I remember when the first of these “parks” opened — and it was such a new thing — a sealife circus (as opposed to an aquarium which is basically a sealife zoo.) And except for a few marine-loving locals to the coasts,, there was no such thing as a little kid wanting to become a marine biologists or aquatic vet. Now, most kids with the interest have visited these parks and fueled their imaginations to the point that every university with a coast nearby (and some inland schools) now offer it as a distinct major.
The unexpected part of it all is that we ALL learned so much about the whales and dolphins and porpoises and penguins that when the news that they were unhappy and stressed and even abused started seeping into the press and online reports, it horrified us to the point that the parks themselves are now on the endangered list. Since awareness, understanding and information increases compassion and empathy — we now see these once ground-breaking circus parks as more problem than potential. And that’s in spite of all the better-than-it-used-to-be and better-than-it-might-be positive changes the company has made to its park assets. They raised our culture’s awareness without keeping up with culture’s conscience.
So what happens to the animals — and all those trained park workers, vets, trainers, and marine biologists now that attendance has dropped so low that the parks aren’t going to be able to pay the grocery bill or keep the lights on? Will they be folded into the research and conservation wing of NOAA? Will they be scuttled and auctioned off to small family-run one-ring-tank circuses in the remote areas of the coasts? Will they show up in a black-market of private salt-water fish tanks? Will the US nationalize them to create a Smithsonian Sealife attic or gigantic National Aquarium Complex with branches on the many coasts?
And what of all the animal rescues and rehabs the SeaWorld people participated in? Having all those marine vets within reach saved a lot of wildlife over the years. What happens when a fisherman or sailor comes upon a dolphin or manatee or sea-turtle in distress if there’s no park full of specialists to ferry help in?
There are no obvious answers to some of these questions. Without the parks as potential employers, how many of the university departments will survive? Which means even fewer professionals on call. Surely Not-For-Profits can’t employ all the people needed to do the work. Or all the professionals that will potentially flood the market if the parks disappear.
This is like a vet problem that has to help fold soldiers back into mainstream society after a war. These animals were part of an undesirable way of life that existed for a short time, and served an important purpose. But now we see that it’s no way to expect them to live for their whole lives.
So what is to become of them when our moral outrage out-distances their park-home? As morally objectionable as the public display of “freak shows” was in the early 20th Century — when public conscience closed them down with non-attendance, a lot of very unusual performers were suddenly out of work and homeless.
And here we are again. Our compassion has the potential to be more cruel than our ambivalence. At least in the short-term.
Which is not a simple problem.