Shedd Aquarium cross-promotion of marine mammal captivity

Media was there on the Georgia Aquarium’s opening day and since, for instance, when the dolphins were used to promote the Superbowl.  Perhaps it is news when there is a new “world’s largest aquarium” in town. But the latest “news story” is that dogs are now part of the Shedd Aquarium’s “crowd-wowing aquatic shows” and  are “bow-wowing the crowds.”

Not a new theme, aquarium leadership apparently cannot tell the difference between dogs and dolphins. But now the Shedd Aquarium with the help of NBC, is doing a little cross-promotion between dogs and dolphins to lend an air of acceptability to marine mammal captivity.

The news should be the media's complicity in perpetuating statis in the ethics of marine mammal captivity

The news should be the media’s complicity in perpetuating stasis in the ethics of marine mammal captivity

This news story is another reminder of why aquariums would like us to associate dogs with dolphins.  Why would an aquarium do that, you might find yourself asking.  Why is it in the interest of the aquarium industry to have the public associate dogs and dolphins; to think, as does Billy Hurley of the Georgia Aquarium, that captive dolphins’ jumping for food is much like dogs’ chasing frisbees in the park.

Without reiterating even the short list of why dogs and dolphins are not the same, suffice it to say, dog owners who have owned more than one breed know that even among dogs, one breed of dog is not like another.  Humans have bred working dogs, for instance, to perform tasks.  Shepherds will, for instance, herd children if there is nothing else to herd, due to selective breeding.

And among humans, we have this innate connection, over tens of thousands of years, with dogs. We love dogs.  We love to have them in our families and nothing could be more right for many of us than to rescue and care for a dog.   We also love other animals, like dolphins, but our model for caring for animals, for “loving” animals, is mostly informed by our long-standing relationship with domesticated animals, like dog or horses.  We make the mistake, then, of thinking that how we “love” dogs is how we should “love” dolphins. By training them to do tricks, by keeping them in enclosures, by petting them, by swimming with them, by saying, “Good girl . . .”

And the aquarium industry is literally banking on it.

So when you see a similar cross-promotion intended to make this inappropriate connection (and thank you, Shedd, for this blatant display), please recall that cross-promotion and association is precisely what is going on.  Remember if you will that dolphins and other marine mammals, by their nature, do not fare well in captivity, while dogs thrive “in captivity,” and that we should be doing everything in our power to restore their freedom and to Empty the Tanks.


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