Marine Mammals In Captivity Essay Contest

Sharon Banta | Kathleen D'Aquila & Julia Perri | Laura DeSantis | Ariella Grinberg
Congratulations to Sharon Banta, first-place winner in the grades 6–8 category. Here's her essay:

In my opinion there is no doubt that marine mammals should NOT be held in captivity. Marine mammals are a part of nature and should not be bought, sold or thrown in an aquarium. I believe that they have the right to be kept in their natural environment.

I have many convincing reasons to support my opinion. Captivity causes many health problems in marine mammals. Many tanks have water full of chemicals and bacteria; this results in blindness and many skin problems in dolphins and other marine mammals. Marine mammals in captivity die from pneumonia, ulcers and other stress-related diseases. Most of these helpless creatures suffer from boredom. Dolphins in the wild can swim up to 40–100 miles per day but in pools they go around swimming in repetitive patterns. Due to boredom and limited space many dolphins abuse themselves; they often bang their heads against tank and aquarium walls. Some of these poor innocent creatures face abusive treatment by their caretakers, thus shortening their life span. In fact Keiko, the killer whale, the star of Free Willy, was a victim of this type of abuse. It was known to be said that he was 1,000 pounds underweight and developed a wartlike disease. His teeth were ground down from chewing the sides of the pool due to boredom and he had a problem with his dorsal fin. Marine mammals breed very poorly in captivity with very high infant death rates. For this reason, when a baby dolphin is born into captivity its birth is usually kept a secret from its mother until it shows signs of survival. Marine mammals do breed in captivity, but the birth rate in captivity is not as successful as in the wild.

Many people think that marine mammals should remain in captivity. I realize that some people may believe that captivity increases the life span of certain animals, but the truth is if these creatures are so happy in captivity, why do they die so fast? Captivity shortens animal life spans, not increases them. Wild dolphins can live 40 years in the wild and orcas can live 90 years, but when held in captivity they rarely survive their teens. Twenty-three out of 25 orcas have died in captivity. Some people think that holding animals in captivity helps with study and research. But the truth is scientists prefer to learn about animals in their natural environment so they get firsthand knowledge.

In conclusion, I think marine mammals should definitely not be held in captivity. I think Ghandi said it best when he mentioned, "The greatness of a nation and its moral process can be measured by the way its animals are treated." In a world where much of nature and the wild has already been lost to us, it is up to us to let these beautiful marine mammals free.

Sharon Banta

Debate Kit: Should Marine Mammals Be Held in Captivity?

A hot topic in classrooms and on the minds of the public is whether or not marine mammals should be kept in captivity. Here at PETA, we campaign for animal rights and understand that animals are not ours to use for entertainment. We know that many schools assign debates on topical issues to help their students learn to speak and write persuasively, practice research skills, and recognize multiple sides of a controversial or multifaceted issue. This student debate kit lists a variety of resources that can be shared with students to support the argument that marine mammals should not be held in captivity.

Resolved: Marine mammals should not be held in captivity.

Affirmative Argument

Marine mammals—highly intelligent, sensitive, social beings—suffer greatly in captivity. The chlorine and copper sulfate used to keep tanks clean have caused dolphins’ skin to peel off and may cause them to go blind. Many marine mammals suffer from peptic ulcers, often leading to death, because of frustration resulting from their unnatural lives. Captivity also tears families apart. In the wild, orcas often spend their entire lives with their mothers and siblings and live in large, complex groups.

While the aquarium industry claims that it exists purely for education and conservation, what these facilities really teach people is that it’s acceptable to keep animals in captivity—depressed, lonely, in cramped conditions, far from their natural homes, and at the mercy of humans. Marine mammal conservation is achieved by abolishing whaling, cleaning up our oceans, ending driftnet fishing, and prohibiting live captures, not by forcing cetaceans to swim in repetitive circles for our entertainment.

There are countless ways that we can inform the public and cultivate respect for animals without imprisoning marine mammals. It’s time to put the focus on teaching visitors how to protect marine life rather than harming it.

Become an ‘Expert’

Use the following links to research general information about marine mammal captivity and prepare logical arguments.

Build Your Case

Use the following links to gather evidence and examples to support your position against marine mammal captivity.

Research Articles and Investigative Analysis

Witness Accounts and Videos

Documented Physical Evidence of the Suffering of Orcas and Dolphins in Captivity

Finding the Solution

Use the following resources to help build a proposal suggesting solutions to issues that could allegedly arise from ending the captivity of marine mammals.

Anticipate Counterarguments and Prepare Rebuttals

Analyze aquarium and marine park websites to determine their stated reasons for keeping marine mammals in captivity. Investigate how much money these companies acquire through ticket sales and other endeavors and think critically about their motivations. Also, examine which other entities benefit from keeping marine mammals in captivity (e.g., aquarium suppliers, food vendors, scientists who study only captive animals). Create a list of typical statements made by parties who want marine mammal captivity to continue. Information included in the links in this document can be used to respond to counterarguments.

Other Considerations

Additional Resources




Have students use the curated content in this debate resource kit to prepare an affirmative argument stating why marine mammals should not be held in captivity. These resources will assist students in supporting their position using scientific, ethical, and philosophical arguments.

Want some free educational posters and stickers for students to use during their debates? E-mail us at [email protected] and let us know.

Do your students need to conduct an interview as part of their research? Staff members in PETA’s youth division, peta2, are available to speak with students via phone, Skype, or e-mail and to answer questions about PETA’s stance on keeping marine mammals in captivity. Have students e-mail us directly at [email protected], or if you’d like to contact us on their behalf, please fill out the form below and we’ll help you arrange to have them speak with a representative.

Thank you for helping your students speak up for animal rights. Happy debating!

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