In response to the recent lawsuit PETA (hate that group by the way!) has filed against SeaWorld over the keeping of killer whales in their care, I have decided to post a one-year-old article that Ocean Embassy vice President, Mark Simmons wrote for the Orlando Sentinel about the true inner workings of zoological facilities regarding their role in saving wildlife while educating others in the process. I have read it several times and it’s amazing to see how zoo professionals are doing their part to make a difference in our world today and you should read it and apperciate the great works that facilities like SeaWorld, Clearwater Marine Aquarium, and others do on a daily basis. Enjoy and you are welcome for sharing this article:
“Look at good Works in Rating Captivity’s Ethics”
By Mark Simmons, Vice President of Ocean Embassy on March 12th, 2010
The recent tragedy at SeaWorld, beyond the grieving of a community over a whale trainer’s death, has stimulated discussion about captivity.
Anti-captivity groups have called for the release of Tilikum and the end of SeaWorld. They have likened the most advanced zoological facility in the world with prison and named SeaWorld, and in effect all U.S.-permitted and fully accredited zoological institutions, as money- hungry profit-mongers.
However, monetary interest in captive animals is not exclusive to zoological parks. The groups calling for Tilikum’s release raise money on the same public display of animals. Their business model is well-refined: They raise more in donations with the least cost of marketing on captive dolphin and whale issues than any other single issue.
Is profit a dirty word when it comes to conservation? Studies on environmental movements have linked conservation to prosperity. They reveal that we concern ourselves with conservation only after our basic needs are met, i.e. when we are prosperous. As individuals, we intuitively know this to be true.
Zoological institutions are no different than individuals in regard to the relationship between conservation and prosperity. As a professional community, zoos and aquariums have funded more than 3,700 conservation projects in more than 100 countries and spend nearly $70 million each year on conservation initiatives, according to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. This is possible not only because they possess the knowledge, but because they have the financial capacity.
In contrast, anti-captivity nonprofit organizations don’t spend enough on helping animals or their ecosystems. They do not pay taxes on the money they raise, and a large percentage of their proceeds go to salaries, advertising and lobbying activities.
Who is the more responsible corporate citizen?
In 1998, Ocean Futures Society, the Humane Society of the United States and Earth Island Institute attempted to release Keiko (of Free Willy notoriety) to the wild. During this release campaign, they raised more than $20 million in tax-free donations and produced several documentary films.
As concluded in a scientific report issued by U.S. and Greenland authorities, the Keiko release project was a failure. After only a few weeks on his own, he sought out human contact and exhibited nuisance behavior following boats and looking for handouts. Keiko died of pneumonia in 2003. The experiment was perhaps the most compelling case of animal exploitation in history.
The argument against captivity seeks to isolate zoos and aquariums from all other forms of animal use in society. The importance of animals in our society and the plight of quality zoological facilities cannot be so easily reduced to catch phrases like “prison” or “life in a bathtub.” Trainers are not wardens, and the animals are provided the best care in mental, physical, social and environmental stimulation. They are given the highest quality of nutrition and medical care and a clean, hazard-free environment.
Conversely, animals in the wild face ever-increasing threats from toxins, depleted food supply and a degrading habitat. They are forced to travel farther and farther to find sustenance.
At least 19 species have been saved from absolute extinction by zoological institutions, including black-footed ferrets and California condors. In many tangible ways, SeaWorld and other leading zoological parks are modern-day arks.
It has been said that awareness and the emotional motivation to act are the greatest conservation challenges of our time. About 175 million people visit zoos and aquariums in the United States every year. When the day comes that the oceans are clean, food sources are abundant and society can act as one in the preservation of wildlife and their ecosystems, then maybe we will not need the constant reminder or the sanctuary that zoos provide.
Until then, there are few organizations — for profit or not — that reach as many people and animals as this important social institution.