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SeaWorld Orlando has finally ended feeding as part of their Dolphin Cove exhibit. It’s cool, but there’s so much more work to do.

While visitors can no longer pay to feed dolphins frozen fish, they can still purchase packages that allow them to touch the dolphins and take photos with them under a trainer’s supervision. There have been a few incidents of children being bitten while petting or feeding the dolphins, so the end of Orlando’s feeding program might help prevent these issues. But it’s the treatment of the dolphins that’s the real problem.

Around 53 percent of dolphins die within the first three months in captivity because of stress-related illnesses, human infection, and exposure to chemicals in the water, according to the World Society for the Protection of Animals. When visitors to the park are allowed to interact with and feed captive dolphins, there is an increased risk that these animals will be exposed to bacteria and disease.

“Most animal theme parks have discontinued dolphin-feeding programs because of the risks to the dolphins and the untrained public, making SeaWorld one of the last parks to follow suit,” says a petition started to end Orlando’s dolphin feeding program. Because of this, it is great to see that Orlando’s park has opted to remove its feeding program, however, the problems associated with feeding are only a few of many within captive marine park environments.

Here are the next four issues SeaWorld should try to address — apart from making this feeding initiative a rule for all of their parks.

1. Stop Forced Public Interaction

SeaWorld should not allow the public to interact with marine wildlife. Interactive programs, according to PETA, are intrusive and stressful, and can force animals to involuntarily harm themselves or visitors. When touched, animals can be exposed to foreign bacteria or pathogens that can make them very sick. Even programs that allow people to interact with marine animals in the “wild” can disrupt normal feeding and resting patterns and force the animals to relocate, causing severe psychological distress. Plus, nobody wants to be forced to see – or be touched by – that many people all the time.

2. End Captive Breeding

SeaWorld should end its captive breeding program for all cetaceans, which result in high numbers of stillbirths and miscarriages. Until 1985, no captive-born orca was able to survive more than a few days. All 10 orcas born before Kahlina in 1985 were stillborn. There have also been 16 stillborn dolphins born at SeaWorld in the last 10 years. Additionally, SeaWorld is known for breeding its animals at very young ages, which can cause them to abandon their babies.

All females are also artificially inseminated, sometimes with the sperm of dead animals. If they don’t undergo this procedure voluntarily, they are forcibly removed from the water, often without sedation, and forced to undergo the 30-minute procedure on pads.

3. Increase Tank Size and Stop Chemical Use

Dolphins and whales navigate with echolocation, but in small tanks (or tanks, generally) the reverberations from their sonar bounce off the walls and can literally drive them crazy. Some filtering systems in tanks have also been known to deafen the animals. Combine this noise with the noise from people cheering at them, and you’ve got one angry, aggressive and stressed-out animal. Separately, most dolphins captured for captivity die because of foreign chemicals in their captive environments. There is also evidence that SeaWorld has kept hazardous chemicals near their animals’ food supply.

4. End Captivity. Period.

SeaWorld is fighting a losing battle. They should just call their programs quits before more people and animals are hurt. Science has shown that dolphins have distinct personalities, a strong sense of self, and the ability to consider the future. Costa Rica, Chile and Croatia have all banned keeping cetaceans in captivity. Captivity destroys the animals’ natural, wild abilities … and wasn’t the desire to showcase these abilities why the park was created in the first place? When marine parks like SeaWorld have stopped performing that fundamental mission — to allow us to observe animals’ natural, fascinating behaviors — then it’s time to put an end to what has become an unnecessary harm.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons