I recently wrote an article for Matador Travel, "Close Encounters with Marine Mammals: At What Price?". If you have time, click to join the conversation about what the Oscar-winning documentary The Cove, the killing of a human trainer by an orca at Orlando's SeaWorld, and captive dolphin encounters and wild dolphin swim tours may all have in common. But I'm still left wondering about what ethical criteria should be used when determining which animals can be kept in captivity and which shouldn't.
Looking at the issue closer to home, take California's Monterey Bay Aquarium as an example. Already a leader in vetting sustainable seafood, the aquarium maintains a conservation focus throughout its exhibits. Animals on display that exhibit high intelligence, such as sea otters and sharks, are part of species research and recovery efforts. The work that human trainers do with captive animals is meant to keep them healthy and their minds stimulated, with only positive reinforcement techniques used. Some animals are even released back in the wild, as is the case with white sharks who have been tagged for scientific research.
So, if you're looking for an aquarium experience that you can support with a clean conscience, head up to Monterey. Go now, and you'll get to see the baby sea otter Kit that was rescued right in my own backyard of Morro Bay, as well as a new sunfish. The sunfish will only be in the Outer Bay exhibit for as long as it stays healthy, continues to feed and does not show signs of stress, so go see it while you can.
If you want to learn more about behind-the-scenes work at Monterey Bay Aquarium, I highly recommend subscribing to their always interesting, educational Sea Notes blog.