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Animals in Captivity Debate Refueled by Recent Baby Beluga Death

“Animals in captivity debate refueled” was the latest headline sparked by a recent death of a baby beluga whale, Nala, at the Vancouver’s Aquarium. This is the seventh baby whale to have died at the aquarium. This death has also prompted more calls to end the ongoing captivity of whales and dolphin in Stanley Park. The cause of the death was an “accumulation of fluid in the lungs”, and also found were two small stones and a penny swallowed by the baby whale.

A group called No Whales in Captivity is hoping that the Vancouver Park Board will allow Vancouverites to vote on the issue of keeping whales in captivity by including the referendum question on the ballot in the next civic election in 2011.

Interestingly, the debate was rather split down the line among callers to the CKNW radio show. I was fascinated to hear the rationale from those who sided in keeping animals in captivity. Their arguments for were either for education or for (affordable) entertainment. One caller cited the educational value by allowing children to see these animals live in person so that they can aspire to working with animals later on–particularly endangered species. Another caller justified the need for keeping the whales because most families could not afford the whale watching experience offered by local tour companies. The cost to do so could be upwards to a thousand dollars per family. A thousand dollars for a family trip whale watching may actually be cheaper than taking the family to watch the Canucks play!

Whatever the excuses are, I don’t see any real justification to keeping any animal in captivity. Perhaps it’s because I never was astonished as a kid being at the zoo or aquarium. Actually, the aquarium is pretty cool, but that’s about my excitement towards these tours. I remember dreading field trips to the zoo as a child. I didn’t care to see the lions, rhinos, elephants, crocs… Nothing piqued my curiosity. I was more intrigued watching them on the wildlife documentaries on TV than seeing them in the flesh lying in one spot at the zoo. There is nothing exciting and majestic about seeing animals in artificial environments. And how does all this translate to saving the animals?

June 22 was two years since George Carlin passed away. This recent debate reminded me of stand-up he did on “saving the planet”. I couldn’t agree more.

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