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Imagine you are strolling freely in the streets, then suddenly you are imprisoned in a cage for the rest of your life. You find that there is not much space for movement, and you have no chance of escaping to see your family while food is provided only when you obey.
If this sounds bleak, just picture that this is the reality for captive marine animals. Even today, many marine animals are still frequently captured and removed from the wild for aquarium shows and public displays. Dolphins and whales are meant to travel up to 70 miles a day to stay healthy, making them the worst species for confinement, and there are plenty of other ways to appreciate these beautiful creatures who call the ocean home, ways that are more exciting, immersive, and humane—by visiting them in their natural habitats.
In the documentary Blackfish, a killer whale is featured to portray the psychological and physical damages of captive marine animals caused by confinement. Tilikum, a two-year-old killer whale, was separated from his mother in the wild and transported to a tank at SeaLand Canada, where he stayed with two female orcas.
Tilikum soon gained a reputation among the aquarium trainers for his obedience and intelligence, and the staff adored him since he was very easy to work with. However, he was often attacked and harassed by his companions in the tank, and there would be obvious scrapes and scars on his body. On 20 February 1991, tragedy struck—SeaLand trainer Keltie Byrne was dragged underwater by the orcas and drowned.
Nonetheless, the shocking incident did not stop the aquariums from training killer whales. Tilikum was soon transferred to SeaLand United States and continued performing. Although he had shown symptoms of aggression and stress, such as crying in anguish due to the separation from his mother, the aquarium did not do much about his mental health. His physical well-being also deteriorated, caused by too much chlorine in the water and limited space, resulting in teeth damage, dorsal fin collapse, and bad eyesight.
All of these added to Tilikum’s frustration until finally, in 2010, he killed another trainer during a public show in Orlando. It took SeaWorld another six years before ending its orca breeding programme, and two years after the release of Blackfish in 2014.
Dolphins and whales are intelligent social animals, making them especially unsuited for living in captivity. Most of them, including seals and sea lions, have a shorter life expectancy than their counterparts in the wild. However, little is being done about the cruelty behind marine shows, and the industry continues to operate worldwide today.
For conscious travellers, the aquarium is not the only option for visiting these beautiful creatures who belong in the wild. Why not go snorkelling or take a cruise to see them swim at ease and with joy in their natural habitat instead?
Book a tour with Whale Watch Western Australia for an unforgettable experience at Bremer Bay, one of the best places for whale-watching. Visits are available from January to April, when different kinds of whales feast on squid in the area. You will also find other marine species like dolphins, sea lions, and sharks, as well as migratory Antarctic sea birds. Expeditions are hosted on a spacious and comfortable vessel, and include morning tea, lunch, and afternoon tea. Other tours to visit blue whales and humpback whales are also offered.
Dolphin-watching in the city? You read that right. In Hong Kong, the rate of spotting Chinese white dolphins is high, as they are known to be curious around boats. Founded in 1995, Hong Kong Dolphinwatch has been raising awareness among the public and working with researchers to protect this endangered species. If you are interested in joining, trips are scheduled every Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday. During the four-hour tour, you will learn about the threats faced by local dolphins and the strategies implemented to save them.
Off the coast of southeastern Queensland is Moreton Island, another rich marine ecosystem in Australia. Hop on a boat at the Rivergate Marina Brisbane and learn more about the history of Moreton Bay before arriving at your destination. You will be guided by professionals from See Morton while snorkelling to admire the bottlenose dolphins, dugongs, giant loggerhead turtles, and other marine species. You will also have the chance to explore the Tangalooma Wrecks or hop on the soft and delicate shores of Moreton Island. See Morton’s cruise also provides a buffet lunch to keep you energised for your adventure.
From Denali National Park to Kuskokwim Bay, you can indulge in the extraordinary beauty of Alaska’s natural landscape during your adventure with Royal Caribbean. Embark on your trip at Kenai Fjords National Park in Seward for a whale-watching tour and travel past icy mountains, witness lazy sea lions resting on shores, and try out fresh salmon and local food with relish. You will not only see lively whales swimming in the turquoise ocean, but also many other species like sea otters and natural scenery found exclusively in Alaska.
Find bottlenose dolphins, minke whales, orcas, white-beaked dolphins, and more by travelling with Sealife Adventures. From June to September, cruises ranging from three to five hours are available for booking. You will discover beautiful wildlife creatures on the west coast of Scotland and visit the Corryvreckan, one of the largest whirlpools in the world. Plan your visit and book in advance on the website, as each cruise can only take 12 guests.
Even today, there are still marine creatures out there suffering from confinement and captivity. If you would like to support animal protection, sign a petition or donate to organisations like the Dolphin Project and Save the Whales.