UK’s Guardian Looks At The Future Of Marine Parks

Seems like everyone is trying to peer into SeaWorld’s future these days (and they should be!). But Will Coldwell of the Guardian does a really nice job of picking up all the trends in play right now:

While SeaWorld continues to dig its heels in – pointing out that tens of thousands of visitors are in its parks right now – others are responding more progressively. In 2012 the National Aquarium in Baltimore, a highly regarded institution synonymous with its dolphin show, cancelled its performances. Since then visitors have been able to sit and watch the dolphins as they are simply taken care of by staff. Now, the aquarium is considering retiring their eight bottlenose dolphins altogether and is in talks to create the first ocean-side dolphin sanctuary in the US. Its decision was based on regular polling of visitors; it learned that people no longer felt comfortable with the show.

“Our audience has evolved,” Aquarium CEO John Racanelli told Baltimore Magazine. “Baby boomers grew up on Flipper, but millennials grew up on Free Willy and The Cove. They are interested in these animals being treated more humanely.”

Others are following suit. This September, the Clearwater Aquarium in Florida announced it would also end animal shows, choosing to focus on rehabilitation and marine resources instead. When asked by the Guardian if SeaWorld would ever consider a similar move, the company said the terms “retire” and “sanctuary” are misplaced in the context of animal care. But added: “The short answer is no.”

I think it’s very telling that Baltimore’s National Aquarium based its evolutionary leap toward the future on polling its own visitors. Presumably SeaWorld is regularly polling its audience as well, and I wonder what those surveys are saying (maybe that info will turn up in one of the imminent shareholder lawsuits).

Read the whole thing. You’ll finish with a good understanding of all the forces in play right now.

Aquariums Split Over Wild Beluga Import

This is a very interesting, and potentially important, development: two major players in the aquarium world are opposing the proposed Georgia Aquarium import of wild Russian belugas.

Over the past decades, marine parks and aquariums have mostly stayed united on issues related to the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the display of whales and dolphins. For the National Aquarium and Sea Life Centres to take a different view of the Georgia Aquarium’s plan to import wild belugas and distribute many of them on breeding loans to SeaWorld, Shedd Aquarium, and Mystic Aquarium is a big deal. And it’s an encouraging sign that some aquariums–given what we now know about the intelligence, awareness and sociability of small whales and dolphins–see the possibility of a different model for education and display than the model that has dominated the industry since its inception.

Here is the National Aquarium letter to NMFS, outlining its opposition. One thing that really catches my eye is the National Aquarium’s statement that it wants to review the Marine Mammal Protection Act along with other institutions and outline a new model for display that reflects all that we have learned about marine mammals since the MMPA was put in place in 1972. That is desperately needed, I think:

Here is the Sea Life Centres letter:

And here is a press release from Whale And Dolphin Conservation applauding the position of the National Aquarium and Sea Life Centres:

The stand that the National Aquarium and Sea Life Centres are taking will no doubt cause some heartburn in the industry. But any reform of the MMPA and how marine mammals are treated and displayed around the world is much likelier to make progress with some industry support. So kudos to these two organizations for taking a big and brave step forward.