There is no doubt about it, attitudes about marine captivity are changing – for the better! In the years after the groundbreaking documentary Blackfish was released, we have witnessed an enormous shift in public attitude towards keeping animals like orca whales and dolphins in marine parks. Largely, this shift has been driven by the recognition that these animals are highly emotional and intelligent beings and captivity takes a serious toll on their mental well-being. All it takes is one look at this video of Morgan, the distressed captive orca, or this dolphin floating listlessly on the top of his pool to feel the pain that is wrought on these animals all for the sake of our “entertainment.”

Thankfully, as more people learn what the true cost of captivity is to animals, they’re taking action. From organized protests to boycotts and countless petitions, individuals and organizations alike have worked tirelessly to raise awareness for captive marine animals and encourage others to end their support for marine parks and attractions. And this action is working! SeaWorld recently announced they would end their captive breeding program – and most recently Maryland’s National Aquarium revealed they plan to close their dolphin exhibit and move their animals to the nation’s first ocean-side sanctuary by 2020.

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According to a report in the Baltimore Sun, “The aquarium said it has spent five years weighing options for the animals, which scientists believe display an advanced intellect compared with other species and can’t fully thrive outside their natural habitats, where they form social groups and can swim great distances.”

The aquarium is looking into seaside sites in Florida and the Caribbean to house its eight Atlantic bottlenose dolphins. Aquarium officials imagine the facility to be a first-of-its-kind protected, seaside habitat where the dolphins still would be cared for by humans.

While further details about the sanctuary have yet to be released, this is certainly a positive step for the aquarium’s captive dolphins and we can only hope that this action will inspire other facilities to consider phasing out their captive marine animal attractions.

The fact is, no matter how hard we try to replicate a natural environment for marine animals – or any wild animal for that matter – nothing can compare to the wild. Like humans, dolphins live in highly complex and dynamic social groups, not to mention, the bonds shared between dolphin pod members are some of the strongest on the planet. Knowing what we do about these animals, continuing to keep them in captivity is unnecessarily cruel.

By 2020, the National Aquarium’s dolphins will be able to regain some semblance of the life they always deserved in an ocean-side sanctuary but that does not change the fact that they never belonged there in the first place.

Share this article and encourage others to boycott marine parks and other attractions that profit from captivity. It is time to #EmptytheTanks once and for all!

Image source: Storyland/Flickr

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