The daily implementation of various marine animals such as dolphins and orcas in water parks across America is both detrimental, and non-profitable for such aquatic amusement park companies in today’s day and age.
Following the release of various documentary films such as Blackfish public opinion has strayed further and further in opposition to the use of these majestic, and free roaming sea creatures for our entertainment. Documentaries such as Blackfish set out to expose companies such as seaworld and Sealand for their cruel treatment of these mammals, as well as the implementation of the harsh business tactics used on the animals within their captivity for entertainment purposes. These types of documentaries touched the hearts of millions of peoples around the world, and they also spoke volumes to the true atrocities going on behind closed doors. No longer could people attempt to deny the claims of those opposed to the captivity of these mammals when the facts and evidence behind their oppositional claims took the world over by storm following the release of both The cove in 2009, and Blackfish in 2013. After the subsequent release of both respective films the dialogue between both sides of the isles has grown exponentially, making the topic at hand much more controversial. However, marine parks should not be allowed to continue to use any orcas or dolphins in their day to day operations due to the psychological stress sustained by the animals in captivity, the availability of entertainment substitutes to the parks, as well as the impactful damage to these animals ecosystems endured due to their mass captivity and hunting.
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Those in opposition to the strong belief that the captivity and hunting of these beautiful creatures needs to be drastically scaled back argue on the basis of tradition. In various countries outside of the United States culturistic traditions exist in which the act of drive dolphin fishing has been going on for centuries. Countries such as Iceland and Japan have a long and storied past with the act of dolphin drive fishing as it was used as a means to provide food, as well as clothing for their citizens. However, this practice in the modern world we live in today is no longer necessary nor is it socially acceptable. Throughout the film The cove (2009) both director Louie Psihoyos and leading man Ric O’Barry lead a team of animal rights advocates with the mission of exposing the dolphin drive hunting operations taking place in Taji, Wakayama Japan. Initially the local japanese fisherman downplay their actions by claiming it was their tradition to partake in the hunting of these animals annually. But after further research conducted through several interviews of various japanese citizens originating from all over the country the filmmakers are surprised to discover that nearly anybody was familiar with this so called tradition of dolphin drive hunting. This does not in any way discredit the authenticity of the tradition, in facts these interviews solely prove just how dated this practice really is. Although culturistic traditions are the cornerstones of who we are fundamentally as people, that does not make the act of carrying out these traditions any more necessary. There are ways to reflect on and cherish past traditions without invoking any dated practices. With the proper education of these traditions you get the best of both worlds, you keep your traditions as well as save the ecosystem.
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Created in 1959, Seaworld has grown on the national scale to include over ten locations and is even in the process of building a location overseas in The United Arab Emirates. Despite this growth, the company in recent years has struggled to attract new guests and Seaworld is currently facing lower and lower annual visitors. This drop off in visitor numbers is a direct result of the films such as Blackfish’s influence over public opinion throughout the years since its release. It has gotten to the point where hundreds of thousands if not millions of Americans have outright boycotted the theme park in protest to the exploitation of the various sea mammals within their parks for entertainment purposes. This however does not need to be the end of Seaworld as we know it. There is an entire market of readily available substitutes for the traditional entertainment aspect of these marine parks. As put by Grace C. Young, a graduate student at the University of Oxford and spokesperson for the Ocean Research and Conservation Group. SeaWorld has the best odds at continuing to thriving financially by combining virtual reality technology with…”amusement park rides [that] could give visitors the sensation of swimming alongside dolphins and whales in the wild. Holograms combined with aquatic jetpack performers over existing SeaWorld tanks [that] could provide unique, interactive entertainment akin to the captive animal shows” (Young 136). If companies like SeaWorld choose to transition their entertainment shows from being unnecessarily live-action, to becoming virtually rendered by computerized graphics then there will still be a huge demand for the product that they put out into the market. In fact the demand for the newly provided services has the potential to be incredibly profitable to all involved parties. It may not be the most traditional format for these companies, but it would most certainly be the more practical format in today’s modern world.
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One major argument in opposition to the belief that marine parks should cancel the use of orcas and dolphins draw comparisons of the marine park business model to that of the zoo model. Both marnie parks and zoos share various similarities in the sense that both capture, and display these animals between their network of parks for entertainment purposes. Yet it’s the marine parks who are seen in a much more negative light as compared to their zoo counterparts. As explained by the organization of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the outlying difference in these models is the high levels of psychological stress and societal pressures brought onto the animals within the marine parks due to breeding. Elizabeth Balboa, a animal rights activist and journalist for the Benzinga Newswires further explains PETA’s stance against the breeding of these mammals at their shareholders meeting as a board member of SeaWorld itself by “Calling for the ban of SeaWorld’s animal breeding, which it claims forces socially complex animals to live in incompatible groups, leading to premature death”(Balboa 1). Aquatic scientist to this day are still attempting to understand these complex animals and the ways in which their brains function. But as seen in all other creatures on this earth, including humans, the addition of outside psychological and societal pressure can have severe effects on the functionality of these animals in their day to day lives.
Another example of the adverse effects captivity and breeding can have on sea mammals such as orcas and dolphins can be seen through the documentary film Blackfish. Directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, the documentary follows the life of killer whale Tilikum. Beginning with the initial capture on Tilikum off the coast of Iceland in 1983, the film showcases both the physical harassment of tilikum through his rigorous training for the shows her performed as well as the societal pressures he endured at the hands of fellow orcas while in captivity. Another major factor attributed to Tilikum’s mental breakdown was the separation of the orca from his twenty-one seperate offspring while in captivity at Sealand of the pacific. The film also features very graphic footage of the several attacks committed by Tilikum on his trainers throughout the course of his life. As noted by the film the intensity and regularity of these attacks increased the older the whale became. This film went on to receive mass critical acclaim for highlighting the true physiological effects we as a society have on the lives of these beautifully majestic creatures, and showing the entire world the moral obligations we have to reverse the mental stress we have forced upon all sea mammals.
Lastly, the act of mass fishing committed against dolphins and whales is extremely detrimental to the preservation of these species. The World Wide Fund for Nature, an animal and environmental protection group, has conducted research on the topic of by-catch fishing since before the films such as The Cove brought massive publicity to the subject following their theatrical releases. The WWF has cited their research by claiming..“Bycatch as one of the greatest threats to the survival of cetacean populations”. By-catch is explained as the entanglement and subsequent harm to dolphins and whales as a result of outdated and left over fishing equipment. This phenomenon is one of the leading factors causing the depletion of dolphin and whale populations around the world. If marine parks simply discontinued the use of these majestic sea creatures within their parks and halted all the acts of capturing these animals, the population and ecosystems of both dolphins and orca whales would flourish.
Having grown up infatuated with aquatic science, as well as marine parks such as Seaworld it pains me to see a company with which I have so many fond adolescent memories with fall victims to their own greed and insensitivity. The practice of holding these animals captive for our own entertainment purposes feels both primitive and incredibly un-necessary. All it takes for someone to truly get a grasp of how dire of a situation that seaworld is currently in would need to look no further than their annual attendance recorded in recent years. They are currently in what an economist would label as a downward trending cycle, but with that being said there is still a lot of time for Seaworld and marine parks alike to make the necessary adjustments and bounce back from this rut they have found themselves in. For example, refer to the below image to visualize the potential Seaworld has to make a come back.
Although the revenues numbers look good in sheer size once calculated to include costs and liabilities, both years saw a net loss in income. However this recorded lost is not as substantial as one might infer. Both years near 500 million dollar loss (calculated before subsidies and tax cuts) is still within reach for the company to act upon and change.
As documented throughout this essay marine parks should in no way continue to implement orcas and dolphins in their daily operations for a numerous different reasons ranging from the psychological toll placed on these animals to the environmental stress placed on these animals respective biomes. With all that being said, only one thing is for certain. Neither these animals nor these companies have any sort of longevity in this world so long as things continue the way that they do. These marine parks are engraved in our political culture and have become traditional staples of amusement parks around the world. But as stated earlier, although things are traditional that doesn’t make them anymore necessary. This world doesn’t need a global shutdown of these types of parks, rather these parks just need a global change.