The SWIMS law would put aquatic life at risk

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Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA), and Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-WA) last month introduced the Strengthening Wellbeing in the Marine Environments Act 2022. This seemingly well-intentioned legislation, cloaked in the best interests of the species, would end the future breeding of certain cetaceans, particularly orcas, beluga whales, pilot whales and false killer whales, for public display. Unfortunately, however, the legislation would fail to protect the species and instead put us on the path to species extinction.

Today’s leading certified aquariums and marine parks act as animal advocates, through rescue, education, conservation and research, to advance animal welfare and well-being. be aquatic animals. This flawed legislation ignores these truths and poses a devastating threat to years of modern, scientific understanding of animal welfare and is in itself a prime example of reactionary and emotionally charged policymaking. Laws that attempt to impede the rescue work of certified aquariums are actually obstacles to the survival of species and ignore the invaluable role that zoological institutions play in protecting and promoting the interests of the animals in their care and from those in the wild.

Critics of zoos and aquariums advance an uncompromising and false anti-captivity narrative in which all institutions are inherently unethical and cruel, a notion that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, “good” zoos and aquariums make their institutions easily accessible to rigorous, independent, third-party certification that uses scientific animal welfare standards to ensure the animals in their care receive the best care.

Zoos, aquariums and conservation centers certified on the front lines of animal welfare exist to facilitate and promote vital conservation efforts. They are ships to house and help maintain populations of critically endangered animals while funding thousands of conservation projects and conducting cutting-edge research here at home and around the world.

These establishments are ambassadors that connect humans and wildlife in ways that most of us will never experience outside of these parameters. Places that offer opportunities to engage with animals first-hand are uniquely positioned to inspire and educate future generations of animal advocates, who in turn rally people around the world to defend and preserve the wonderful animals they encounter in their childhood. More than 700 million people visit zoos and aquariums each year, according to the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums. It is through these educational visits to certified zoos that millions of people will become wildlife advocates in the future.

According to the World Wildlife Fund, a minimum of 300,000 whales and dolphins are killed each year due to fisheries bycatch, while others succumb to a myriad of threats including shipping and habitat loss. The tragic fact is that whales are facing increasing dangers in their natural habitat due to commercial whaling, climate change, oil and gas development, ocean noise and more. Five species of cetaceans and 19 subspecies, or subpopulations of cetaceans, are listed as critically endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List. Twelve species of cetaceans are endangered, seven species are classified as vulnerable and 10 are near threatened. Prohibiting the breeding of certain cetaceans will therefore severely limit the possibility of acquiring critical scientific knowledge about the breeding and development of these aquatic animals that can be applied to save wild populations on the verge of extinction forever.

Given the conservation status of these species, we cannot afford to make emotional decisions. We must rely on science and research to preserve Earth’s animals. Rather than complicate the operation of certified aquariums, governments should shine a light on what they are doing and ensure baseless attacks do not see the light of day. As humans, we have created the threat to these magnificent animals, and we must be the solution.

American Humane Certified Facilities have passed rigorous and time-consuming third-party audits to verify the welfare, well-being, and humane treatment of their animals. More than 60 institutions around the world have received this prestigious seal. I hope the policy makers responsible for this well-intentioned, but ultimately harmful legislation will visit these facilities and take steps to reverse their actions before more species are lost forever.

Robin R. Ganzert is president and CEO of American Humane.

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