There I was, trapped in a tiny tank of water barely any bigger than my own body. Pounding on the glass walls, I let out a scream, inaudible to the group of people who'd gathered to gawk at me while one excitedly snapped pictures.
This was my experience while shooting my PETA UK ad, a powerful piece in which I'm "imprisoned" in a small glass tank to demand freedom for animals held captive in marine parks the world over. Within an hour, I was liberated, free once again to see my family and friends, travel, rest, and live my life on my own terms.
Sadly, the same is not true for cetaceans who find themselves prisoners of profit at marine parks like Sea World on the Gold Coast, where they have nothing to do but swim in endless circles, interrupted only by being forced to perform mindless tricks to entertain raucous onlookers. It's heartbreaking, no doubt, but I have faith that we can be the key that sets them free.
With the frustration, loneliness, and boredom of our own lockdown still fresh in our minds, now is the perfect time to show empathy for the dolphins, including orcas, and other animals trapped in abusement parks - simply by never buying a ticket.
Ever since the documentary Blackfish hit screens in 2013, the public has felt increasingly uneasy about paying for the imprisonment of intelligent, sentient animals. In the past decade, support for using animals in entertainment has plummeted, and a slew of new guidelines offer hope.
In late 2020, France committed to phasing out this cruelty with a ban on the import and captive breeding of dolphins, including orcas. At a news conference, French Minister of Ecological Transition Barbara Pompili noted that "[o]ur attitude to wild animals has changed" as she heralded a "new era in our relationship with these animals".
There's also been cause to celebrate on Aussie soil, after the recent, welcome news that captive dolphins will no longer be commercially bred in or imported into New South Wales following a lengthy state-wide inquiry into animal welfare.
While announcing this long overdue decision, those behind the bill said that a dolphin born in a dolphinarium today could live for 50 years, meaning they could still be swimming in the same soul-crushing circles come the year 2071. That's a horrifying thought, especially when you consider that a pod of wild dolphins can travel up to 100 kilometres daily, covering vast expanses of sea while communicating via echolocation - which is impossible in a concrete tank.
As we come to understand these complex animals better, it's not surprising that the numbers of visitors to marine parks are dwindling, and legislation is starting to reflect public opinion. It's time for Queensland to follow suit. At Sea World on the Gold Coast, dolphins are bred to endure miserable lives and forced to perform in tanks that are much too small. During the shows, trainers are towed along by the animals' delicate dorsal fins, despite expert concerns that exposing their fins to warm air is one of the causes of the fin "droop" so often seen in captive cetaceans.
Another cruel money-spinner, the park's "pay to pet" opportunities, is at odds with dolphins' natural instincts. In the wild, they would never voluntarily beach themselves, especially to be groped by human hands, because their considerable weight would slowly crush their internal organs on land. What these "experiences" have to do with conservation is anyone's guess, but that's likely of little concern to the park, which spends less than 1 per cent of its estimated gate takings of over $133 million annually on rescue, research, and rehabilitation.
As Australia's arts scene struggles to recover from the pandemic, there's no shortage of willing human entertainers seeking an audience. We don't need to empty our lives of theatrics - we just need to stop emptying our pockets for businesses that exploit animals. We need marine parks to empty their tanks.
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