Aquariums and marine parks

Our work Aquariums and marine parks

Aotearoa is a mecca for tourists wanting to see whales, seals and dolphins in the waters around our coast. This experience, and the information given to them by tour-guides, can provide people with an appreciation of how important the preservation of these threatened species is.

Unfortunately, the joy that people feel at seeing marine mammals, and their curiosity about the inhabitants of underwater environments, has led to the popularity of aquariums and marine parks.

Just like zoos, aquariums and marine parks do not allow aquatic animals to display normal patterns of behaviour, such as swimming vast distances, searching for food and forming natural social structures. Fishes and aquatic animals belong in the wild.

Captive dolphins

Before its closure in 2008, Marineland in Napier confined marine mammals including dolphins, penguins and seals in small concrete pools. In the 40 years it was open, the facility kept more than 70 dolphins in captivity. Each of these dolphins had an average life expectancy of only six years, compared to 16 years in the wild – although they can live to 40 years old. These animals were forced to do circus tricks and put through the stress of having visitors ‘swim with the dolphins’ in their pool. In September 2008, after a long-running campaign by SAFE, Marineland closed to the public after the last-remaining dolphin Kelly died and the facility was prohibited from catching any more dolphins from the wild. There are now no dolphins in captivity in New Zealand.

Aotearoa's aquariums

We know that fish feel pain, but there are also concerns around the welfare and behavioural needs of fish and other aquatic animals confined in facilities such as Kelly Tarlton’s in Auckland and the National Aquarium in Napier. Many of the fishes, crabs, sharks, octopuses and other animals exhibited in aquariums will have been caught in the wild. Some species do not breed in captivity, so as soon as one dies, another must be taken from the wild to replace them. A life of deprivation in a tank, especially a small one, can lead to the animals exhibiting zoochotic behaviour, such as repetitive circling, head bobbing and rubbing their body on a surface of the tank.
Aquariums do not allow animals to display normal patterns of behaviour, such as swimming vast distances, searching for food and forming natural social structures.

Trouble at Napier’s National Aquarium

In May 2021, Stuff reported that it could soon be the end of the line for the National Aquarium in Napier, after the Government declined to fund a proposed $77m upgrade. With the facility deteriorating and quickly becoming outdated, residents such as Terry the solitary sea turtle (who has been at the aquarium since 1979) may have to continue being lonely and confined for a little longer.
The sight of poor Terry the turtle in his tiny tank, which measures a mere 12 metres long by 3 metres wide, prompted visitors to leave negative reviews on Tripadvisor, with one South African visitor saying they were “haunted by the sight” and “couldn’t get the tremendous sadness out of my heart.” A visitor from Whangārei was also upset by Terry’s living conditions, writing “Gone are the days where it is acceptable to display creatures in this way."

The dark side of the aquarium trade

Most of the saltwater fish destined for captivity are taken from ocean reefs, using cyanide. This stuns the fishes, so they can be easily caught. Only a small percentage of fishes destined for captivity are bred in captivity. The new hard-hitting documentary, The Dark Hobby exposes the disturbing secrets of the aquarium trade. You’ll never look at aquariums in the same way again.

Discover all the flavours of the sea, without harming fishes

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