How To Approach Friends That Support Animal Captivity

I'll be honest, I'm still in the process of figuring out how to navigate a conversation with someone about their support of zoos and marine parks. Living in San Diego means that half of my friends spend their weekends at the zoo with their children and I hear about how great SeaWorld is on a regular basis. The goal of this post was to create a kind of template so that when I did find myself talking to someone about their latest dolphin swim or the baby panda's at the zoo, I would have something to say that wasn't dripping in condescension. After all, if your goal is to change someone's mind, the dialogue should be informative and you should try to be objective.

For the record, I hate SeaWorld so much that every time someone tells me that they've bought tickets, I want to stab myself in the eye and get on the first plane back to Canada. In 2019, with all the documentaries and information on how cruel captivity is to whales and dolphins, how anyone can go to these places and still sleep at night is beyond me.

My proximity to two major attractions that profit off animal captivity has forced me to seriously question friendships and look at people in a different light. You do not need to be vegan or an activist to see that in exchange for a few hours of human entertainment, these animals are put through a lifetime of suffering. In fact, SeaWorld is such a controversial place that people who frequent zoos regularly won't set foot in the marine park.

This brings me to my next point: are zoos acceptable? No, they're not. However, when someone tells me they've spent the afternoon at a zoo, I don't feel blind rage, I feel sadness. I understand the confusion over claims that animals on the brink of extinction survive because of breeding programs at zoos. They make it seem like these animals have all the space in the world because of a safari park, but it's not true. It can be confusing and if you grew up going to the zoo, it's a difficult habit to break.

For those of you wondering, we animal activists have the following opinion:

  • No animal belongs in captivity (the argument on companion animals is divided)
  • The reason animals are facing extinction is either a- evolution or b- human greed, so the way to fix it would be to scale back our consumption or increase anti-poaching laws, not with breeding programs.

In the past anytime I have approached someone about supporting these institutions, it has not gone well. I have tried many tactics - from harsh one-liners meant to guilt people into redemption to emailing articles about the plight of suffering orcas. For every 20 confrontations that I've had, I've probably only swayed one person. People either feel attacked, or they just don't care and write me off. Sometimes they agree with everything I say, admit they feel bad and then continue to go. Parents, in particular, seem to think that going to the zoo is educational and fundamental to healthy child development. The reality is this: studies have shown that children receive no educational benefit from visiting zoos and that the average time spent per animal exhibit ranged from 8 seconds to just under a minute. I'm not a parent or a biologist, but what could anyone possibly learn in that time? And what can we discover about an animal without understanding the environment it's meant to be in? The education angle is something these institutions used to market their product so that they could profit. We don't need to put animals in captivity to learn about them. This is why we have books, NatGeo and David Attenborough.

There was a time when I gave up on these conversations because they were futile and exhausting, but I'm back at a place in my life where I feel as though I need to at least try to plant the seed of change. What I try to do now is to offer people constructive and educational information in the least emotional tone I can manage.  I'm hoping it will inspire them to think twice about animal captivity and increase their understanding of the truth behind these businesses. At the very least, I know that I have spoken my mind and tried to make a difference.

If you're in the same boat and trying to figure out how to approach someone who still goes to zoos and marine parks, I've put together two different messages and included them after the break. Feel free to use copy entirely, edit or just use inspiration when reaching out to someone that you feel might be inspired to change.

If you have feedback or a more constructive way to go about this, please email me or leave a comment below.

(keep scrolling for both examples.)

How To Change someone's mind about a zoo / safari park

Hi Friend,

I hope you don't mind me saying this, but I saw that you were at the zoo/safari park earlier and I wanted to give you some information that might change your mind on supporting this industry. Once upon a time, I thought these places were educational sanctuaries for animals and a friend took the time to educate me, so I'm trying to do the same.

At the end of the day, a zoo is a business trying to make money. They often breed animals because babies are more popular attractions and then sell off the adults to travelling circuses or roadside zoos. Animals kept in a zoo often suffer from behavioural conditions never seen in the wild, as they do not have sufficient place to roam (regardless of how large the safari park is), they are not able to hunt and they are deprived of mental stimulation. To put that into perspective, tigers and lions have around 18,000 times less space in zoos than they would in the wild. Polar bears have one million times less space. There is no proof that going to a zoo has any educational benefit for children, in fact, studies show they do not benefit at all. The idea that zoos are saving wild animals from extinction is false and most zoos have no reintroduction program for these animals. If the goal was really to save animals from extinction, zoos would be helping protect their natural habitats, not keeping them in captivity.

I took the time to write this because when I see people at the zoo,  I know they believe they're doing the right thing and the only way to stop that pattern is through sharing knowledge. I hope that by potentially changing your mind about animal captivity, we can make a difference together.

I have a lot more information if you're interested and open to a bigger conversation, but I wanted to start here. Thanks for listening!

How to approach someone about seaworld wihout offending them

Hi Friend,

I noticed you were at SeaWorld /Dolphin Swim today, so I wanted to take the time and give you some information on the type of business you're supporting. I can only assume that you've never seen the documentaries BlackFish or The Cove, so I would like to start by suggesting you take the time to watch them both. It's hard for me to talk about this without getting emotional, so I apologize if my tone is a bit off, but I feel very strongly about this and once you know the facts, I'm sure you will too.

In the wild, orcas and dolphins swim upward of 100 miles per day - they are held captive in what is essentially a bathtub for our entertainment and suffer immensely because of that. Orcas are often stolen from their pod (families) in the wild and then put into captivity. The average age of an orca in captivity is 14 years old, but in the wild, they live on average 30-60 years. The bent over dorsal fin is not normal at all - under 5% of all orca's in the wild have these, when all adult male's in captivity have them.

The method in which dolphins are captured for dolphinarium programs are inhumane and cruel and often results in mass casualties. I urge you to look up the Taji Dolphin hunt online. Once they are brought into captivity, they're forced to take medication for ulcers and vitamins due to malnutrition and stress-related illnesses. Due to pushback from animal rights groups, some facilities have started breeding their dolphins in captivity, creating more stress for the females who have often been seen drowning their own calves by not allowing them up to the surface for air. Something never was seen in the wild that some researchers say is a result of the combination of intelligence and maternal instincts, they do not want their child to suffer the same.

I understand the desire to interact with these beautiful creatures, but that desire has built an entire industry that created much suffering. I took the time to write this because I believe the only way to stop this cruelty is through education and I hope that by changing your mind about SeaWorld, we can make a difference together.

I have a lot more information if you're interested and open to a bigger conversation, but I wanted to start here. Thanks for listening!

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