Aquariums and Dolphinariums (over 200 worldwide) such as SeaWorld, are where marine mammals such as dolphins, whales, sea lions and sea otters are kept in water tanks and displayed to the public. This discussion addresses the ethics of keeping marine mammals in captivity, if the mammals in these aquariums are rescued from danger, re-released back into the wild, used for education, or bred in captivity as part of a conservation program.
1 Species used in marine aquaria and their habitat
The marine mammal species on exhibit in SeaWorld and their location: Killer Whale (Orcinus orca - all oceans and most seas, including the Mediterranean and Arabian Seas, preferring cooler temperate and polar regions, sometimes seen in deep water, preferring coastal areas to pelagic environments), Common Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncates - warm and temperate tropical oceans worldwide, inshore and offshore), Pacific White-Sided Dolphins (Lagenorhynchus obliquidens - cool to temperate waters of the north Pacific, no further south than the South China Sea on the western side and the Baja California peninsula on the eastern), False Killer Whales (Pseudorca crassidens - widespread in temperate and tropical oceanic waters), Beluga Whale (Delphinapterus leucas - in Arctic and sub-Arctic waters, ranging from 50° N to 80° N), Sea Lions, Sea Otters (Enhydra lutris - coastal waters 15 to 23meters deep, living on rocky coastlines, thick kelp forests, and barrier reefs. North Pacific from northern Japan to the central Baja California Peninsula in Mexico), Walruses (Odobenus rosmarus - The Pacific Walrus is found along the north shore of eastern Siberia and Alaska, and in-between. The Atlantic Walrus is found in the Canadian Arctic, Greenland, Svalbard and the west of the Russian Arctic). (SeaWorld Wiki)
2 How much money is in the marine aquaria business
The marine mammal business costs a huge sum of money every year to run and maintain. Profits are even larger. SeaWorld Orland gets approximately 4.9 million visitors every year, each ticket costing from USD $68.95 to $78.95. SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment is the biggest aquaria theme park company in the world; their revenue in 2006 was USD $1.178 billion with a net income of USD $144.3 million. (SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment Wiki) The SeaWorld and Busch Gardens Conservation Fund made USD $599,570 in 2008 and USD $899,403 in 2007. Incoming contributions; 1% interest, 5% other, 12% institutional, 15% park guests, 15% merchandise, 25% Events, 27% BEC (Busch Entertainment Corporation). (2008 Annual Report)
3 Different confined environments and suitability
Marine mammals such as dolphins, which are kept in tanks in many aquariums and parks around the world, are used as a public attraction to make profitable business; it is debatable if this is for the research on dolphin intelligence. As well as dolphins, other marine mammals such as; seals can learn tricks and are also publically desirable to observe. As dolphins in the wild are being studied more in depth, there are detailed studies on dolphin behaviour and their pods (groups), and the more it raises ethical issues; if they should be kept under captivity.
“Wild dolphins have large home ranges (e.g. orcas can dive as deep as 60m and travel as far as 160km in a day and bottlenose dolphins off the coast of Cornwall, UK, have been recorded travelling up to 1076km in 20 days).” (Introduction to Captivity page 1) Always moving, even when resting, and more than 80% of the time is spent submerged under water. Phocoenoides dalli can reach swimming speeds up to 35mph. Have highly complex societies; even hierarchical roles within a group. Individuals have shown to form strong, long-lasting social bonds with other individuals in their pod. Use of tools “e.g. female bottlenose dolphins in Australia have learned to use natural sponges to protect their beaks while foraging among sea urchins on the sea bed. “(Introduction to Captivity page 1) Some species have even helped other individuals in their pod, other species and even humans in danger. All dolphins have shown that they are very alert. Dolphins teach and learn traditions e.g. hunting methods. Orcas in different parts of the world have completely different dialects from one another. Dolphins kept in captivity; have been removed from their natural habitat, and confined in a totally alien environment, given medication and fertility control, artificial diet, unusual noises, humans and other unfamiliar captive animals. No free will to choose social bonds, as would happen in the wild. Suffer from stress, breeding problems and reduced life expectancy. “The Marine Mammal Inventory Report, maintained by the U.S. government, lists a variety of causes of death, including drowning, ingestion of foreign objects, and aggression from pool mates.” (Introduction to Captivity page 2-3)
As dolphins are so large and have a large range of movement, the tanks they are kept in have to be large, however no tank can mimic this habitat as the ocean is so large. The water has to be Chemically-treated, which causes skin lesions, which also means plants and live fish can't be placed in the tank, therefore the tank is featureless, with no mental stimulation for the dolphins. Some countries don't even have a required minimum standards
Sea pens aren't any better than tanks if the following issues are not addressed; If there is no shelter and the water is too shallow, the water can overheat. Polluted waters nearby. Noise disruption from boats. Hurricane zones e.g.” Katrina and Wilma completely destroyed several dolphinaria, leading to the death and escape of several captive dolphins and displacing about 100 others.” (Introduction to Captivity page 3)
The building of a sea pen could also destroy coral reefs and other coastal habitats. “Pollution from dolphin enclosures (including dolphin faeces) can have significant impacts on coral reefs. For instance, in Cozumel, Mexico, a few miles down the coast of an attraction a few kilometres of reef are overgrown by algae” (Introduction to Captivity page 3)
4 Removal of marine mammals from the wild, death and breeding programmes
Dolphins in the wild are still being removed for public display or for dolphin encounters (swimming with), which could have a serious survival issues for the populations targeted. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is against the capture of wild dolphins, and treats it as a critical conservation issue, due to reduced population numbers and death during capture.
Reproduction in wild populations is affected, as females are preferred for capture in captivity to males, due to their less aggressive behaviour towards humans. Dolphins captured for swimming with are captured with no thought towards conservation.
Bottlenose dolphins are six times more likely to die after being captured from the wild. Death also happens during transportation between facilities, suggesting that dolphins will never acclimatise to transportation, as this isn't natural.
Dolphinariums and aquariums often call their marine mammal breeding programmes, conservation projects, but these are mostly non-endangered species and are not re-released back into the wild. Dolphins bred in captivity are separated from parents and do not ever learn skills they would have learnt from their parents in the wild, being a risk if ever re-introduced to the wild.
5 Dolphin behaviour around humans
Dolphins have been seen showing signs of alarm when with swimming humans they are uncomfortable with, but cannot escape due to the confined area they are kept in. Dolphins that are for petting are often overweight and more likely to swallow foreign objects.
Dolphins are also risks to humans, even when well trained dolphins are wild, very strong and unpredictable animals. There is a higher risk of disease crossing between humans and dolphins. Serious injuries have occurred to swimmers when with dolphins.
6 Scientific and conservation programmes
Less than 10% of dolphins are actually used for scientific and conservation programmes, the organisations that do run these programmes only spend a small percentage of the income they generate. Just exhibiting these mammals is not conservation.
Studies carried out in captivity is not scientifically comparable to that in the wild, captive marine mammals live in an artificial environment, where their daily routines would be the same, very limited scenarios. In addition to this, is the medication that they would have been administered by vets, would have not been administered in wild populations, this would affect the mammals biochemistry, and may cause behavioural side effects. Most of the research on captive marine mammals, is on mating for their breeding programmes, rather than addressing conservation.
However the studies carried out on free living marine mammals, have given very useful information to use in marine mammal conservation.
7 Education or misinformation
Marine mammal parks suggest that one of their main purposes is as a source of education. But what is learnt from marine mammal behaviour in captivity, will be very different of that in the wild, as their environment. The tricks performed, although impressive, are just exaggerated behaviours that these animals act out naturally in the wild.
Educational information in these parks, often miss out information on the animal's social behaviour and large range of free movement. Visitors to these parks will often be misinformed of what really is going on.
The ocean is the dolphin and whale's natural habitat, threats such as; hunting and pollution, which can be controlled, by directly attacking the source of the problem, and not by removing these individuals from their habitats.
The solution to the problem is not, and will never be, to keep these animals in captivity; this will only draw away attention from species that are being threatened. This could be the cause of extinction, if the public believe this is the solution, then clearly the parks have misinformed their visitors.
8 Mental Health
There is no such thing as a domestic dolphin; dolphins are wild animals, even if born in captivity. Dolphins will form strong bonds with their trainers, this is called being socialized or habituated, not domesticated, for a wild animal to become domesticated would take many generations of habitualization (e.g. humans and dogs relationship).
Dolphins that have been removed from their natural habitat are now in an unfamiliar environment, they may be too scared to try and escape into an unknown part of the ocean. Usually young dolphins are chosen to be kept captive, as they would not have learnt all of the survival skills to survive in the wild, they will be habituated, but this doesn't mean they are happy. Many marine mammals, such as dolphins and seals are trained using conditioning; tricks which are performed correctly will have a reward, like a fish. Performing dolphins are not necessarily happy, because they do tricks and eat fish, like humans, dolphins too fare differently under different circumstances. The dolphins may just be doing this, as there is nothing else to do in their lifeless, non-stimulating tanks.
Much like polar bears and elephants in the zoo, rocking back and forth, captive dolphins seen swimming round in circles, are possibly showing signs of mental distress.
9 What can we do
The WDCS' anti-captivity campaign works globally on many different levels; by raising awareness in different countries. Advising governments on how to act and establishing better legislation. Working with CITES (The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species).
The WDCS want to end all wild capture and trade of all whales and dolphins. Increasing the strictness of legislation, for marine mammal hunting and captivation, and it's affects on conservation. Stopping malpractice in tourism, and the release of all animals in captivity, back into the wild.
You can help the WDCS by not visiting marine mammal parks, spreading the word about dolphins and whales in captivity, informing the WDCS about new dolphinariums. (Introduction to Captivity)
(Introduction to Captivity page 1 to 8) http://www.wdcs.org/submissions_bin/Introduction_to_Captivity.pdf
(SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment Wiki) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SeaWorld_Parks_and_Entertainment
(2008 Annual Report) http://www.swbg-conservationfund.org/pdf/2008_Annual_Report.pdf (page 2)
(SeaWorld Wiki) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SeaWorld