It can sometimes feel like you need to take a vacation just from the stress of planning your vacation. It’s a tightrope walk to find a place that has a little something for everyone, which can seem almost completely impossible. It needs to be someplace relaxing for mom and dad, maybe a little nostalgic for grandpa, definitely exciting for the kids and awe-inspiring for the group. Throw in some conservation for the environmentally friendly members of the fam, and you’ve got yourself a vacay.
A quick Google search later and you’ll probably come up with the Miami Seaquarium in Miami, Florida. Founded in 1955, it’s the oldest oceanarium in the United States and boasts 38 acres on Virginia Key. History buffs enjoy paying it a visit for the fact that “Flipper” was filmed there from 1963 to 1967, and animal lovers enjoy viewing the orcas, dolphins, sea lions and manatees that they have on display. You can even swim with dolphins! In fact, according to their website, it’s recognized as South Florida’s most popular “gated” attraction with over 500,000 visitors annually.
Life in an oceanarium, which is both a marine park and an aquarium used to house animals for study or display, isn’t all it’s cracked up to be for the animals that live there though. They’re taken from the wild or bred in captivity, kept in confined spaces, often deprived of the company of their own species, and trained to put on show after show for screaming audiences. Sure, the place may actually do some real conservation work, but is the price of endangering the performing animals in the park worth it? This is the question at the heart of the Miami Seaquarium and when we take a look at their practices it seems pretty clear that the answer is, no.
1. Where Does the Miami Seaquarium Get its Animals?
Some of the animals have been taken directly from the wild in order to be put on display, the most famous example of which being the orca, Lolita. Captured and removed from her pod in Puget Sound in 1970, she’s been performing in captivity ever since with her remaining family members still swimming the waters around Washington State.
All of the bottle-nosed dolphins currently at the park were bred into captivity at the Seaquarium; however, the park boasts that some of these dolphins are offspring of dolphins who originally came to the park after being taken directly from the wild – including five dolphins who were captured and trained to play the role of Flipper on television.
2. How Are Their Animals Treated?
Conditions at the Miami Seaquarium are less than ideal for the cetaceans housed there. Cetaceans are an order of mammal that includes the highly intelligent and social whales, dolphins and porpoises.
At Miami Seaquarium, the orca tank is the smallest in the northern hemisphere. At one time, there were two orca named Hugo and Lolita who shared it for performances. Hugo died of self-inflicted injuries sustained from ramming the walls of his tiny tank repeatedly, causing an aneurysm. Though there’s no way to know if this was done with the intent to harm himself, Ric O’Barry, Hugo’s former trainer and the trainer to many of the dolphins at Miami Seaquarium in the 1960’s, feels it was.
“Hugo would smash his head against the tank at the Miami Seaquarium where I was training him to become a circus clown. He died in his sub-standard tank of an aneurysm. Did his new concrete habitat cause him to become psychotic and suicidal? I think so. Why else would he continually crash his head into the walls of the tiny concrete tank?” O’Barry went on to say, “I realized back then that orcas do not belong in captivity. It was so obvious.”
That was in 1980. Since then, Lolita has remained in the tank alone without the companionship of another killer whale in 24 years. Measuring only 35 feet from the front wall to the slide out area, her tank is 13 feet too short and is also only 20 feet deep at it’s deepest point, with the sides of the tank measuring a paltry 12 feet. In 1995, The Humane Society of the United States filed a formal complaint with Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) due to the fact that her inappropriate tank violates their own specifications for tank size. No action has been taken to remove her, and she remains in the tank to this day.
The park also boasts two separate dolphin encounters in which guests can spend thirty minutes participating with the dolphin in either deep or shallow water. These types of attractions, commonly referred to as “swim-with-the-dolphins” attractions, are often dangerous for both the dolphin and the human interacting with it. Humans are subject to injury from these encounters. Some instances injury include: being bitten, rammed or head-butted by dolphins. This can even result in broken limbs or ribs.
Injuries to the dolphins can include stress-induced ulcers, skin irritation from sunscreens and perfumes, as well as, bacteria and viruses carried on their skin. They also run the risk of ingesting non-food items like sunglasses, coins or plastic bags. A dolphin named Pearl died in 2000 from a bleeding ulcer with conflicting reports of its cause stemming from either a swallowed bottle cap or a ball. Another dolphin, Poncho, who died in 1982 had two deflated footballs, 31 coins, 21 stones, one trainer’s whistle, 10 penny nails, two screws, one metal tag, one piece of wire and one metal staple in his stomach at time of death.
3. Miami Seaquarium: A History of Abuse and Animal Welfare Violations.
Both PeTA and the Animal League Defense Fund (ALDF) filed suit against the USDA for it’s continued licensure of Miami Seaquarium, despite its numerous Animal Welfare Act violations. and against the National Marine Fisheries Service for excluding Lolita from protection under the Endangered Species Act.
The ALDF also filed a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) when footage ,taken in May 2014, at the park showed trainers continuing to get into the water with Lolita. In the aftermath of Dawn Brancheau’s death at SeaWorld, when she was dragged under the water by a whale named Tilikum, getting into the water with captive orca has been considered a hazard and is no longer allowed. Miami Seaquarium continued the practice anyway, and was fined $7000 as a result of the continued practice.
4. What About Their Conservation Efforts?
Unlike many locations that boast conservation efforts that turn out to be no more than thinly veiled efforts to fund continued use of captive animals for display or entertainment, the Miami Seaquarium actually does some good work for manatees. One of three facilities in Florida authorized by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a Manatee Critical Care Facility, they help injured or abandoned manatees with the intention of releasing them back into the wild.
In fact, according to their site, they’ve released over 70 manatees back into the wild since 2004. While this is fantastic, it’s hard to applaud the facility for such a good thing when other atrocities are being committed simultaneously.
Obviously, the largest missed conservation opportunity here is the refusal to release Lolita to her pod in Puget Sound. Known as the Puget Sound L-pod, her family have been placed under the protection of the Endangered Species Act of 2005. Even though Lolita was captured in 1970, the L-pod still remain in the region from which she was captured, nearly 44 years later. This includes her 85-year-old mother. Lolita was excluded from protection of this law due to the fact that she is in captivity. But, the National Marine Fisheries Service held public comment on what should be done and concluded in March of 2014 that Lolita should not be excluded from protection due to her captivity, which would allow her to be released back to her pod.
The NMFS findings coincided with the announcement that Miami Seaquarium was being sold and the new owners of the park don’t plan on releasing her any time soon. “Obviously, Lolita is a proud ambassador for her species here at the park,” said Andrew Hertz, the president and general manager of Miami Seaquarium. “Nothing is going to change with her in the short run as far as her status here at the park or her stadium.”
Sadly, their continued insistence on keeping Lolita cruelly confined and treating dolphins like playthings overshadows their laudable efforts to help another endangered species.
5. Life in the Wild vs. Life in an Aquarium
Marine animals in captivity can come from many different bodies of water, all with the ability to swim and forage at will. Manatees, for example, can be found in shallow rivers, estuaries, salt water bays, canals and coastal areas where sea grasses and freshwater vegetation are plentiful. They are also migratory, with manatees in the U.S. residing primarily in Florida during the winter and then traveling as far as Texas or Massachusetts in the summer. In captivity they are placed in shallow pools with enough room to swim in slow circles – and that’s about it.
Marine animals forage and hunt for their own food in the wild, feeding on a variety of items depending on their species. In the case of manatees, they feed on sea grass and fresh water vegetation that grows in the river beds and waterways where they swim. In an oceanarium setting, food is placed into their tanks by their handlers, floating to the top of the tank and often representing foods more commonly found in human diets than those of a manatee.
Orca are very social creatures that travel in family units, called pods. These pods are often comprised of three generations and led by a female matriarch. In the case of captive whales, they have been removed from their pod or born into captivity. Orca are the only known species that stay with their parents and siblings forever, never voluntarily leaving their family. The luckier of captive orca have another whale or two to socialize with, but there are several cases of orca being left alone for years much like Lolita, or Shouka when she was at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom.
Marine mammals are very playful in the wild. There are routine sightings of orca and dolphins cresting the waves for fun and racing each other. Sea lions and seals can be seen surfing the waves, sometimes literally, and playing together on shore in their large social groups. In captivity, at a marine park or oceanarium, many marine animals get most of their exercise performing. They are trained to do “natural” behaviors, most commonly with operant conditioning methods that include withholding food and water in order to ensure compliance. They then do these “natural” behaviors, which can include balancing things, dancing and allowing humans to ride them, in front of cheering humans.
6. What YOU CAN and MUST do to stop this suffering.
After reading this we’re sure that a Green Monster such as yourself is plenty upset. We were too! The good news is that you have the power to do something about it by simply refusing to patronize this establishment.
You can also find out more about efforts being made to help Lolita here.
Boycott The Miami Seaquarium
Aquariums and animal centric theme parks run on profits and The Miami Seaquarium is no exception. While we applaud the work they do for manatees, the inhumane treatment of other animals shouldn’t have to be the price paid for those efforts. By refusing to buy a ticket, you send the message that animal centric “entertainment” isn’t something you value.
Urging organizations that only have it half right is just as valuable as urging those who aren’t getting it right at all. Cruelty is cruelty and until the inhumane confinement of animals meant solely for entertainment stops, these organizations still aren’t working with the best interests of animals at heart.
Leave a Review on Tripadvisor and Similar Sites
While your individual boycott of The Miami Seaquarium will make a difference, you can magnify that impact by spreading the word and mobilizing with your other Green Monsters.
If you or someone you know has experienced the cruelty of The Miami Seaquarium, share this article on their Tripadvisor review page to advise others not to stop by if they’re in the area.
Let us know (in the comments sections) about other animal attractions that should be banned for the way they treat animals.
7. Take Action on Social Media NOW!
Participate in our social campaign and tell us why you’re boycotting The Miami Seaquarium!
Share the graphic below to spread the facts about how The Miami Seaquarium treats their animals OR make your own selfie sharing why you boycott this oceanarium.
See example below:
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When you know the truth, it’s your duty to share, so share away Green Monsters and let’s put an end to captive animals used for entertainment!
Lead Image Credit: localmiamiguide.com