Zoo & Aquarium Controversy

Alternatives To Viewing Captive Wildlife

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the world’s largest animal rights organization, does not believe animals should be used for entertainment or kept in zoos, theme parks or aquariums. Responding to a recent piece on, PETA’s Captive Exotic Animal Specialist, Lisa Wathne, had this to say:

Lisa Wathne: We at PETA were disappointed to hear that you view the decline of ticket sales at SeaWorld following the death of trainer Dawn Brancheau, who was attacked by one of the theme park’s captive orcas, as “unfortunate” (“The Upside of Bad Situations,” 10 May). After being pulled into a tank by an orca, Brancheau’s scalp was torn from her head, her arm was ripped from her body, and her spine, ribs, and facial bones were broken. Families and children watched as an orca slammed a woman, who had just been smiling at them, to death. It is hardly good news that by reducing the price of admission, SeaWorld is, in essence, trying to bribe people into ignoring their better judgment and supporting what is basically an attractively decorated prison for marine mammals.

We all know how much people of all ages love the natural world and the creatures that inhabit it, and how much joy children get out of interacting with animals. We asked Lisa Wathne for some alternatives.

TakeOffeh: How can marine life be enjoyed without captive animals being involved?

Lisa Wathne: There are many ways to learn about, appreciate, and enjoy sea life without supporting marine theme parks and aquariums. People can explore the wonderful world of marine animals through books, magazines, videos, sophisticated computer programs, and displays such as “Conny,” the life-size sperm whale replica at The Children’s Museum in West Hartford, Connecticut.

Several displays, including Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom Adventure Tour, offer an interactive experience that uses realistic animatronic animals to convey the excitement and adventure of nature. Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom Adventure Tour travels across the U.S. for appearances at fairs, festivals, and other venues.

Last year, IMAX theaters opened Under the Sea 3D, a film that gives viewers face-to-face encounters with some of the most mysterious creatures of the sea. It offers a uniquely inspirational and entertaining way to explore the beauty and natural wonder of the oceans and discover how they are affected by global climate change. In IMAX theatres, the images “leap” off the screen and appear to float around the room, virtually putting the audience in the movie.

<!––>Virtual Dolphin Therapy at La Quinta Healing Arts in California recreates an underwater sanctuary with a multimedia mix of dolphin vocalizations, a screen showing frolicking dolphins, and a vibrating sound-wave table.

TakeOffeh: For some people books, films and animatronic machines will never replace the real thing. How about some ideas that include viewing real, live marine life?

Lisa Wathne: John Pennekamp National Park in the Florida Keys is fabulous. Established in 1963, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park was the first undersea park created in the U.S. The park and the adjacent Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary encompass 178 nautical square miles of coral reefs, sea-grass beds, and mangrove swamps. These areas were established to protect and preserve the only living coral reef in the continental U.S. You can swim there, but you can also take advantage of reasonably priced snorkelling tours that allow you to go right in with the animals—in their home and on their terms.

Key West’s new Eco-Discovery Center offers interactive displays and walk-through labs, but the animals there swim freely. And it’s free!

North America’s only natural freshwater aquarium is located in St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada. Opened in 1990, the Fluvarium provides nine panoramic glimpses into a real diverted brook in which brown trout swim freely in and out of the viewing areas, which include deep and shallow ponds and a fast-flowing “riffle” where the fish spawn in the fall.

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