From the open ocean to a tiny fish tank

Whilst most zoos have moved away from taking animals from the wild to stock their cages, and most members of the public assume that animals held in zoos will have been bred in captivity, for aquariums, this is certainly not the case. In 2004, it was found that a huge 79% of animals held in public aquariums had been taken directly from their ocean home to live in tanks and the current study found little evidence to suggest that things have changed. What has changed however, perhaps as a result of the public backlash as it was revealed that aquariums were removing animals from the wild, is that Sea Life staff are noticeably reluctant to share the truth about the animals’ origin with visitors. When asked outright how many animals came from the wild, some staff refused to answer and others claimed they did not know. One member of staff informed our investigator that it was company policy never to take an animal from the wild. This is simply not true.

Octopus Bray, Ireland

This tiny tank is the permanent home of an octopus

At five of the 12 centres, when asked, staff denied that any animals were taken from the wild. At the remaining seven, it was admitted that some animals were wild-caught with the implication that this was only the case on rare occasions. This reluctance to be honest about the source of the animals mirrors the response of one of Sea Life’s most senior managers, who refused to answer the same question when asked during a meeting with Freedom for Animals’ director during 2013 and, instead, promised to provide an answer in writing. The answer was never provided and the true figure remains unknown today.

Fish tank

What is the truth about SEA LIFE’s wild-capture?


At least one member of staff was honest about the reason for withholding the information. He told Freedom for Animals investigator to contact head office for Sea Life’s policy on wild capture as it was a “sensitive subject” that “some people get quite irate about it”. There appears to be a clear consensus, from the most senior management to the staff interacting daily with visitors, that the taking of animals from the wild to stock Sea Life aquariums should be played down as much as possible, or even denied outright.

Despite denials, Freedom for Animals investigator was able to confirm that sharks, fish, crabs, octopuses and turtles, amongst others, had been taken from their wild home to live in Sea Life tanks.

[Read next section: Worrying wildlife trade]