Imagine that you’re enjoying life with your family and friends, until one day someone comes and takes you away from them. Your captors keep you jailed inside a glass box and give you food that you’re not used to eating. The air in the box is different than the air you’re used to breathing at home and it makes you sick. Groups of people pass by and stare at you through the glass, every day for years on end, but no one ever helps you escape.

Underneath the Shark 5176 | Mike Liu 

That sounds a lot like a nightmare or a horror movie, doesn’t it? Well, for countless animals trapped in aquariums, that nightmare is a reality. Here are six reasons why aquariums are just as f*ckd up as SeaWorld:

1. They Tear Families Apart

In the wild, orcas often spend their entire lives with their mothers and siblings. Other wild dolphins also live together in family pods.

But aquariums give little thought to animals’ well-being and some steal them from their loved ones. To catch a female dolphin of breeding age, boats are used to chase a pod into shallow waters, where the animals are surrounded with nets and then lifted onto the boats. The unwanted ones are thrown back into the water. They may die from shock or stress or from pneumonia when water enters their lungs through their blowholes.

Every year during the cruel dolphin hunt in Taiji, Japan, hundreds of dolphins are captured—either to be slaughtered for meat or sold to aquariums and marine parks around the world.

Aquariums that breed animals in captivity aren’t any better. Animals born into captivity are condemned to a life of misery in tanks and often have to endure the stress of being taken away from their mothers and shipped to different facilities.

Not to mention that animals who are bred are often forcibly impregnated through artificial insemination. That means that the animals are sometimes sexually stimulated, too–just like they were at SeaWorld.


See, we told you that aquariums are f*cked up.

 2. Aquariums Don’t Benefit Animals

Many aquariums operate under the guise of helping animals. For example, visitors to Connecticut’s Mystic Aquarium can pay to “paint” with belugas, and the company unashamedly spins the program as “enriching” for the whales rather than admitting that money is the real motivation.

Just recently, the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium used the same excuse when it took live penguins to an NHL game, during which fireworks were set off. The experience was terrifying for the animals—you could see the fear in their eyes as they scrambled away from the explosions.

In fact, aquariums often do the exact opposite of helping animals. Studies show that 90 percent of public aquariums house animals who demonstrate stereotypic neurotic behavior. This means they’re driven insane in captivity and often pace back and forth, bob their heads, or circle their enclosures for hours on end.

 3. Animals Suffer

Not only does being held in captivity cause animals mental stress, it’s also physically damaging to the animals. The chlorine and copper sulfate used to keep tanks clean has caused dolphins’ skin to peel off and may cause dolphins and seals to go blind. If that’s not f*cked, we don’t know what is.

Many marine mammals suffer from peptic ulcers, which are caused by the frustration of captivity and often result in death. Florida’s Sun-Sentinel examined 30 years of federal documents about marine animals and found that nearly 4,000 sea lions, seals, dolphins, and whales have died in captivity—and of the 2,400 cases in which a cause of death was listed, one in five animals died “of uniquely human hazards or seemingly avoidable causes.”

aquarium cruelty

Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals 

If those numbers aren’t disturbing enough, a marine-mammal behavioral biologist in Seattle says that “dolphins in captivity can exhibit self-inflicted trauma” and that some drift at the surface of the water and chew on concrete until they’ve destroyed their teeth.

4 .Interactive Programs Are Cruel

Some aquariums offer touch tanks or “swim with” programs, which let the public pet, kiss, or even “ride” animals.

Atlantis Dolphin Cay Shallow Water Interaction | Austin Kirk | CC BY 2.0  
In the wild, dolphins swim up to 60 miles each day, but in captivity, they’re confined to cramped sea pens or chemically treated concrete pools. This is especially traumatic for them since they communicate through echolocation. Many dolphins develop painful ailments, such as stomach ulcers, and some die prematurely from the stressful conditions of captivity.

Stingrays and other animals suffer greatly in touch tanks. They’re denied the opportunity to forage away from human contact like they normally would. To make matters worse, their stinger barbs are trimmed or removed, leaving them defenseless. They’re also subjected to constant harassment from humans, who touch them all day long, which isn’t just unnatural—it’s also unhealthy. Rays have a natural mucous coating on their skin that protects them from dangerous pathogens, and it’s easily damaged when humans touch it.

SeaWorld - Shark Encounter | Josh Hallett | CC BY 2.0 

These programs invade animals’ already miserable worlds and are intrusive, stressful, and even dangerous to them—not to mention risky for the humans participating.

 5. They’re Not Educational

People in the industry often claim that aquariums exist to educate the public about animals. But when you think about it, all they really do is teach the wrong message that it’s acceptable to keep animals in captivity, where they’re bored, cramped, lonely, and far from their native homes—just for human amusement. How can that possibly be considered educational?

6. They’re Poorly Regulated

aquarium animal cruelty

Portland 4-2014 Aquarium Fish octopus | Kathy Knorr | CC BY-SA 2.0 

Captive marine mammals have some federal protections in the U.S., but they’re typically not enforced. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has about 100 employees who are responsible for inspecting more than 10,000 facilities every year. Even when they determine that an aquarium has seriously violated a regulation, the facility is rarely fined or penalized.

What You Can Do

The next time you’re looking for a fun weekend activity, leave visiting the aquarium off of your list and head to the beach instead. You can help terrorized animals trapped in prisons by explaining to your friends and families why they should avoid aquariums, too.