At issue are a number of fundamental questions. One is whether animals have legal rights and deserve protection under the law. Another is whether it is appropriate, moral or ethical for humans to hold animals of higher intelligence, like dolphins and killer whales, in captivity. A third involves the ethics — and wisdom — of requiring marine mammals to perform in live shows.
It’s an interesting discussion and one that should — and apparently will — be fully vetted.
The outcome seems uncertain But however things ultimately unravel, one thing seems clear: In the end, the public’s perception of the relationship between humans and captive animals is likely to be forever altered.
And the debate comes at an interesting time, as SeaWorld is being saluted for rescuing distressed marine mammals, promoting their conservation, and for the theme park’s economic contributions to the city over the past half-century. The City Council has declared March as “SeaWorld San Diego Month.”
Sides have been chosen, lines drawn.
On the one hand are global institutions like SeaWorld, zoos, aquariums and similar institutions exhibiting animals that many people would otherwise never have the chance to see. Such mostly for-profit entities insist what they do is essential to public education. They point to their conservation and research work that contributes toward saving and preserving endangered species as justification for what they do.
On the other side are the pro-animal rights advocates who insist keeping dolphins, orcas and other higher-order animals captive is slavery, labeling institutions which do so as“abusement” parks which profit from exploiting innocent, allegedly illegally held captive animals.
There are telling points on both sides. Whether or not it’s right to hold higher-order animals captive requiring them to perform in shows is justifiably a matter of public debate. At the same time, it is undeniable that the SeaWorld and San Diego Zoo and Stephen Birch Aquariums of the world are not only cornerstones of our culture, but serve a useful purpose, not only in terms of research and education for humans, but in protecting and preserving dwindling global wildlife populations continually encroached upon and threatened by expanding human habitation.
The danger here is in taking the argument too far. While “reassessing” the situation with captive animals performing for human entertainment is entirely appropriate, denying people the opportunity to see animals first-hand in marine parks, zoos, aquariums, circuses, etcetera, is not.
Horses that we’ve saddled and ridden and used and held captive for centuries and “gambled” on in competitive races, doesn’t that constitute exploitation?
Are people who own dogs and cats “slaveholders,” as some animal-rights extremists would have us believe?
Should we stop using mice in scientific research aimed at discovering cures to diseases afflicting mankind?
Let’s salute SeaWorld for the fine work its done and its contributions to San Diego over the past half -entury. Let’s discuss, fully vet and come to reasonable conclusions as to whether captive dolphins and orcas performing in live shows is exploitation or not. Let’s come to a collective consensus on that, and then act accordingly, changing the rules if they need to be changed for the betterment of both species.
But let’s not let extremists on either side of the debate dominate and control the conversation.
Human beings and animals co-exist. They always have and, hopefully, always will. Let’s define that relationship and set the parameters for what is, and is not, right and just for them as they continue to share this world.
Let’s question whether orca shows at SeaWorlds are entertainment or exploitation.
But let’s not question SeaWorld’s right to exist, or that they do — or should — have a continuing central, positive role to play in society moving forward.