Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Captive Marine Mammals: old news or still simmering?

Since the tragic death of an orca trainer at Florida's Sea World, there has been an ongoing discussion among many ocean conservationists regarding whether orcas, dolphins, and other marine mammals should remain in captivity.

David Shiffman of the blog, Country Fried Science, weighed in on the subject with an interview with Jean-Michel Cousteau, founder of the Ocean Futures Society. David has received many comments to his post, ranging from the release of all orcas currently in captivity, condemnation of aquatic amusement parks like Sea World, condemnations of all aquariums, to defending such institutions on their educational value.

You can read the posting and decide (or comment) for yourself. I have included my comment to David's posting:

"As a shark advocate/ocean conservationist, filmmaker, and someone who was a dive volunteer at a major aquarium for many years, my position is:
* I agree with Jean-Michel that releasing all currently captive orcas and dolphins would not be feasible or broadly successful.

* I have seen firsthand the educational value of aquariums and zoos, but there is a definite difference between an aquarium and an aquatic amusement park.

* Some species – like whales, dolphins, and other pelagics – are typically not suitable animals for captivity because their open-water lifestyle can not be replicated. (White and whale sharks and tuna are current exceptions but they require enormous enclosures and it’s new – the jury is still out as to their long-term health.)
* Seeing these animals in the wild or with today’s multimedia technology (surround theaters, 3D, etc.) can be suitable alternatives.

* I too was inspired to love the sea as a child watching Bubbles, the pilot whale, do tricks at Marineland. But that’s not the only way to develop an appreciation for marine life and I would like to think that we are, albeit slowly, finding better ways to promote conservation.

* I would hope that the days of “educating” people by seeing dolphins jump through hoops of fire and seals balancing a ball on their nose is coming to a close. But because of the economic incentives at hand, I’m afraid it will be a slow evolution.

There is no easy answer to this issue, with powerful economic forces at work and the potential for some form of enlightenment at hand, but I believe it's time for a change in approach to presenting these open-water animals to the public.

What do you think?


whysharksmatter said...

Thanks for weighing in, Richard!

tshilson said...

I agree that it is too soon to make a major move. There is much we need to understand about marine mammal personality, psychology, communication, and neurology. (Tillikum is a misfit, and I don't know what to do about him, either.) For the interim I suggest putting the highest current standards into law and enforcing them. (The Assoc of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA, e.g.?)

dolphin said...

Great balanced comment you wrote there.

Just discovered your blog here ... if you don't mind, I'd like to share your blog link at mine and encourage people to check this place out :-)

RTSea said...

Many thanks for the compliment and link! I try to provide balanced, non-rant reporting of important ocean and nature conservation issues. Always looking to expand my readership.

Dolphin, what is your blog?