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Activities with marine animals are nothing new. Dolphin swimming is perhaps the most popular, raking in big money for marine parks at the expense of these intelligent creatures.

Some marine facilities have ventured into other programs like yoga with marine animals. The Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas, Nev. already has such a program with their dolphins, where participants enter a dim enclosed area for yoga and watch dolphins swim next to them in their tanks.

Now, the Vancouver Aquarium has launched a similar program called “Yoga with the Beluga Whales,” with their belugas, Qila and Aurura, in the Canada Arctic Gallery. The aquarium’s announcement has sparked outrage among animal lovers against captivity.

On November 14, a demonstration outside of the aquarium was held in protest of the new program. Signs and chants bore messages like, “Yoga is liberation,” “Yoga does not make whale jails okay!” and “Whale jail = yoga fail.”

“We don’t believe yoga has any place next to confined animals, especially beluga whales, because yoga traditionally means ‘liberation and freedom,’ so it’s an oxymoron to practice it next to whales who are captive in a confined concrete box,” said Corie Kielbiski, protest organizer and instructor at Yogacare Studios in Vancouver, British Colombia, to

The aquarium released a statement in response to the protest stating, “We have offered three public yoga sessions at the Vancouver Aquarium. Future sessions have not been confirmed. The Vancouver Aquarium is a non-profit society dedicated to the Conservation of aquatic life. All proceeds directly Support the Aquarium’s Conservation, research and education programs.”

Opinions may vary about the validity and viability of keeping animals captive in aquariums, yet the Vancouver Aquarium’s yoga sessions, and those at other institutions, offer a complex conundrum.

While the aquarium may justify the yoga sessions as another way to bring in money for Conservation purposes, these sessions can in no way be categorized as educational, or directly beneficial to the animals involved. Eventually, sure, maybe the species will benefit through funded Conservation activities, but to what end?

We can simply write off the aquarium’s sessions as a creative way to raise funds, but that lets it off too easily, and simply takes the action at face value, when activities with animals are rarely surface-deep.

Observing animals in captivity may make us aware of their existence and inspire awe and wonder, yet it can also, perhaps unconsciously, cement in our minds that this type of captivity is okay – that it’s perfectly normal to house these animals in concrete boxes that attempt to mimic their wild homes.

We have to ask ourselves, has it become so necessary to keep these animals in captivity? Must we succumb to this necessary evil just to keep them safe? And if so, why have we allowed ecological destruction to take such a toll to the point where captivity is deemed acceptable in some cases?

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Image source: Lululemon blog