As evidence proving the detrimental effects of keeping sentient dolphins and whales in captivity continues to surface, public outcry is steadily increasing. Concerns spiked after the 2013 documentary Blackfish, which showed the shockingly cruel treatment of SeaWorld’s killer whales. The “Blackfish effect” has had a damaging impact on SeaWorld’s image, as well as its declining revenue. Subsequently, the ripple effect has even persuaded legislative policy in Canada and the United States. Though these progressive measures are invoking hope for a world without cetacean captivity, dolphins and small whales that have spent years trapped in concrete tanks being hand fed frozen fish an would not immediately assimilate back into the wild. Fortunately, there is a humane alternative: seaside sea pens.
While the dolphins would still technically be held in human care, seaside or oceanside sea pens provide a much better environment for dolphins and orcas. The enclosures already exist and are operating with a wide range of usages. Some pens are used to rehabilitate injured marine animals, while others are used to transition captive animals back into the wild.
One major quality of life improvement is that sea pens contain saltwater, compared to chlorinated aquariums that have shown to irritate cetaceans’ skin and even render them blind.
Semi-open sea pens also contain fauna and flora – providing a more natural habitat. They also let fish swim in freely, which helps the dolphins retain or re-learn their natural hunting skills, rather than training them to perform tricks for food.
The popularity of sea pens is rising. One was even used recently to transition two captive dolphins (Tom & Misha) back into the wild. These dolphins had been in captivity for approximately four years. After 20 months of reintroducing Tom & Misha back to their natural habitat, they were able to swim free, and were let back into their natural ocean home. Satellite trackers have confirmed that they are still alive and well.
With dolphinariums declining in revenue and in some cases even closing, we must think about where we should transfer these captive cetaceans. The Tampere dolphinarium in Finland is one of these examples. While other aquariums are putting in offers to purchase the park’s four captive dolphins, transferring them to sea pens would be the most progressive and ethical decision.
Surely we have a responsibility to do what’s right and humane by these dolphins, which have given so much of their lives to the captivity industry.