In a post-Blackfish world, people are becoming increasingly worried about the health and happiness of captive marine animals.
They are beginning to question the moral grounds of marine parks altogether. And rightly so.
Marine parks tell us a lot of things in an attempt to persuade the public what they are doing is safe and humane. But their words are about as shallow as the pools they keep their animals in.
Here are 5 typical lies you might hear at a marine park:
1. Captive marine animals live as long as they do in the wild
Marine parks like SeaWorld would love us to believe animals in captivity live as long as they do in the wild. However, this is false.
Wild male orcas enjoy an average life span of around 30 years and can live up to 60 years old. Female orcas have a higher life expectancy with an average of 50 years, but have been known to live as long as 90 years in their natural habitat. Some orcas, like the famous ‘Granny’ in Canada, have even been recorded living well into their hundreds.
In captivity, orcas aren’t so lucky. Studies have shown most captive orcas of both genders do not live past their 20s.
Dolphins share a similar fate. Although there are cases of dolphins living a long time in captivity, one detailed analysis undertaken in the US found that 83% of captive dolphins died before the age of 20. This compares to a life expectancy for dolphins in the wild of approximately 40-50 years.
This shortened life span comes down to the simple fact that wild marine animals were never meant to live in tiny, chlorinated tanks. They have been taken away from their homes and brought up in captivity, isolated from everything a wild marine animal needs to thrive. This can induce stress, which in turn can lead to illness, disease and high mortality rates.
2. Captive cetaceans have more than enough room
Dolphins and other cetaceans can travel up to 100km in a single day in the ocean, spending about 80% of their time underwater. They are active animals with the ability to hold their breath for as long as half an hour as they dive several metres deep to hunt for food.
Compare this to a marine park, where dolphins spend 80% of their time above water, where they have been trained to look up and beg for frozen fish.
The truth is, a marine park swimming pool will NEVER be able to replicate the ocean or provide enough space for a wild, fast travelling dolphin.
3. We need to keep dolphins captive for conservation reasons
While some endangered species may benefit from a humane conservation program and wildlife sanctuaries, this is not the case for dolphins. Regardless of what marine parks say, bottlenose dolphins are not an endangered species.
What’s more, in the history of Australia’s captive dolphin breeding programs, there has not been a single case of a captive-born dolphin being successfully introduced into the wild. According to the World Conservation Union (IUCN) Species Survival Commission, without a companion program of reintroduction to the wild, captive breeding programs have little value toward genuine conservation.
4. Dolphins in captivity are one big happy family
Marine parks often tell visitors the dolphins in their care are all “friends” and get along like big, happy families. But this is not always the case.
Dolphins are highly social animals with complex social groups. They live in large pods in the wild and often remain with their family for life. These pods consist of various hierarchies, cultures and social bonds between different dolphins or whales. Taking these animals out of their natural habitats and grouping them together with others from completely different pods often results in aggressive behaviour and tension.
Just because two animals are the same species, does not mean they will get along. The dolphins grouped together at marine parks are often incompatible, and would never have any association with each other in the wild. These captive dolphins often feel bored, isolated and lonely without their families – which is why they exhibit signs of fighting and aggression, such as rake marks from scraping their teeth over each other’s skin.
Animals born in captivity are also frequently taken away from their mothers and shipped off to a different marine park or enclosure – which is just plain cruel, no matter which way you look at it.
5. Captive animals are happy and well looked after
No matter what you hear, a wild animal in a tiny chlorine-filled pool is not living its life to the fullest. It is simply impossible to create an environment that is stimulating enough to meet all a dolphin’s needs and replicate their ocean environment in a small concrete pool.
While many trainers do their best, dolphins in captivity may still become bored and suffer from stress, disease and anxiety. Injuries including peeling skin and eye irritations from the chlorinated water have been documented. As have stress-related injuries such as animals repeatedly crashing into their tank or damaging their teeth along the concrete walls of their pools.
Dolphins use sonar echolocation to communication and navigate, and having these sonar waves constantly reverberating back at them off concrete walls is thought to be highly stressful and disorienting.
Trainers have also been known to withhold food from captive animals as an attempt to teach them tricks – which is why dolphins always wait so eagerly for their frozen fish after every circus trick.
Marine parks will tell you a lot of things to tell tickets to dolphin shows. But they can never provide an environment even partially capable of giving dolphins a rich and fulfilling life.
But there is something you can do to help.
Please, sign the petition to end dolphin captivity in Australia – starting in NSW – and help create a brighter future for these beautiful, wild animals.
 Mooney, J, Captive Cetaceans: A Handbook for Campaigners, 1998, Whale & Dolphin Conservation Society, UK.