Is the captivity of a big cat completely distinct from the captivity of a bottle-nosed dolphin?
Should the captivity of a polar bear raise the same concerns as the captivity of a Beluga whale?
That's what I would like to consider in this post.
The headings of the following list were taken from a great Dodo blog post called "7 Reasons You And Everyone You Know Should Boycott SeaWorld." I hope to show that, if you agree that the seven points raised give valid cause to boycott SeaWorld (and I certainly think they do!) then if you do not already oppose captivity more generally, it may be worth using your opposition to SeaWorld as a starting point to evaluate your position on captivity in a wider sense. See what you think...
1. SeaWorld has violated the Animal Welfare Act multiple times.
This point refers to the U.S. Animal Welfare Act but violations of this law (and other legislation linked with animal welfare around the world) are not limited to SeaWorld. For example, following an investigation by the Humane Society U.S., Collins Zoo in the United States had its license revoked following the identification of 22 violations of the Animal Welfare Act.
In Spain, the European Commission was forced to take action as the country failed to implement legislation designed to manage zoos. A press release published in 2011 stated that "Spain has not provided the Commission with sufficient proof that a number of zoos are being managed in line with the EU requirements, in particular with regard to licenses, inspections and procedures for zoo closures."
In England, a 2011 study commissioned by my organization showed that substandard zoos which persistently failed to meet legal standards were allowed to continue operating with no attempts by the relevant authorities to sanction them. Indeed, it was found that, over the period of the study, almost 90 percent of English zoos had failed to meet legal obligations at some point.
Of course, not all zoos break the law, so let's see if any of the other reasons to boycott SeaWorld might apply to the wider zoo industry too.
2. SeaWorld separates orca calves from their mothers (and then claims that it doesn't).
Separating animals from their parents is standard practice in zoos as individuals are moved around as part of breeding programs. Some animal species may naturally disperse from their maternal group at a particular age in the wild but others form strong bonds and remain within their family for life. This is particularly true of female elephants, for example.
And yet in zoos, there is no possible way for elephants to experience their natural family groups, which might number up to more than 20 members from different generations. In zoos, many elephants are not only separated from their mothers and wider family but some are forced to live alone, with no company whatsoever.
See here for a list compiled by NGO, In Defense of Animals, for a list of US zoos and their poor treatment of the elephants under their care.
3. SeaWorld runs an orca breeding program that shows little regard for cetacean health.
In this point against SeaWorld it was argued that, not only did SeaWorld force orcas to breed at a very young age -- long before they would naturally mate in the wild -- but that the gene pool is now so limited in captivity that inbreeding is commonplace. But SeaWorld is, once again, not alone.