Zoological Collections and Animal-Rights. They do not make good bedfellows.

"Perhaps those planning this demonstration are unaware they are targeting the same company that orchestrated the return to the wild of former Brighton Aquarium dolphins Missie and Silver.." Sea Life Centre Spokesperson

Some zoological collections and their staff think there is nothing wrong with supporting or forming alliances with the animal-right movement.  To this end, I commented about this some weeks ago with reference to the sheer gullibility of some zoo and aquarium keepers in voicing their support for the film 'Blackfish'.  

Recently another example of this folly can be observed in an article regarding the Ringlings Brother Circus and a proposed ban on the ankus by Oakland City Council.

A quote that is worth noting in the article is that:
"The Humane Society of America, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and the Oakland Zoo all support the proposed ordinance."
Now whatever zoos and their personnel may feel about circuses, one thing that needs to be made clear is that zoos keeping elephants in 'open contact' will use tools such as an ankus - or as the animal-rights activist like to call it: a bullhook; these groups know it is important to emotionally label objects that meet their disapproval hence terms such as 'concrete prisons' when describing some zoo and aquarium exhibits. 

Moreover, whilst their facts might be poor, the animal-rights groups certainly understand how emotionally loaded arguments are essential to bring support and - more importantly - financial donations to their cause.

To this end, a case that comes to mind
(of the folly of thinking you can curry favour with the animal-rights movement) is that of the Brighton Sea Life Centre.

In early 2006, Merlin Entertainment's Sea Life Centres wanted to build an otter and seal exhibit outside Brighton Aquarium; the company had acquired the site for its transformation in to a Sea Life Centre in 1991.  

When they took over the aquarium, they also acquired two long-term captive bottlenose dolphins housed in the aquarium.  Sea Life's management decided rather than relocate these animals to another zoological collection they would collude with various animal-rights groups and give the animals over to the ill-fated 'Into the Blue' dolphin release project.

Rather naively, Sea Life thought it was likely that when they submitted their plans for the proposed development of a seal and otter exhibits they would get little or no opposition from animal-rights groups particularly those they had assisted some years earlier.  

However, despite the councils initially passing these plans this was where the real problems began.  Under the headline 'Waves of outrage at seal pool bid' a campaign was born by various animal-rights groups, factions and individuals to block the development of the seal and otter exhibits.

Local politicians soon became involved with the Green Party national spokeswoman on animal-rights and a member of Brighton Animal Aid Sue Baumgardt stating: 

"The Sea Life Centre is not an animal welfare organisation, it's not a charity: it's a money-making venture."
The Green party would later cite its involvement in the Sea Life protests as one of its achievements in its 2007 Manifesto claiming it as a successful campaign "against a cruel and unnatural seal and otter enclosure at the Sea Life Centre". 

One activist noted that:

"We fought against the dolphinarium at the Sea Life Centre about 15 years ago and were successful.  We hope to achieve the same this time."

Therefore, with numerous and mostly negative articles appearing in the local newspapers, Sea Life decided it might gain public support by citing its involvement in the 'Into The Blue' project stating:
"Perhaps those planning this demonstration are unaware they are targeting the same company that orchestrated the return to the wild of former Brighton Aquarium dolphins Missie and Silver.."
Unfortunately, these remarks drew stinging comments in a letter from Virginia McKenna of the Born Free Foundation and a founder of the 'Into the Blue' project. 

At the suggestion that the Sea Life Centre had been involved in the 'Into The Blue' project she stated:

"This is simply not the case... The only participation from Sea Life Centres (Holdings) Ltd, as it was then, was to agree to transfer ownership and welfare of the dolphins to Into the Blue and permit their removal by the project team from Brighton Dolphinarium."
In addition, in a further letter to the Brighton Argos she also observed:
"I was surprised to hear plans by the Brighton Sea Life Centre to exhibit otters and seals have been approved by Brighton and Hove City Council's planning applications sub-committee.  How can anyone believe it acceptable to hold wild animals in artificial conditions so much smaller than their natural habitats?  Three minutes of potential curiosity for a young child set against a lifetime of captive boredom and distress for a wild animal is not an acceptable trade-off.  My thanks goes to those councillors who, although bizarrely instructed by the chairman not to consider the animal welfare implications of the proposal, felt they could not morally support the Sea Life plans."
Ultimately, after some months of wrangling with the press and various groups, Sea Life announced that the seal and otter exhibit plans had been suspended indefinitely.  Of course, they publically claimed the campaign had no part in them shelving the seal and otter project but judging from a review of the news reports of the time this is hard to credit and Sea Life's comments could be viewed as a face saving exercise. 

More recently the Sea Life Centres continue to be subject of unwanted interest by members of the animal-rights movement with the planned development of a new aquarium in Manchester.  In 2012, the Captive Animals Protection Society (CAPS) - a vegan animal-right charity which is against animals in circuses, zoos and the pet trade - began a campaign to stop the construction of a new Sea Life Centre in the Trafford Centre, Manchester. 

Once again, Sea Life made the mistake of trying to engage in constructive dialogue with CAPS but the net result was predictable condemnation of their company values by this animal-rights group.  Fortunately, for Sea Life they were not subjected to the same heated campaign as they experienced at Brighton.  Therefore, the Manchester Sea Life Centre opened in 2013.

Nonetheless, Sea Life seemed not to have learned from their experience and still has a working relationship with the Whale and Dolphin Conservation (formerly The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society).  An organisation who among its campaigns are against dolphins and whales (cetaceans) maintained in captive care; a position that Sea Life and its holding company supports and who have even claimed in past advertising that dolphin keeping in the UK had been banned; which it has not. 

Although Sea Life's aversion to keeping dolphins does not stop them desiring to display them.  In an article in The Sunday Times (30 December 2012) the aquarium chain stated as to having designs on acquiring dolphins for display but only in the context of having 'rescued' them from other facilities and placed in a sanctuary run by them; a position that smacks of opportunism and sheer hypocrisy.

Related Contemporary News Story

Brighton and Hove councillors want say over Brighton Sealife Centre licence

Brighton Sea Life Centre Seal and Otter Exhibit News Coverage
Retrieved 6 December 2013 


13 January 2006 
An aquariums plans for penguin and seal pools has prompted angry protests from animal lovers. 

Animal lovers are holding a protest against a proposal to open penguin and seal pools at the entrance to an aquarium. 

Animal rights activists and Green Party members staged a protest against a proposed seal enclosure. 

Animal rights activists are planning a second protest against proposed seal and penguin pools. 

Green Party national spokeswoman on animal rights Sue Baumgardt is right when she says the Sea Life Centres plans to build two pools at the entrance to its aquarium to enclose two seals or penguins is purely a money-making endeavour (The Argus, January 23). 


Protesters are to make a final attempt to block an aqua zoo from building pools for seals and penguins. 

Seal pool plans delayed
Thursday 16 March 2006
Animal rights campaigners yesterday won a partial victory after plans for seal and penguin pools were put on hold. 


Campaigners have vowed to continue their fight to stop an aquarium exhibiting live seals, penguins and otters. 

 A battle over a zoos plans to exhibit two seals has been soured by allegations of dirty tricks. 


I am astounded Brighton Sealife Centre is considering plans to house seals and otters in its marine zoo. 

Animal rights protesters have stepped up their campaign against an aquariums plans to create two seal and otter pools.

Tanks for seals and otters, condemned by animal rights activists, will be built at an aquarium.

I was surprised to hear plans by the Brighton Sea Life Centre to exhibit otters and seals have been approved by Brighton and Hove City Councils planning applications sub-committee.

How sad it was to witness the planning committee passing the application to house seals and otters in the aquarium at Brightons Sea Life Centre.

I protested at Hove Town Hall against the proposal for planning permission by the Sea Life Centre for two tanks, covered by a thin fabric roof, to house seals and otters.

I beg to disagree with Virginia McKenna (Letters, May 22). Seals and otters housed at Brighton Sea Life Centre will be fed and well cared for, have expert veterinary treatment and there will be plenty of room for them to move around.

Why only seals?
30 May 2006
I have followed with interest the protests about the proposed seal enclosure at Brighton Sea Life centre.

Protect habitat
30 May 2006
Unfortunately for the seals and otters, places such as Brightons Sea Life Centre are the only places left for them to go. Their natural habitat is being destroyed at such an alarming rate they have to go into small confined living areas such as these Sea Life Centres.


Better outside
5 June 2006
Like so many others, Ron Wood considers it would be much safer for seals and otters to be inside the Brighton Sea Life Centre than outside in todays environment (Letters, May 26).


An aquarium has scrapped its plans to exhibit seals, penguins and sea otters.