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The Beacon

The Student Newspaper of MAST Academy, since 1991.
The Student News Site of MAST Academy

The Beacon

The Beacon

Senior Issue 2024
June 5, 2024

OPINION: Should captive animal enclosures be made larger?

A look into the statistics behind and the potential future of animals in captivity.
A child on their parent’s shoulders, points at an orca in its tank. Art by senior Ana Quesada

Imagine only being able to walk a distance of your height before hitting a wall. Imagine not being able to jump because your head was right against the ceiling. Imagine being outside all day with nothing between you and the blazing heat of the sun.

That is how Toki spent her entire life.

After 53 years in the Miami Seaquarium, Toki, known by her stage name Lolita the Orca, passed away on August 19th, 2023, months after an announcement to relocate her to an ocean sanctuary off the coast of Washington state. While Toki died due to a lack of care from her trainers and the debilitating state of her enclosure, I am of the opinion that Toki should have never been placed in an exhibit in the first place. 

A zoo is defined by Oxford Languages as “an establishment which maintains a collection of wild animals … for study, conservation, or display to the public.” Zoos and aquariums providing general education about animals, all the while preserving endangered species through instilling the importance of environmental conservation to future generations is a beautiful thing. However, when it comes to displaying these animals for the public to be seen, a line must be drawn at animals that naturally spend their time moving large distances.

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In the wild, Orcas swim hundreds of miles every single day, however Toki was in a tank that only allowed her to swim about thirty feet from the center (Toki was twenty feet long). Toki is a prime example of how not every animal should be confined to enclosures such as zoos and aquariums. Other examples of animals that cannot thrive in an enclosed environment include great white sharks, which have never been successfully kept in captivity, and polar bears, whose infants have a 65% mortality rate in zoos.

So what is the solution? Should we release these animals back into the wild? Well no, because animals that have been kept in captivity have not learned the necessary skills to survive in the wild. According to a study conducted by the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom, the odds of survival for captive-bred carnivores that are returned to the wild are only 33%. Increasing the size of the exhibits in zoos and aquariums is not a menial task either, as the construction of an appropriate size to contain animals that naturally move large distances would be too expensive.

Toki’s remains were sent to the Lummi Nation Tribe who are based in Washington state, where Toki was originally from. While Toki was never able to be returned to her native waters, there was an Orca that did get to return to their native waters.

Keiko, the Orca that starred in the 1993 movie Free Willy, was returned to his native waters in Iceland after an extensive process to prepare him for being on his own in the wild. Keiko’s rehabilitation took over two years and required over 2.8 million dollars in contributions. Although Keiko lived five years in the wild, he was not able to join the native Orca pods and could only meet his basic survival necessities . Furthermore, Keiko only lived to be 19 years of age, when the average life expectancy of a male Orca in the wild is around 30 years.

With Keiko’s story in mind, why should we go through the effort of reconstructing zoos or rehabilitating animals back into the wild when there is a much easier alternative? Let them be free.

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About the Contributor
Anthonie Page
Anthonie Page, Live Editor
Anthonie Page is a staff member for the MAST Academy student paper, The Beacon, based in Virginia Key. Part of the graduating class of 2024, this is Page’s 4th year at MAST Academy. When Page is not studying for his many AP classes or working on college applications, he enjoys writing and watching stand up comedy. Page is an active basketball player, and he spends his summers as a volunteer basketball coach for a youth basketball club. “I love playing basketball, and being a coach allows me to share the sport I love with future generations,” Page said. Page has a European background, with his family being from Greece and Italy. He aspires to study astrophysics after he finishes his final year at MAST.
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