It made it onto our website but not into our paper: a lone killer whale was sighted off Brier Island by a whale watching tour. A small story, perhaps. Yet based on Facebook, Twitter and Google recommendations, it was more ‘liked’ than our most-viewed online article.
Animal stories are popular. It’s easy to imagine the excitement people must have felt seeing such a majestic animal breaching the water’s surface.
An awesome, unscripted interaction with nature.
Contrast that with the experience of ‘wildlife’ one gets at places like Marineland, in Ontario – currently the subject of an extended probe by the Toronto Star into allegations of animal cruelty – or at marine parks at tourist destinations from Florida to Thailand. Destinations some of us will frequent on winter getaways.
What child or adult doesn’t want to swim with the dolphins, or get called from an audience to feed fish poolside to an orca?
The child’s joy is understandable. So is the adult’s. But unlike small children, adults and lawmakers are supposed to look beyond momentary gratification and take into account the welfare of others.
Animals qualify as ‘others’. This is especially true for whales. Cetaceans are widely recognized as some of the smartest animals alive. Dolphins have demonstrated an awareness of their own identities, while Orcas are said to have ‘language’-based culture.
Ontario doesn’t have regulations governing the captivity of marine mammals, although animal welfare laws presumably apply. Nova Scotia doesn’t have a marine mammal park, and none is in the offing, as far as we know. But we are all Canadians and many of us are occasional tourists. What happens in Ontario happens in our nation, and what we do abroad doesn’t magically become morally-exempt.
Is anyone surprised by the revelations coming out of Marineland? Even under the best conditions, a big, smart animal like a dolphin or orca must be miserable in a tank. Throw in allegedly substandard care, and these creatures are condemned to lifelong torture.
The captivity of marine mammals should be banned and, as consumers, we should boycott any tourist attraction that makes money from their captivity.