Why say no to Shamu

One of the things I love about kids is that their consciences have not yet been whittled away from decades of justifying their actions. Justice and the world in general are still thought of in terms of black and white with shades of gray an abstract idea. Children also tend to become obsessive focused on various subjects, and provided their interest is in something worthwhile, this is an excellent method of education without them even realizing they were learning.

Several years ago my sons became extremely focused on whales and anything whale related. If we watch a nature show today they can immediately identify which specie of whale is onscreen even if we’re only able to see a small portion of the beast. Which is why I shouldn’t be surprised at a recent conversation I had with my nine year old, Jesse.

“Mom, what countries do you most want to visit?”

“The ones high on my list would be New Zealand, Italy, France, Norway…” I was interrupted by a gasp of disbelief.

“But Mom! Norway whales!!!”

So they do. In fact Norway has killed more than 10,000 whales since reinstating the practice of whaling in 1993. Last year over 450 whales were taken from Norwegian seas and the country continues to allow the hunting of some of the ocean’s largest creatures despite dwindling cetacean populations and public support. And so it is that the conscience and heart of a child who has not yet reached double-digit birthdays has struck Norway from my bucket list.

Given my children’s interest in all things whale, it would be easy to imagine that a little trip to one of the many SeaWorlds or other large mammal aquariums around the world might be in order. Not only can families view these amazing animals up close, but it would be an educational experience right?

Well my sons would be the first to object to such a diabolical scheme and here’s why. They know that there is a high-dollar demand for live dolphins to be used in aquariums and swim-with-dolphin attractions. They are also well aware of the cruelty involved in the capture of these dolphins and because thousands of dolphins are trapped at a time, and only a few are selected for a life of captivity, the remaining dolphins are slaughtered in an incredibly inhumane manner to be sold as meat in Asia. Not only is the manner of killing incomprehensible, but the practice is unsustainable.

Add to this the fact that more than half of these captured dolphins are dead three months later. The ones who are lucky enough to survive past this point still suffer from shortened life-spans and depression. Captive orcas also face higher mortality rates, unusual health problems, and increased aggressiveness towards humans and other orcas.


A few years ago our family took a vacation to Costa Rica. For the same amount of money that it would have cost us to visit Disney World and SeaWorld in Florida, we enjoyed two weeks surrounded by the real thing. No fake trees or animals in enclosures, only nature left to run wild. We woke each morning to a howler monkey’s call. We viewed macaws, electric blue butterflies, and meter-long iguanas on our daily walks. And we saw plenty of dolphins. No, they weren’t performing tricks on command and they didn’t pose for photo ops, but they gave us quite a show on their own with out-of-the-water jumping and bow riding. No, we didn’t get to swim with them, but Jesse received a personal encounter with one when he leaned over the side of the boat for a better view and received a face full of seawater, courtesy of a friendly dolphin’s blowhole.

When our family finds ourselves presented with the dilemma of supporting a multi-billion dollar industry in which animals are traumatized and the environment is harmed or experiencing something real (though there is always a risk that the wildlife will not show up when expected), the choice is already made. And should I ever falter in my resolve to not support industries in which nature is exploited, I have a sweet, caring, socially conscious son to set me straight.


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