Travel has been an intricate part of humanity for centuries. Christian theologian and philosopher, Saint Augustine of Hippo said, “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” It is with this mindset that we brave the world. We travel to expand our horizons; open our minds to the seemingly endless void of culture. Some of us travel for the exotic food, others for the rich history that we fail to see in our own countries, still others for the untouched wildlife we’ve obliterated from our mechanized cities. But too often do we forget to see the moral consequences of these “eye-opening” experiences. We mindlessly add activities to our itinerary thinking only of our own future enjoyment. Little do we know, our frivolity comes at a dire cost.
I imagine a number of you are familiar with the SeaWorld scandal following the release of Blackfish. I, like many others, was astounded by the atrocities committed by this supposedly “family-friendly” organization. So heinous were these depravities that I delved deeper, culminating in an article written for my Environmental Economics class. I will attempt to summarize its contents here. The 2013 documentary follows an orca involved in at least three deaths, going by the name of Tilikum. This 12,500 pound animal was physically and mentally tormented by humans and fellow orcas alike, ultimately resulting in complete isolation (carried out by meter thick slabs of concrete). John Jett reports, “Now Tilikum is spending a great deal of time by himself- floating lifeless in a pool.” 54% of SeaWorld’s orcas contain his DNA, despite his frequent displays of aggression: something that would be considered unscrupulous with any other animal. Furthermore, their enclosure has little to no semblance of their natural habitat, hindering almost all innate behaviors. Perhaps the most shocking revelations come from examination of their brains. Scientific research has shown that killer whales possess a part of the brain, associated with emotional intelligence, that even humans lack. Simply put, these animals do not belong in a glorified bathtub.
SeaWorld has evidently heard the cries of outrage as they have committed over $70 million dollars to remodeling their orca exhibit. But I can’t help thinking this is too little, too late. However, it is important to note that in regards to other aspects SeaWorld has contributed significantly to marine conservation. Nonetheless, I would ask you to think for a moment how would you feel if it was you in that tank, and those “oohs” and “ahhs” were directed at you.
Dolphinariums either have a very positive connotation. Or an extremely negative connotation. Which one you fall under depends on whether or not you realize where those dolphins come from. Many of those “smiling” animals come from Taiji Japan, where they were captured whilst swimming in the blood of their kin. If deemed cute enough to spare they are shipped around the world. Many of them won’t even make it through transit. The “lucky” survivors then face issues akin to their relatives, the orca. They too, are highly intelligent animals, whose psychological health will be severely compromised leading to numerous behavioural issues. Many of them will die prematurely, and some will even drown themselves. Plopping a usually unwanted human in front of them only adds to their stress. These animals may look happy, but they are anything but.
Cruises are the bane of our oceans. According to research one cruise liner will produce the same amount of pollution as 14,000 cars. 17% of the world’s nitrogen oxides are released by these giant cesspools. Not only do they damage the ozone, but when absorbed by the ocean they will increase its acidity, playing havoc with the delicate homeostasis of reef systems and kelp forests. Untreated sewage and waste is often haphazardly chucked overboard further contributing to the acidification of the oceans and subsequent annihilation of our reefs.
Many of us turn a blind eye, or are blissfully unaware, of the consequences of our choices. We may think it’s only a visit to an amusement park, but really we are supporting an industry that has been allowed to run rampant. We may say that our one ticket won’t make any difference: but it does. By buying that one ticket you are creating the demand that ensures the survival of these irresponsible corporations. If you don’t demand change, nothing will change. It’s time to stop making excuses for ourselves and the actions of others. It’s time for us to consider the environmental consequences our frivolous travel may have. It’s time for change.
By Sophie Zweifel