An Introduction
To The Missions Of Zoological Parks And Aquariums And How They Help Conserve Marine Mammals -- From the Alliance of Marine Mammals Parks and Aquariums



The history and significance of the public display of marine mammals is a compelling story.

It has been just a short 25 years since experts realized that something had to be done to protect marine mammals and their habitats. At that time, whale and dolphin populations were being decimated around the world by commercial fishing, pollution, and human indifference to the consequences of their individual actions. As hard as it might be to understand today, people didn't care about these animals.

In the U.S., our Congress responded by passing the Marine Mammal Protection Act in 1972, which, among other actions, helped stimulate advances in fishing practices that have resulted in a huge reduction in the number of marine mammals incidentally killed in fishing nets. In 1972--in one year-- an estimated 400,000 dolphins died as a result of the tuna purse seine fishery in the eastern tropical Pacific ocean alone. In 1995, that number dropped to approximately 3,000.

Our legislators also recognized that the public needed to learn about these animals and that greater knowledge was necessary to protect them. Congress urged public display facilities to foster public support for the conservation of marine mammals through education programs and to invest in research to increase our scientific understanding. Lawmakers understood that limiting the extraordinary contributions of the public display community to the conservation of these animals would have long-lasting and irreparable, negative results for the country's marine wildlife and the people of United States.

In the marine mammal community, we passionately rare about marine mammals and share them every day with thousands of children around the world, touching their hearts and minds so they will learn to care as deeply as we do about the conservation of marine wildlife. We believe that each child we reach can make a contribution to a better environment for his or her children.

The people, in turn, believe in us. Marine life parks, aquanums, and zoos have strong and committed support'from the public. A 1995 Roper poll shows that nine out of 10 people believe these institutions are essential to educating the public about marine mammals. Eighty-seven (87) percent say they wouldn't have a chance to see these animals if they could not visit a public display facility.

The Alliance is an international association representing approximately 40 marine life parks, aquariums, zoos, scientfic research facilities, and professional organizations. Member institutions are dedicated to the conservation of marine mammals and their environments through public display, education, and research. Although the Alliance headquarters are in the United States, almost 25 percent of our member facilities are located in other countries around the world. Through the Alliance, public display facilities are making a difference by getting this conservation message to the public as well as legislators, regulators and the media, opinion leaders that can make a difference for marine mammals and their environments.



conservation
Every Alliance member threads conservation themes throughout its park and education programs, acquainting people, especially children, with the importance of caring about marine mammals and the oceans that sustain them. The fundamental need for this information was confirmed in the Roper poll. The poll indicates that most people believe that the more they learn about these animals, the more likely they are to fight to preserve them for generations to come.

Alliance members offer over 1500 special lectures, courses, and programs with specafic conservation themes for both adults and children each year. Topics range from coral reef ecology, oil spills, and ocean pollution to endangered species, marine debris, stranded animals, and specific ecosystems.

In conjunction with government agencies, Alliance members throughout the world work with manatees, vaquita, river dolphins, stellar sea lions, California sea otters and Hawaiian monk seals--all species that are threatened or endangered-- working to stave off their extinction.

Without marine life parks, aquarium, and zoos, to whom would governments turn to rehabilitate declining species like the Hawaiian monk seal pups that must be weaned and cared for, sometimes a year or more? Who would help assess the impact of environmental contaminants on immune and/or reproductive systems of wild populations, such as St. Lawrence belugas, as Alliance members have done for the Canadian government? Who would house and care for the sea lions that have been jeopardizing the steelhead salmon stocks in Washington state?



education
Over 36 million adults and children walk through our institutions each year and are exposed to the education information provided to the general public through graphics, presentations, exhibits, and narrations about marine mammals and other wildlife. But, we don't stop there. About 100 million children, adults, and teachers are reached annually through specially designed, on-site education programs and educational messages distributed through computer learning programs, publications, teacher aids, satellite television, and outreach programs supported by our institutions.

Without marine life parks, aquariums, and zoos, who would effectively educate our children, and their children, to care about marine wildlife? Who would fund the learning materials, posters, booklets, fact sheets, and videos or offer teacher training, college courses, and curriculums for science courses? Who would garner the respect for these animals that engenders a strong, active commitment to marine mammal conservation.for which the public must ultimately shoulder the responsibility?



research
In the area of research, it cannot be emphasized enough that much-if not most-of what we know about marine mammals today has been learned from research at public display facilities.

Researchers were never certain of a killer whale's length of pregnancy until reproductive studies could be conducted at marine life parks. Yet this information is vital to understanding the animals' ability to sustain a healthy population in the wild.

Today it is possible to perform a complete diagnostic ultrasound body scan on a wild dolphin in less than IS minutes. This technique has been used at the request of our government in research studies to assess the health of populations troubled with mass strandings or disease. Without years of being able to study animals in aquariums and parks, without the ability to adapt human technology to animals in controlled environments, this extraordinary, non-invasive technique and others would simply not be available today to study wild marine mammal populations-

Alliance members have spent an estimated $20 million on research over the last five years alone -- research that is essential to understanding the behavior, anatomy, and physiology of marine mammals; to rehabilitating stranded animals; aiding the conservation of wild populations; and to learning to better manage and assist endangered species.

Additionally, many Alliance facilities make their animals available to marine mammal researchers from colleges, universities, and other scientific institutions conducting noninvasive studies important to the animals' conservation and health. Much of this research simply cannot be accomplished in ocean conditions.

These studies have led to the development of vaccines and new methods of treatment; improvements of techniques for anesthesia and surgery: tests for toxic substances and their effects on wild marine mammals; and advancements in diet, vitamin supplements, and neonatal feeding formulas.

However, there is still a tremendous amount we do not yet know.

Without public display facilities, who would cooperate with a university studying manatee energetics to determine why manatees are vulnerable to cold weather? This information is critical in deten-nining when Alliance members can release hand-raised or orphaned animals safely into their natural habitat. Who would participate in government studies to prevent marine mammals from gefting entangled in gilinets or fund augmenting work on noise makers, which could alert the animals to the presence of the nets?



rescue and rehabilitation
Another crucial role of Alliance members is giving a hand and hope to stranded animals. Over 1600 marine mammals were rescued, rehabilitated, and released over the past five years by our member facilities, which voluntarily participate in stranding networks. The medical advances and techniques developed through our research is a huge benefit to these sick and injured animals as we struggle to save their lives and return them to their natural habitats.

Alliance members are not reimbursed for the dedicated care they provide these animals. Collectively our institutions spend more than a million dollars each year helping stranded animals.

Without the marine life parks, aquariums, and zoos that participate in voluntary stranding networks, who would care for stranded seals, sea otters, manatees, and seals that find themselves sick or injured on our shores? Who would continue the advances that have let to tihe successful rehabilitation and release of a greater number of dolphins and whales in recent years--animals that are generally very sick or injured when found?

Be assured that Alliance members take the collecting of and caring for animals very seriously. There are approximately 450 whales and dolphins maintained in all the institutions throughout North America. In 1996, 52 percent of the killer whales and 46 percent of the dolphins on display were bom in these facilities.

Belugas, another commonly held species, have only been collected from Canada's Hudson's Bay, mindful that other populations have been compromised, possibly by environmental contaminants. The Hudson's Bay population is estimated by Canadian officials to be about 25,000 animals. There are reportedly 50,000 to 70,000 belugas worldwide. The average annual native subsistence harvest of these animals is 250-300 individuals each year. Just 34 beluga whales are housed in zoological institutions-one bom just this year, bringing the percentage bom in aquariums to about 18 percent.

In fact, only seven whales and/or dolphins have been collected for public display in North America since 1990. On the average, that is about one animal per year taken from the wild.

To put this in further perspective, over 8,000 cetaceans have stranded and died in the waters of the Southeast U.S. in the last 17 years. No animals have been removed from these U.S. waters in the last six-year period, while 4,692 animals have died there as a result of stranding.

In contrast, the percentage of animals entering public display facilities' inventories through births has skyrocketed. For all dolphins and whales, those bom in zoological facilities were 8 percent in 1979, 26 percent in 1990, and 90 percent in 1995. This is one of the most striking trends in the management of marine mammals, affirming the good health care given the animals, the quality of their environments, and the success of our breeding programs.

Membership in the Alliance brings with it great responsibility-responsibil4 for educating the public about marine mammals and their conservation, responsibility for saving strnded animals, responsibility for funding research that will help animals in our collections and in the wild. Membership also brings with it a commitment to exceptional care for the animals. That means being a responsible manager in assuring that the behavioral, medical, social, and genetic needs of the animals are met.

A responsible facility fosters thoughtful exchanges to best manage the animals in our collective care to provide for their social and behavioral needs as well as breeding opportunities. While collections of animals from the wild are minimal, that option must remain viable to sustain a healthy gene pool and to provide the opportunity to help educate the public about new species of animals. Responsible exchanges of terrestrial animals are common, understanding that it is essential to use good breeding practices to assure the health of any species. Likewise, people familiar with the raising of dogs or horses understand the merits of breeding these animals for healthy pups and foals. Inbreeding is not a responsible breeding practice as it results in physical and medical complications. Marine mammals are no different. Whales are no different. Wild populations are no different.




home .  viewer discussion .  the debate .  inside seaworld .  interviews .  keiko .  slaughter
other captive orcas .  ted griffin .  navy dolphins .  man & marine mammals .  laws
press reaction .  tapes & transcripts

web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation

pbs online

SUPPORT PROVIDED BY

RECENT STORIES

FRONTLINE on

ShopPBS