Perhaps you saw the picture in the Las Vegas Review-Journal of Clark County School students admiring the occupants of the Mirage Dolphin Habitat. Last week Congresswoman Dina Titus honored the Habitat and the fifth-grade class from Thiriot Elementary School for “educating the community about conservation.” That’s a quote from an MGM Resorts International ad below, which appeared in Jon Ralston’s Morning Flash.
A MESSAGE FROM MGM RESORTS INTERNATIONAL: Congresswoman Dina Titus last week presented The Mirage Dolphin Habitat and fifth-grade classes from Thiriot Elementary School with certificates of special congressional commendation for their joint effort in educating the community about conservation. Students from the school created artwork, essays and poems for World Wildlife Day and Endangered Species Day, which are on display in the Habitat’s underwater viewing area.
I don’t doubt the fifth-graders’ commitment to conservation for a moment. But what does the Mirage Dolphin Habitat have to do with protecting wildlife and endangered species? Nothing!
The dolphins on display at the Mirage are not endangered or threatened. More than 500 orcas (killer whales,) dolphins and other members of the dolphin family are held in captivity in the U.S., in marine parks that hide behind claims of protecting the species through research and breeding programs.
Americans are outraged when marine exhibits pluck wildlife out of the oceans, but appear sanguine to captive breeding. Just look at the damage control ad
from Sea World in which a worker boasts the company hasn’t plundered from the wild in decades. Is it less egregious to deprive an animal of a habitat they’ve never known? What they don’t know won’t hurt them??
That is the attitude we appear to have adopted. It’s OK to confine a dolphin or whale to a bathtub for life as long as they never know what it’s like to swim the sea.
Captive breeding, be it of orcas at Sea World, dolphins at the Mirage or lions at the Secret Garden, is a cruel and costly vicious cycle, where babies are born to generate revenue while young and adorable, only to be relegated to an unnatural life in captivity, where their survival depends on the constant births of more babies to generate more business to feed the cycle.
Just look at the Lion Habitat Ranch (The Cat House), the “sanctuary” for the MGM Grand’s former lion mascots, which thrives on babies to attract visitors. It’s now been ordered by the county to halt the breeding, leaving the zoo without future cubs to draw customers.
The owner, Keith Evans, says he’s committed to providing a home for the caged cats on his property. But what’s to stop Evans, or whoever gets the lions who outlive him, from selling them on the surplus animal market.. where they could end up in deplorable canned hunts?
As for the claims that captive animals are a source of valuable research – the research conducted at the Mirage habitat is focused on dolphins in captivity and appears to have little benefit to wild populations, as is often the case. Why? Because experts say captive mammals living in sterile enclosures are deprived of their natural hierarchy, activity and interaction. They are also prone to behaviors not seen in the wild. Captive research has taught us that marine mammals are more intelligent than we thought, which makes their captivity even more heartbreaking.
The Clark County School District should encourage students to view animals in natural habitats, performing real behaviors, not tricks. Caging animals for our entertainment (or education) is cruel.