Captive animals are suffering for human entertainment

Can you imagine living your life in a bathtub? For animals such as the orca, this is a reality.  

In the United States, 554 dolphins and orcas are being held in captivity. Sixty-four percent of them are found in Florida theme parks such as Miami Seaquarium and SeaWorld.   

Wild orcas are used to diving 1,000 feet per day in the ocean, but these places only offer the animals an aquarium with a depth of 50 feet. 

At SeaWorld, tanks measure 350 ft. (0.07 of a mile), but in the wild, orcas can travel up to 100 miles in a day. 

Unfortunately, the situation is not limited to Orcas. It happens to other marine animals such as dolphins, sea lions, manatees, and more. 

FIU marine biology professor Douglas Wartzok, who studies the nature of captive marine mammals, believes that animals on display “have really served their purpose and should be phased out.”  

According to Wartzok, captivity should only be used for educational purposes and with adequate environments for the animals. He started his career in the 1970s, when places like SeaWorld were first created with the goal of understanding marine life.  

“It was really important that people could see marine animals in places such as SeaWorld,” said Wartzok. “That helped immensely in building public interest.” 

Nowadays, marine animals in theme parks are used for entertainment purposes. “They are trained to do silly things like having people ride on them and balance balls on their noses, things that they never do in the wild,” said Wartzok.     

According to PETA, among the largest animal rights organizations in the world, animals being taught to do tricks is just the tip of the iceberg, since there are many other effects captivity has on them.  

Animals in captivity have to deal with being torn away from their families, breaking their teeth on metal bars in their small tanks, having to do tricks for food and constantly interacting with humans.  

Animals being kept in petting pools in theme parks are constantly exposed to foreign bacteria.  

As explained by DivePoint Mexico: “Many fish have a layer of protective mucus over their scales that protects them from their environment…touching fish can wipe off this protective layer and make the animal more susceptible to infections.” 

A dolphin being petted by an visitor at a theme park (image courtesy of Unsplash)

As mentioned by PETA, “More than 40 orcas have died at SeaWorld from causes such as bacterial infections and fractured skulls. More than 300 other dolphins and whales along with approximately 400 pinnipeds have also died at the parks.”    

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, (NOAA), said there have been six animal deaths in Miami Seaquarium from 2019 to 2020, but no specific reason for their deaths has been released.  

Along with foreign bacteria, captivity leads to higher amounts of stress in marine animals.  

According to the Humane Society, “These circumstances can lead to increased aggression, illness, poor success in calf rearing, and even death.” 

When asked about if these effects were somehow connected to the trainer attacks at theme parks, Wartzok stated, “I would certainly not dismiss the fact that the captivity exacerbated the situation.”  

Therefore, why are these places still open?  

Well, there are many reasons and all of them are valid.  

To start with, captive animals aren’t equipped to survive in the wild. For instance, they rely on humans to give them food, and wouldn’t know how to hunt for it. They also lack a natural fear of humans, making them more susceptible to poachers.  

“The idea of releasing them back into the wild, […]even among the strongest supporters, they’ve recognized that that’s not an option,” said Wartzok. 

There is also missing data.  

At least in Florida, there is no data that shows a percentage of people who are against theme parks such as SeaWorld and Miami Seaquarium for keeping these animals in captivity and using them for display purposes.   

The question is, why would this data be important?  

With the exact numbers of people who are against these places, one would expect that local officials would discontinue the practice of captivity for profit reasons. 

“One would expect that over time, there wouldn’t be any marine mammals in display situations,” Wartzok said.

Angela Rivas is a Miami native majoring in Journalism and minoring in Criminal Justice. She has a passion for writing and dreams of becoming a journalist telling stories about our world.

Valeria Moreno is a Colombian FIU Senior student majoring in mass communications and digital. media. Upon graduation, she aspires to work in the digital media industry utilizing multiple skills, from video editing to website development. She enjoys the creative aspect of performance makeup and travelling which she hopes to implement in her career as well.