided to them are not comparable to their ocean habitat, and therefore disease is more likely. Imagine being taken away from your home and being forced to live in a cage your entire life. You are bound to suffer from both mental and physical illnesses.
One company that has been in the spotlight of marine entertainment and education is SeaWorld. Not only does SeaWorld function as a marine entertainment and education facility, but it is also an amusement park located on both east and west coasts. SeaWorld is also one of the marine organizations that has had many scrutinize their treatment of marine animals. In response to the criticism, Sea World went as far as to create a SeaWorld Rescue division, which takes hurt animals and releases them back into the wild once they are recovered. What a great irony that is. While the sea life is being healed on one side of the facility, on the other side, animals are being trained in captivity for their entire life to please audience members.
There have been many environmental activists who have spoken against the treatment of these animals, demanding that they should be released into either a sanctuary or an ocean. But the problem with breeding animals is that if they were to be released, they would not survive in the ocean. It would be like releasing a domesticated dog into the woods. The only answer is to let the sea animal die in captivity and, most importantly, cease breeding them. As of 2016, SeaWorld San Diego has made this step in the positive direction by vowing to cease the breeding orcas in captivity and to put an end to orca shows.
There is also an argument that contends that without marine entertainment, or seeing marine animals in captivity such as in a zoo or aquarium, the younger generation will have no way of learning about these animals first hand. But the question remains, is it preferable to normalize the abuse of marine animals, or learn about sea life another way? There is another way. An adequate substitution for marine education is either simulation labs or real-life exposure. Sanctuaries have been a great substitute for marine education, and they provide young people with the opportunity to see marine animals in their natural habitats without being confined to walls or structures.
There is always another way to learn. There is always another way to get entertainment. But placing marine animals in captivity is not one of those ways.