Volume 68, Issue 2, 419-44
When the marine mammal entertainment industry emerged in the 1960s, companies like SeaWorld captured orcas and dolphins from the wild and put the animals on display to bring joy and entertainment to the masses. In 1972, Congress enacted the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which prohibited the capture of marine mammals from the wild. In response to this legislation, SeaWorld and other parks implemented breeding programs to maintain their mammal collection without having to capture wild animals. Conservationists and animal rights activists have protested this practice for decades, but only recently has the larger public engaged in widespread disapproval of marine mammal captivity. In recent years, massive public protest erupted over the conditions in which captive marine mammals, particularly orcas, live. The public rallied alongside conservationists and animal rights activists with unprecedented and unexpected fervor, calling for change in the marine mammal entertainment industry, or even its end altogether.
SeaWorld responded to public demand, announcing on March 17, 2016, that it would immediately stop its orca breeding program. Conservationists, animal rights activists, and the public celebrated this monumental step, but questions still remain as to what should be done to improve the lives of the remaining captive marine mammals. There is debate over whether SeaWorld should be compelled to release its captive animals into open-sea sanctuaries, or if it should be allowed to keep its animals in captivity for the remainder of their lives. While there are valid arguments on both sides of this debate, it seems that at least for the time being, marine mammal captivity is here to stay. This Note therefore examines the legal mechanisms that govern the captive care of marine mammals and how the law might be applied in novel ways to ensure more stringent captive care requirements for marine mammals.