SEA LIFE claim circus-style tricks are ‘effectively natural behaviour’ for whales

SEA LIFE claim circus-style tricks are ‘effectively natural behaviour’ for whales

Easter weekend 2015 marks one year on since the release of the SEA LIES campaign, the result of a six month investigation into the workings of SEA LIFE and the well-being of the animals they keep. What was unearthed were troubling revelations that this worldwide brand were taking animals from the wild to stock their tanks, misleading the public on their so called ‘rescue’ work, ‘educating’ visitors with incorrect zoological information, and most of all, they were hiding a big, shameful secret. Merlin (SEA LIFE’s parent company) actually own an aquarium operating as part of the SEA LIFE brand which holds three beluga whales, all of whom are forced to perform daily to crowds in circus-style shows.

SEA LIFE is owned by Merlin Entertainments, the second largest visitor attraction operator in the world, famous for their theme parks and attractions. SEA LIFE centres are located all over the world. In the UK their centres and websites give out messages of conservation and education using the strap-line ‘Breed, rescue, protect’. One of their biggest claims is that they believe no cetacean (whale, dolphin or porpoise) should be held captive, and in fact claim they campaign to end such practices.

Over Easter this year, people took action on the streets and online to demand an end to the Merlin whale shows. Demonstrations took place across the UK outside SEA LIFE centres and people worldwide sent tweets and messages direct to SEA LIFE and Merlin demanding an end to the shows and answers on their plans for these animals.

Internal statement from SEA LIFE ZAW15

One year ago, when we launched the campaign, Merlin promised to make a statement ‘soon’ about the future of the whales. After Zoo Awareness Weekend, we received a leaked internal document (pictured right) which was issued to SEA LIFE staff titled ‘Base Statement Responding to Criticism from the Captive Animals’ Protection Society’. Within this statement they state:

“we believe cetaceans such as whales and dolphins have such strong social bonds, are such wide-ranging and intelligent animals that they are unsuited to any kind of display facility, which also inhibit their use of sonar”.

and

“The primary objective is always the welfare of the beluga whales”

YET the daily whale shows continue.

Merlin email April 15

Meanwhile, Merlin’s replies to concerned members of the public (pictured right) not only failed to provide concrete plans for the future of these whales but actually seemed to suggest that the tricks were  necessary for their welfare. 

Merlin stated:

“we have to be mindful of the fact that many of the things they have learned to do prior to our arrival have effectively become natural behaviour for these three animals”

By ‘prior to their arrival’ we can presume that they mean prior to their purchase of the aquarium and the whales. Before Merlin purchased the business, the belugas were performing in shows for the paying public.

‘We have changed the format of the Chang Feng Ocean World belugas’ appearances to focus primarily on natural behaviour and deliver a powerful educational and conservational message…’

The so-called focus on natural behaviour now includes ‘dancing’ in circles in the water, jumping for food, ‘singing’ along to a xylophone and pushing grown men through the water who are stood on their faces…hardly natural.

Natural behaviours of animals are not those which they are taught to perform by humans. Animals are born with some innate behaviours which enable them to survive and some are taught by their family members. These behaviours serve a purpose to the animals in their survival, for example a mother lion will teach her cubs to hunt for food. But teaching a lion in a circus to jump through a hoop on fire is not natural. Merlin claims to work with ‘specialist independent advisors’ – presumably cetacean experts. Would they too support this claim that performing tricks to crowds is in any way natural?

With this reasoning in mind, we can look at the example of the notorious and loved circus elephant, Anne who was rescued from a life in the circus in 2011. Anne had been kept in the circus for over 50 years. She was taught to perform tricks, rear on her hind legs, made to walk circles in the ring, to allow dancers and clowns to perform on her back, all for paying crowds in her life as a ‘performing’ animal. So had these behaviours then, become ‘natural’ for her? Does she now suffer as a result of no longer being in the circus and being able to perform these behaviours? No, of course not.

We all recognise that a life in the circus was one of suffering for Anne and her retirement from performing these demeaning tricks has improved her welfare rather than hindered it.

Of course any animal held in captivity needs to be provided with stimulation and enrichment to occupy their minds, keep them active and encourage natural behaviours. But this does NOT include performing in shows for screaming crowds. This could come in the form of objects to interact with or manipulate, searching for food or carrying our appropriate exercises with their handlers, away from the public eye.

We would argue the true motivation behind Merlin continuing these shows is more fixed on the money they bring in, rather than the welfare of these three beluga whales.

They claim they have plans to build a sanctuary to retire the whales to. One year on and we hear the same excuses. From a company which brought in income of over £1 billion through their attractions worldwide in 2014, it certainly seems that progress is slow.

We are fully aware that relocation to a sanctuary may take some time, but that is absolutely no excuse to continue to use the animals in shows in the meantime, as Merlin has continued to do since the site was purchased in 2012. It makes little sense that Merlin can claim to be “concerned” over the situation of the belugas when it is fully within Merlin’s control to change it.

Looking at the 2014 income for Merlin, we see that last year alone they built six new attractions, new hotels at their theme parks and reported plans to build seven more in 2015 including a new SEA LIFE centre. These new attractions were opened at a cost of £5-8 million each. Meanwhile sources tell us that funding is an issue for the new sanctuary for the whales.

We want to know, as do our supporters, why do the shows continue and why does the potential sanctuary make so little progress that they have nothing to report to the concerned public?

If Merlin really have the best interests of these whales in mind and really care for their well-being, they would end these shows NOW and find alternative ways of managing the whales whilst they search for a new home for them.

Nicola
Campaigns Director

3 Comments on "SEA LIFE claim circus-style tricks are ‘effectively natural behaviour’ for whales"

  • Noreen Lloyd says

    Feel very strongly that all wild animals and sea mammals should be released from these awful circus like acts and confinement in small tanks..In this day and age all these circus style shows should be outlawed and become a tragic part of the past and mans abuse and mistreatment of mammals and wildlife.We know enough about animal and mammal psychology and behaviour to know this confinement and being forced to perform tricks is very detrimental to any wildlife and should be banned for ever..NOW!!!!!!

    • Nicola O'Brien says

      Caps’ activists: Are you free to help us raise awareness about the imprisoned belugas on Saturday June 6th?

      A worldwide Empty the Tanks Day of Action launches on June 6th from London and the USA. We are are collaborating with Empty the Tanks and we hope you can support our Sea Life anti-captivity protests in London, Birmingham and Manchester. Please let us know if you can plan a protest at these or any of the other Sea Life centres in the country listed from their website: https://www.visitsealife.com/

      We must keep pressure on Merlin/Sea Life in the UK while they remain in constant public denial of their hypocrisy about the 3 belugas imprisoned for profit in Shanghgai.

      SEA LIFE is owned by Merlin Entertainments, the second largest visitor attraction operator in the world, famous for their theme parks and attractions. One of their biggest claims is that they believe no cetacean (whale, dolphin or porpoise) should be held captive, and in fact claim they campaign to end such practices. Merlin own an aquarium operating as part of the SEA LIFE brand which holds these three beluga whales, all of whom are forced to perform daily to crowds in circus-style shows.

      We are calling on Merlin to end the public shows and invest some of their multimillion pound profits into building a sanctuary for these poor whales; to show some compassion to these beautiful creatures and stop this public torment!

      Please let us know if you are free on 06/06/15 to join or organise a protest.
      Contact CAPS asap about any campaign materials you may need and ideas you want to share.

      Thank you.

    • Nicola O'Brien says

      Thank you. CAPS continues wth this in mind.

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