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How do aquariums treat marine mammals?

Marine mammals—highly intelligent, sensitive, social beings—suffer greatly in captivity. The chlorine and copper sulfate used to keep tanks clean has caused dolphins’ skin to peel off and may cause them to go blind. Many marine mammals suffer from peptic ulcers, often resulting in death, because of frustration from their unnatural lives in captivity. Captivity also tears families apart. In the wild, orcas often spend their entire lives with their mothers and siblings. Wild dolphins swim together in family pods of three to 10 individuals or in tribes of hundreds.

While the aquarium industry claims that it exists purely for education and conservation, what aquariums really teach is that it is acceptable to keep animals in captivity, bored, cramped, lonely, far from their natural homes, and at the mercy of people. Marine mammal conservation is achieved through the abolition of whaling, the cleanup of our oceans, the end of driftnet fishing, and a prohibition on live captures—not through forcing whales and dolphins to swim in endless circles for our entertainment.

Captive displays stand in contrast to the truly educational experiences that many facilities offer, such as the opportunity to see marine mammals swim freely in their ocean home via whale- and dolphin-watching boat trips. Aquariums could also broadcast real-time videos of marine mammal rehabilitation efforts into their theaters, on the Internet, and into classrooms. There are countless ways to educate the public and cultivate respect for animals without imprisoning dolphins and whales—it’s time to put the focus on teaching visitors how to protect marine life rather than harm it. For more information, see PETA’s factsheet on Marine Mammal Parks.