"A Dolphin’s Smile Is Nature’s Greatest Deception” read a little girl’s sign outside Brookfield Zoo on May 7. The girl was one of about 10 protesters there as part of animal rights group Empty the Tanks’s worldwide annual day of aquarium picketing. More than two dozen showed up at the Shedd. The goal? End marine mammal captivity.
In the post-Blackfish era, it doesn’t seem far-fetched that local aquatic venues might one day free Willy—or in Brookfield’s case, Allie, Alison, Magic, Maxine, Merlin, Noelani, Spree, and Tapeko.
It’s already getting harder to maintain marine mammal programs: A federal decision last fall barred the Shedd from bringing in new wild-caught belugas. And SeaWorld’s announcement in March that it won’t breed orcas anymore, plus the National Aquarium’s decision in June to release its dolphins into a natural sanctuary, suggests it won’t be long before the two Chicago aquariums could consider the same—though neither indicates it will.
In June, both institutions became the first (and so far only) in the United States to be certified by the American Humane Association for the treatment of their animals. And, they argue, their programs give scientists hands-on access to animals that can’t be achieved in the wild. So how do the two facilities stack up? See below.
Marine mammal roster:Seven beluga whales and six Pacific white-sided dolphins
Births:Eight belugas (three died) and seven dolphins (four died) since 1991
The show:Instead of tricks, it “highlights incredible natural behaviors,” touts the Shedd. (Read: tricks.)
The justification:“Most of what is known about marine mammal reproduction has been learned by studying them in zoological facilities,” says Tim Binder, executive vice president of animal care.
Controversy:Laura Swiat of ETT says loud music during shows could damage the animals’ hearing.
Marine mammal roster:Eight bottlenose dolphins
Births:Twelve since 1999 (six died)
The show:Plenty of leaping and splashing (in the name of education, natch)
The justification:The zoo says the exhibit provides funding for and exchanges findings with the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program, a study of wild dolphins.
Controversy:Chlorine in the water irritated the animals’ skin, so the zoo now uses ozone exclusively.
1 thought on “Is the End Inevitable for Chicago’s Marine Mammal Programs?”
If I’m being honest, this type of issue is starting to sound like a huge oversimplification of what the problem TRULY is. I am against the captivity of Orcas, especially in Seaworld and the Miami Seaquarium, but as far as belugas and dolphins go, I have no issues since I have seen both of them in captivity at the Minnesota Zoo and the Shedd Aquarium. Personally, I can only agree with so much of what the PETA is against, and I disagree with PETA’s viewpoint on whether ALL cetaceans should be released. I say all because as I have said before, I am only against Orcas in captivity, but the dolphins and belugas are much better off. What I have against Seaworld is not what I have against other marine mammal facilities like the Shedd Aquarium, because they know their way with the belugas and dolphins there, and I don’t see any issues at all. I’m not on the side of the activists or the side of the non-activists, I am only saying this because a concrete tank filled with saltwater and has whales and dolphins swimming around in circles does not mean that they are suffering. There are elephants, lions, and gorillas wandering around in their exhibits all day and not a lot of people are mad about that, but when they see stuff like this, now they get their panties in a bunch? Not EVERY marine mammal facility is bad. The trainers who work with the dolphins in the REPUTABLE facilities are demonstrating their behavior for the sake of education and are not, I repeat, NOT, necessarily harming them. There is a huge difference between exploiting for entertainment and demonstrating for education. Let this sink into your brains for a minute, and you’ll see that I’m telling the truth. I’m not trying to end the captivity debate in any way, I’m just simply saying that this figurative whale of a tale is being figuratively blown out of the water. I want some people to at least take my point into consideration, and I’m putting my point out there knowing that this debate will still play out normally, the protests will continue, and the shows will literally go on with no end in sight anytime soon, and I mean that in a good way.
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