No More Aquatic Prisons

It’s always something. China has just finished construction on Ocean Kingdom, newly certified as the world’s biggest aquarium. Located on Hengqin Island, its 48.75 million liters of water are now home to ten captive whale sharks (a threatened species we worked so hard to protect at CITES meetings), dolphins, and polar bears – among other rare sea life. It is being touted as an exciting new entertainment destination, but in reality it is a miserable prison for animals that belong in the wild.

The powerful film Blackfish, released in 2013, shined a bright spotlight on the issue of marine mammals in captivity. The orcas in the film were demonstrated to be highly intelligent and social animals who swim up to 100 miles a day in the wild. Forcing orcas – and other dolphins – to spend their lives in “concrete bathtubs” filled with chlorinated water is exploitative and abusive.

Marine mammals establish complex social groups in the wild, and maintain strong relationships with their family group. In sea parks and aquariums, individuals from different social groups are thrown together, which may result in aggression towards individuals, aggression from which there is no means of escape. Evidence suggests that separation from their family, particularly from their children, produces enormous levels of distress and grief.

Marine mammals in the wild also engage in mentally-stimulating activities that use the full extent of their remarkable brainpower. They demonstrate complex problem-solving and abstract concept formation as they hunt, navigate, and play. Isolation and lack of engagement, with nothing to relieve their boredom, can cause high levels of stress, aggression, and mental illness.

Sea parks and aquariums claim that they are in the vanguard of conservation, but real conservation is undermined when animals are ‘stolen’ from their natural homes and imprisoned for human entertainment. These animals will never be released into a viable natural habitat to boost wild populations. All of them will spend the rest of their lives swimming around in small tanks, for little more than public amusement.

While we will assist where we can around the world to put public pressure on sea parks, there is currently an exciting development in the U.S. Legislators in both California and New York have introduced bills to end performances by orcas at entertainment parks. The California bill goes even further: it would ban orca captive breeding programs and require current captive orcas to be retired to sea pens as well, effectively shutting down SeaWorld’s San Diego Park if it passes. My colleagues at Born Free USA are doing what they can to help shepherd these bills through the state legislatures.

Compassion toward marine mammals in captivity is long overdue, and the new Ocean Kingdom is the latest call to action to end this exploitation once and for all.

Blogging off,


4 Responses to “No More Aquatic Prisons”

  1. Sherry Bagby Says:

    Very well said about captivity of marine mammals. I always learn plenty when reading your blogs. I visited SeaWorld in Texas many years ago and always felt uneasy & sad about seeing these animals confined. I was worried about them but thought “surely SeaW knows what they are doing-surely they would not hold them here if the animals were suffering”- but I didn’t really believe it. When I saw dolphins confined in a pool swimming around and around in circles looking at all the people staring at them–many people (especially children) bending down to touch the occasional dolphin who would hesitate for a moment to be touched by a human, I was very disgusted by this situation. Neither the children nor the adults were learning anything about these amazing animals. They knew nothing about the facts as you stated in your blog. The animals were treated as a novelty, nothing more. Yet I did hear murmurings around like “It doesn’t seem like enough room for them” or “Do they have to stay here always?” So there WAS a puzzled undercurrent of concern. How wrong and tragic this is. I’m so glad to have hope that the horrid captivity of these intelligent animals might end little by little and so glad that Born Free is working to help — & that California and New York have recognized how damaging and inappropriate the situation is for the animals. I don’t know what will happen in China but with beautiful, intelligent animals captive like that, it’s not good. Thanks for all BFF & BFF USA do to help keep animals in the wild.

  2. Bethany Says:

    I, just like Sherry, thought that theses animals were happy in aquariums and zoos. It is something that you eventually manage to brainwash yourself to believe. But since becoming a supporter of Born Free, I realise how wrong I, and so many others, have been. Theses animals aren’t happy at all. They would much rather be out in the sea where there isn’t any boundaries and they are free to do as they please, than stay shut up in a paddling pool that a little child wouldn’t even be happy to play in! Keep up the good work.

  3. Nina Cole Says:

    I believe that there is a very simple solution that would see all captive animals and mammals released back into the wild and that is for people to boycott these concentration camps. No revenue, no captivity, no need.

  4. Nikki Robinson Says:

    The term “Aquatic prisons” is so right. I am ashamed to say that I took our daughter to Loro Parque in Tenerife whilst on holiday some years ago as we had heard about their parrot breeding programme and went to the Orca show there. Then,through the immensely valuable and tireless work of the Born Free Foundation and organisations like yours, researching on the internet and watching landmark films like the Cove and Blackfish, I found out the truth and just exactly what my family had been supporting. Never ever again will we go to any dolphin or Orca show. It is such a shame that people are still unaware of how utterly cruel capturing Orcas and dolphins for public amusement is. How utterly tragic that Ocean Kingdom in China is going ahead. Already having such a large role in the cruel slaughter of elephants for ivory, this is sad news and a very backward step for China. It is especially sad when, that with all the modern technology at our fingertips, we can easily watch wildlife in the wild or at a respectful distance, rather than animals being uprooted from their family groups and canned for our entertainment consigned to extremely limited and un-natural lives. Rather than owning bits of dead animals, I hope that one day, the public and those with wealth turn their backs on animal cruelty and genuinely feel that the coolest thing to own as a “badge of success” should be a video or certificate of a live animal or animal(s) they are supporting/funding to help them stay as nature always intended – wild, free and happy. Thank you so much for all you do.