I remember well the first time we brought the kids to a marine zoo. We were on holiday and spent the day at a sea-themed park, seduced by the colorful flyers from the tourist office with photos of friendly, happy dolphins, seals and laughing kids.
We went there on a beautiful sunny morning and, along with a big crowd of happy families, made the most of the visit: the kids loved the water slides and really enjoyed the show of seals and dolphins ‘playing’ with their ‘human friends’ on upbeat songs.
The open air, the music, the colorful balls, the jumps of the dolphins… what was not to love?
The kids enjoyed it so much (honestly, we did too) we even repeated the experience few days later, in a different city.***
Looking back, I wish we didn’t go to the dolphin’s show. In the future, we will never go again.
But why am I so negative about this show, since we had what might seem the perfect family day out?
The truth is that the regret didn’t start right at the show and not even few days after it. Nothing we saw on the day triggered this response: it started a lot more recently when I stumbled upon a blog post from a travel blogger I follow, about the truth behind marine shows.
My interest picked, I started researching and found many more articles condemning dolphin shows: these articles, some interesting campaigns on the topic and the wonderful and heartbreaking documentary ‘Black fish’ (about orcas, in captivity) touched me profoundly and urged me to reconsider my actions and to write this post.
Dolphins in captivity: the facts
All articles and scientific documents say the same thing:
– Dolphins and orcas are extremely intelligent animals, who experience captivity as a traumatic, limiting, crippling experience, both in physical and psychological terms
– Dolphins in captivity live shorter lives than in the wild: the fact that they live longer because of vet care, like many believe, is just not true
– The process of capturing the animals for the shows is violent and cruel: they are hunted down, many die or get hurt in the process. They are taken from the ocean and put in small tanks, the size not remotely comparable with the environment they come from
– Families get ripped apart: dolphins and orcas have family bonds and family emotional ties the destruction of which causes extreme stress on the animals. All you need, to see how true, how cruel that is, is to watch ‘black fish’ and see the grieving of the mothers at being separated from theirs offspring: It’s not something you can ignore or forget as a human, let alone as a parent.
– The behaviour we see in shows, the jumps, the dancing, is NOT an extension of what dolphins do in the wild. They are forced to perform often through starvation and withdrawal of treats and emotional connections
What I read all this, THAT is when the regret hit me.
But why did we go?
I believe that, like me, parents bring children to marine life shows in good faith. We want to give our children a fun day out, we want them to get to know and love animals, we want to have some fun family time.
I don’t think we voluntarily partake into the industry of animal cruelty and I believe we actually think the dolphins are happy. They look so smiley, like puppies running after a ball in the park: I genuinely think we mean well. We did mean well.
But I also think that we have to be careful and make sure that clever marketing and the desire to entertain our kids do not cloud our judgement. Our intentions can be good but the consequences might not be.
What we can do
I believe that especially as parents, we need to question where we go before we go: we need to get real, evidence-based information to make sure we make the best choices for our children and the world we leave to them. Education, ours and the one of our children, can make a big difference: all individual choices can add up to real change. You can learn more about this topic and what we can do here and here
I would be curious to know the opinion of other parents about this: did you ever bring your kids to a marine zoo or a circus? Do you regret such a choice? Why or why not?
*** After long deliberation, I have decided not to disclose the exact parks we visited. This is because I have no reason to believe that those parks are worse than anywhere else or are not complying with current regulations. By omitting their names, I hope to make a point that transcends the specific place and resonates no matter where you are: the rights of animals, very much like the rights of people, I believe, should know no boundaries.