Though public opinion towards keeping marine animals in captivity is in rapid decline, the larger organisations like Sea World still attract over 22 thousand visitors per year. This multi billion dollar industry includes a wide range of businesses, from small aquariums to large, extremely popular marine parks. While visitor figures are suffering in the U.S, they are increasing elsewhere, particularly in Asia, India and Russia.
Marine parks remain the most divisive of the aquatic industries. Poor treatment, diet, inappropriate holding tanks and stress mean that orcas are particularly effected. Globally, 63% of the whales who died in captivity before 2014 had been in captivity for fewer than six years. Orcas and dolphins are known to travel 100 miles per day in the wild, meaning that they are ill adapted to life in a 40ft deep tank. Boredom and depression can often be the result, with many dolphins and whales exhibiting repetitive stress behaviours such as swaying, chewing walls, pacing, and head bobbing. These behaviours demonstrate without a doubt that these animals are not happy in marine parks, and poor life expectancy reveals that even their physical needs are not being adequately cared for in captivity. John Hargrove, formerly the most senior trainer at Seaworld, said: “ I saw the psychological and physical trauma that results from captivity. A massive corporate entity is exploiting the hell out of the whales and the trainers.”
Even when marine animals are not performing tricks for the public, as is the case in public aquariums, the situation for animals is not a great deal better. Many aquariums justify keeping marine animals in captivity due to conservation, however, this is difficult to believe as the aquarium trade (along with fishing) is one of the major threats to many of the displayed species. Due to the lack of success of aquarium breeding programs and poor life expectancy of captive species, many aquariums rely on wild caught animals. Many popular species, such as royal or regal blue tang, have been over-collected and are endangered in the wild. Some fish in the wild would range hundreds of miles, aquariums, regardless of how large they are, are ill-equipped to provide appropriate environments for captive fish. Though there is a lack of research in this area, it is hard to imagine that fish remain happy and stimulated in such confined, artificial environments, exposed to electric lights and the the noise of an almost constant stream of visitors.
Irrespective of their re-branding as conservation centers and educational institutions, all marine parks and most aquariums remain profit-driven organisations. These companies exploit animals for money, treating them as mere commodities and attractions rather than sentient beings with their own needs and preferences. Taking animals from the wild or breeding them in captivity solely for the purpose of human entertainment is deeply selfish and utterly unethical; regardless of the species that is being exploited.