Sunday, July 1, 2007

Marine Parks - Frequently Asked Questions

1) Aren’t whales and dolphins in captivity tame?

No. According to the National Marine Fisheries Service, dolphins are wild animals that have not been domesticated, even if they are in captivity and have been trained to be around people. Dolphins are large, powerful predators that can inflict serious harm on people.

2) Do marine parks put the public’s safety at risk?

Yes. Whales and dolphins at marine parks have seriously injured a number of people including children. Places like Marineland in Niagara Falls also display other animals such as bears, elk and deer, which have been known to bite, kick and trample small children. Animals at marine parks can carry zoonotic diseases as well, which put the public’s health at risk when petting and feeding of the animals is encouraged.

3) Aren’t marine parks and aquariums educational?

Yes and no. Marine parks exist to entertain, not educate. Some aquariums have an educational component, but places that feature whale and dolphin shows simply teach people that these animals can be trained to perform basic tricks in exchange for food. The public does not learn about the animals’ foraging instincts, social dynamics, etc., and since captive cetaceans do not behave like their wild counterparts, any education is distorted because the animals are behaving unnaturally and in an unnatural environment.

4) Don’t captive cetaceans live longer than wild ones?

That depends on whom you ask. Some public display facilities teach that dolphins only live to 30 or 35 years in the wild while it has been documented that wild dolphins live into their fifties. Others claim that captive animals live longer than wild ones because captive animals are regularly fed, and safe from predators and water pollution. The truth is that captive cetaceans, with very few exceptions, live shorter lives than free-ranging animals. Quality of life is something that has to be considered too.

5) Aren’t most whales and dolphins born in captivity?

No. Whenever a whale or dolphin is born in captivity it is used as ‘proof’ that captive breeding works. Unfortunately, the animals don’t stay alive very long. At Marineland, the average age for captive-born orcas is less than 5 years while all captive-born orcas at the Vancouver Aquarium died within three months. Because of this, it is necessary to continue to take animals out of the wild.

6) Don’t whales and dolphins receive good veterinary care?

No. Although most captive whales and dolphins receive food (dead fish) on a regular basis and routine medical check-ups, it is still very difficult for veterinarians to keep the animals healthy and alive. One has only to look at the death record of captive cetaceans to gauge the efficacy of veterinary care at most marine parks and aquariums.

7) If the animals aren’t abused, why is it cruel to keep them in captivity?

Cruelty comes in many forms. Knowing these animals are far ranging, highly social and incredibly intelligent beings, it is cruel to capture, confine, isolate and condemn them to a life of servitude and monotony. Removing them from their homes and families and subject them to unnecessary stress also shows a lack of respect for the animals.

8) What are the alternatives to visiting marine parks?

There are a number of ways to entertain or educate people without visiting places that keep whales and dolphins captive. The Montreal Biodome and whale-watching excursions are just two. National and provincial parks are also wonderful places to experience other kinds of wildlife in their natural environment. Viewing wildlife should not come at the animals’ expense.

9) If marine parks are so bad, why aren’t they shut down?

Just like circuses that compromise animal well being for human entertainment, marine parks flourish because there are no laws to protect these animals. Governments are satisfied to leave animal welfare issues up to the marine park industry, which regulates itself while local humane societies lack the resources, expertise and authority to protect whales and dolphins. In Canada, the federal government can only intervene if there is proof of unnecessary pain and suffering, which is incredibly difficult to prove.

10) Didn’t marine parks serve to end negative stereotypes about killer whales?

According to a Marineland press statement, the owner’s “pioneering efforts played a major role in creating the understanding and love that people now feel toward them. … these gentle giants were considered marauding pests. They were hunted routinely, with a bounty on each whale killed.”

It’s true that in the 1960’s orcas were considered pests. But most marine parks, including Marineland, didn’t acquire orcas until the early 70’s, when public awareness and sympathy for them was already strong. Still, this is no reason to continue to capture and display them, nor is it reason to capture and display belugas and dolphins, which were never considered pests.

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