Public Opinion On Zoos And Aquariums: The Canadian Perspective
Though animal advocates have been working to assist captive animals for decades, the release of the documentary Blackfish did much to expose the inhumane treatment of a killer whale at SeaWorld. Since then, many people have turned against the practice of keeping cetaceans (marine mammals including dolphins, whales, and porpoises) in captivity. This study published by the Angus Reid Institute examines the attitude of the Canadian public towards aquariums housing cetaceans in captivity.
The results of the study were encouraging in some ways and disappointing in others: 47% of Canadians said that cetacean captivity should be banned, 21% said cetacean captivity should be allowed, and 32% chose the “Not Sure/Can’t Say” option. There was a clearer divide on the issue in places with an aquarium nearby, generally in favor of the animals. For example, among residents of the province of Ontario, home to a controversial aquarium called Marineland, 54% advocated banning cetacean captivity and only 15% advocated allowing it. While for comparison, in British Columbia, home to the Vancouver aquarium (which recently announced that it would stop housing whales and dolphins), 40% of residents were against cetacean captivity and 33% were in support of it.
When the question was changed to ask about whether non-endangered or non-injured animals should be kept in captivity captivity, 50% of all Canadians said it is wrong to keep an animal in captivity if it is neither endangered or injured, while 40% say it is acceptable. For animal captivity in general, 22% of Canadians say it is always acceptable so long as there is no harm being caused, 17% say it is always wrong no matter what, and the rest are not sure or think it depends on the situation.
As for the public’s perception of the usefulness of zoos and aquariums in general, most Canadians appreciate their existence on some level. 62% of Canadians say that zoos and aquariums make communities better places to live. Additionally, 56% of Canadians believe that the things people learn at zoos and aquariums cannot be learnt from television, and that percentage is even higher among those who have visited a zoo or aquarium within the last six months.
The study notes some Canadians are against increased restrictions on zoos and aquariums. One source in particular, Andrew Trites of the Marine Mammal Research Unit at the University of British Columbia, said that increased restrictions on zoos and aquariums could hamper research that uses their captive animals. Thankfully, several pieces of federal legislation have come up to protect cetaceans from ending up captive in aquariums. For example, Bill C-68 prohibits capturing cetaceans in Canadian waters and S-203 further prohibits the import of cetaceans, and even their sperm.
Studies like this can help advocates become better informed on the current feelings about cetacean captivity, which has a huge potential impact on advocacy strategy. From there, advocates can work to inform themselves on the impacts of captivity on cetaceans, and use their knowledge to advocate for better policy. Legal and public pressure were the driving force behind the Vancouver Aquarium’s decision to stop housing captive whales and dolphins. And the protracted battle over Marineland in Ontario shows that advocacy can, and does, have a major impact on how aquariums will operate in the future.