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SeaWorld Take Note: Ringling Retiring Elephants

March 5, 2015 by Laura Bridgeman

By Laura Bridgeman
Campaign and Communications Specialist
International Marine Mammal Project
Earth Island Institute

Ringling Brothers circus, dubbed ‘the cruelest show on earth’ by animal advocates, announced Thursday that it will phase out the use of elephants in their shows.  While this is a huge win for elephants, it could also be good tidings for captive cetaceans.

SeaWorld and Ringling Brothers share much in common.  Both companies profit off the lives of ‘their’ animals, and both have spent years deflecting and denying allegations of abuse brought by concerned individuals and organizations - allegations that have been regularly proven as being true and backed by solid science.

Finally, Ringling Brothers has bowed to the pressure and admitted that the ‘mood shift’ among its customers has influenced its decision to remove elephants from performances. 

“The same shift in public attitude is quickly building pressure on SeaWorld to get dolphins and whales out of the marine circuses,” says David Phillips, Director of Earth Island Institute’s International Marine Mammal Project.  “Keeping orcas in concrete tanks is bad business and terribly cruel.  More and more people will continue turning away from whale captivity theme parks until they get the message and change."

Films like the documentary Blackfish are affecting not only people’s perceptions of cetacean captivity, but also laws.  Last year San Francisco passed a resolution stating that cetaceans have the right to be free from captivity.  Assembly Bill 2140 last year sought to ban orca performances throughout California and retire captive orcas to sea pens.  Similar bills are active in Washington state and Canada.  These initiatives indicate the growing understanding that cetacean captivity is just plain wrong.

While today’s announcement is certainly a cause for celebration, much remains to be done.  Questions have arisen around the Ringling Brothers sanctuary where it plans to send the elephants.  “This self-described Conservation Center is, I believe, private,” says Dr. Toni Frohoff of In Defense of Animals.  “Endangered species should not be privately held.”

SeaWorld falsely claims that orca whales at its parks are “happy” and that retiring them to retirement sanctuaries is not possible.   However, this ignores the successful efforts on behalf of Keiko, the orca who performed in the movie Free Willy and thrived in ocean sea pens in Iceland.  It is clear that that SeaWorld’s greatest fear is not the wellbeing of the orcas, but a decline in SeaWorld's ability to make money from orca lives.

The cramped train cars that Ringling elephants languished within for much of their lives are no different than the tiny concrete tanks the cetaceans endure.  Both are increasingly being viewed as torturous devices from which their charges should be released for good.

As people continue to turn away in disgust at the prospect of abusing animals for entertainment, the people who profit from suffering will be forced to find more ethical ways to make a living.

SeaWorld, take note.

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