A few animal rights groups focus on marine animals and argue that dolphins and beluga whales should not be in aquariums and zoos. They launch frequent public attacks against institutions that have these animals in their care. Most recently, one group used the Independence Day holiday to promote its agenda with articles demanding that all dolphins should be released from aquariums. Their message is out of touch with the public's strongly held mainstream beliefs about the high level of care by professionals who commit their lives to the wellbeing of these animals and about the facilities' commitment to conservation of marine life in the wild. Dolphins, whales and sea lions significantly benefit from marine mammal parks and aquariums.
Connecting people to live animals, as aquariums and marine parks do, is a powerful, proven way to promote wildlife conservation. Research shows that up-close experiences with marine mammals foster a stronger concern for marine life. In a 2005 Harris Interactive Poll, 93 percent of the public said that a visit to an aquarium, marine-life park or zoo inspires people to take conservation actions that help marine mammals and their habitats. Furthermore, 97 percent of respondents agree that these institutions play an important role in educating the public about marine mammals they might not otherwise have the chance to see.
Aquariums with marine mammals enable millions of people to see and learn about these animals and their plights in the wild. It is human nature to take action to help animals with whom we feel a personal connection. Aquariums provide visitors with that critical connection to nature that cannot be duplicated in a video or in a book or on the Internet.
Conservation is at the core of accredited marine parks and aquariums that make significant contributions to advancing research and knowledge of marine animals. In fact, the bulk of what is known about dolphin and marine mammal health care, physiology, and reproductive biology has been learned through scientific studies in aquariums and marine life parks in the last 40 years -- facilities that are members of the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums. This knowledge directly benefits animals in the wild.
Despite critics spending significant resources on campaigns to try and stop marine parks and aquariums from their important conservation and education missions, more than 40 million people every year are enjoying and being inspired by the experience of seeing dolphins and whales up close in Alliance facilities that are committed to their care. With the support of the children who learn about the animals at our facilities and are inspired by them, we can truly ensure the future of marine animals in the wild.
Marilee Menard is Executive Director of the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums in Alexandria, Va. The Alliance is an international association of marine life parks, aquariums, zoos, research facilities, and professional organizations dedicated to the highest standards of care for marine mammals and to their conservation in the wild through public education, scientific study, and wildlife presentations. The membership represents the greatest body of expertise and knowledge of marine mammal husbandry. www.ammpa.org