1472-4049/07/02 127-012 $20.00/0 © 2007 M. Lück & Y. Jiang
JOURNAL OF ECOTOURISM Vol. 6, No. 2, 2007
Keiko, Shamu and Friends: Educating
Visitors to Marine Parks and Aquaria?
School of Hospitality & Tourism, AUT University, Auckland,
Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies, Brock University,
St Catharines, ON, L2S 3A1, Canada
Marine parks are big business. The Vancouver Aquarium, for example, indi-
cated total revenues of almost $CND 15 million in 2002 (ca. $US 11.2 million)
(Vancouver Aquarium and Marine Science Centre, 2002), and the theme parks
of Anheuser Busch (including Sea World in San Diego, San Antonio, and
Orlando, Discovery Cove in Orlando, Busch Gardens in Tampa Bay and
Williamsburg, as well as Water Country USA, Sesame Place, and Adventure
Island) generated revenue of $US 1.1 billion in 2005 (Anheuser Busch, 2006).
The primary visitor magnets of these parks are often marine mammals, such as
dolphins, orcas (Orcinus orca), beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas) and various
species of pinnipeds (e.g. sea lions and seals). In particular, highly choreo-
graphed shows with marine mammals and petting pools are the centre of visi-
tors’ attention (Schwab, 1995). Killer whales are most popular among visitors,
and it is indeed not uncommon that more than 500 visitors attend each of the
several daily shows at marine parks (Wright & Kelsey, 1990). However, keeping
cetaceans, especially large species such as orcas and beluga whales, in captivity
for the purpose of entertainment is highly contentious. One argument for keep-
ing marine mammals in captivity is that marine parks contribute to education,
and thus ultimately to the conservation of marine mammals (Alliance of Marine
Mammal Parks and Aquariums, 1999). This has been observed by Whitehead
(1990: 60) who states that ‘many people are thrilled, excited and fascinated to see
captive whales performing. Knowledge is a key to action. If we are to preserve the
whales and their environment, people, and perhaps most importantly children,
must be able to experience them. Oceanaria are one way people can see whales.’
Education at Marine Parks
Education on tours with wild marine mammals has been investigated, most
notably on dolphin and whale watch tours in Australia by Orams (1993, 1994,
1995, 1996a, 1996b, 2000), but also on whale watch tours in Australia by Muloin
128 Journal of Ecotourism
(1998) and on dolphin tours in New Zealand (Lück, 2003). However, there
appears to be a lack of evidence on the educational value of keeping marine
mammals in captivity. Whale and dolphin watch tours are certainly not directly
comparable to facilities that hold marine mammals in captivity. The totally
different setting provides visitors with very different experiences. In terms of
interpretation, the main difference is that whale watch tours have a relatively
captive audience, while marine parks have a non-captive audience (Hammitt,
1984). It is generally easier to provide educational content to a captive audience,
such as tourists on whale-watching boats, than it is to a non-captive audience. In
addition, many participants on marine mammal tours in the wild desire educa-
tion as one of the main components of the tour (Lück, 2003), while for visitors to
marine parks, entertainment is the prevalent motivation (Wright & Kelsey, 1990).
Some attention has been paid to education of visitors to aquaria (Evans, 1997;
Falk & Adelman, 2003). Aquaria commonly display smaller species of sh and
other marine and amphibian wildlife. Because of the possibility to display
smaller species in relatively larger tanks, controversy about the ethics of keeping
marine animals in captivity is much lower. The Alliance of Marine Mammal
Parks and Aquariums (1999) notes that marine wildlife parks and aquaria play
an important role in conservation through education. They quote a Roper Poll
of 1995, where 92% of respondents agreed that ‘these facilities are essential in
teaching the public about marine mammals they might not otherwise get the
opportunity to learn about’ (Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums,
1999: 17). There are, however, a number of opponents to such facilities who
argue that often education is just an exercise in public relations (Williams, 2001).
According to critics, little is taught about natural behaviours, ecology, demo-
graphics or population distribution at marine parks and oceanaria (Rose &
Farinato, 1995). Also, there is no independent follow-up, which investigates
how much marine park visitors have learned (Hoyt, 1992). Opponents claim
that the information provided by marine parks is at times even false, and that
marine wildlife in captivity portray a picture of ‘trainers riding, kissing, hugging,
patting and ying off the heads of orcas’ (Williams, 2001: 50). Rose and Farinato
(1995: 38) argue that there is a clear purpose for this distortion of information:
‘The more understanding people have of the natural history and ecology of
marine mammals, the more likely they are to question why marine mammals
are held in captivity.’ Interestingly, in an awareness study undertaken in Canada
by Jiang (2004a), respondents indicated that ‘to learn about the natural history
of the marine wildlife on display’, ‘educational opportunities’ and ‘information
on conserving the natural environment’, were much more important reasons to
visit an aquarium or marine park than factors such as ‘petting dolphins or
whales’, ‘feeding dolphins or whales’, or ‘facilities of the aquarium or marine
park’. The most important attraction was the display of marine mammals and
sh, and the third most important factor for visitation was the performances
and shows of dolphins and whales (Table 1).
Jiang’s (2004a) study indicates that visitors to marine parks and aquaria show
high interest in educational opportunities during their visit. However, there is a
gap in knowledge regarding whether visitors have learned during their stay at the
facility, or how satised they were with their visit, and with the educational oppor-
tunities. Most marine parks are aware of campaigns by environmental protection
Educating Visitors to Marine Parks and Aquaria 129
organisations. Worried about negative publicity, they generally do not let
researchers investigate their customers on their premises. Thus, it is difcult to
undertake an independent study, asking visitors of the respective parks.
With the foregoing in mind, the purpose of this study is to investigate all
marine parks keeping orcas for entertainment with regards to their educational
programs. Orcas were chosen, because they are the largest marine mammals
held in captivity, and thus are the prime focus of the debate around marine
mammals in captivity.
This paper presents a preliminary study which was undertaken in order to
prepare a main project on education at marine parks and aquaria displaying
marine mammals. For this project, all marine parks keeping and displaying
orcas (Orcinus orca) were identied (13 parks worldwide at time of analysis,
now twelve parks, see Table 2). Up-to-date information on the exact numbers of
orcas in captivity is difcult to obtain, because of animal deaths, new captures,
and transfers between parks. However, some conservation organisations, such
as the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society in the UK, keep track of orcas
in captivity (Williams, 2001). In addition, marine mammal researcher Erich
Hoyt was consulted for help with up-to-date information. Lastly, private con-
servationists, for example, Stefan Jacobs, keep track of the developments in
marine parks, and publish information on their personal webpages (Jacobs,
2006). Table 2 had to be updated several times during the process of writing
and revision of this article. It displays the numbers identied from a variety of
sources as of January 2006, however, the results of the content analysis are as of
2004. The content of the marine parks in Japan was analysed with the help of a
Japanese speaking colleague.
A content analysis of the parks’ webpages, and other sources, such as arti-
cles in academic journals and newspapers, reports, and books lead to a broad
Table 1 Reasons for visitation of aquaria and marine parks
Item Mean Std. Deviation
Display of marine mammals and sh 3.95 1.10
Educational opportunities 3.94 1.09
Performances/shows of dolphins and whales 3.86 1.23
To learn about the natural history of the marine wildlife
Information on conserving the natural environment 3.81 1.11
Facilities of the aquarium or marine park 3.56 1.09
Petting dolphins and whales 3.03 1.25
Feeding dolphins and whales 3.00 1.30
Rated on a 5-point Likert scale, from 1 5 very unimportant to 5 5 very important.
Source: Jiang (2004a).
130 Journal of Ecotourism
overview of what these parks offer. Babbie (1995) points out that content anal-
ysis can either code the manifest or the latent content of the investigated mate-
rial. Manifest content is the visible, tangible content of the surveyed objects.
Latent content, in contrast, investigates the underlying meaning (Babbie,
1995). Veal (1997) distinguishes between content analysis and hermeneutics,
where content analysis focuses primarily on quantitative data, and herme-
neutics on qualitative. The present study focuses solely on the manifest con-
tent of the respective webpages and additional material. The underlying
messages and meanings of this content are planned to be investigated as part
of a larger project at a later stage.
The material analysed yielded a large number of items related to a variety of
topics. A number of items addressed the same or similar content, and thus the
collected information was divided into subgroups, including ‘visitor informa-
tion’, ‘education’, ‘shows’, ‘exhibitions’, ‘entertainment’, ‘animal connection’, ‘kid’s
clubs’, ‘media information’, ‘tour operator information’, ‘events’ and ‘other
information’. In a rst step of the larger project, emphasis was placed on educa-
tional issues related to marine parks, and thus only the categories ‘education’
and ‘animal connection’ will be examined in this Research Note. The category
‘education’ comprised of items directly related to interpretation and education
at the respective marine park, while ‘animal connection’ included activities and
Table 2 Marine parks and aquaria holding orcas
Marine park/aquarium Number
Marine park/aquarium Number
Miami Seaquarium, USA 1 Port of Nagoya Public
Aquarium, Nagoya, Japan
SeaWorld Orlando, USA 10 Kamogawa Sea World,
SeaWorld San Diego, USA 7 Izu-Mito Sea Paradise,
SeaWorld San Antonio, USA 8 Taiji Whale Museum,
Six Flags Marine World,
Vallejo, California, USA
Marineland Niagara Falls,
Acuario Mundo Marino
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Marineland Antibes, France 5
Subtotal ‘Western Parks’ 36 Subtotal (Japan) 9
Total worldwide 45
Source: (easyJet, 2001; Jacobs, 2004; Jiang, 2004b; OrcaInfo, 1999; Williams, 1996, 2001).
Educating Visitors to Marine Parks and Aquaria 131
opportunities for direct interaction with animals in the 13 parks. The other cate-
gories did not contain educational material, but information on the parks, the
exhibits and similar content.
A limitation of the study is that the parks might not publish all their educa-
tional efforts on their webpages and brochures, although it can be expected that
in the light of much pressure from conservation groups, the parks would be inter-
ested in making their education programs and material as visible as possible.
Results and Discussion
As of 2004, there were 13 parks holding orcas worldwide (today 12). Some
parks, such as the Vancouver Aquarium and the Ocean Park in Hong Kong
have recently decided to discontinue their orca programmes. Six Flags shut
down their animal programme at the Ohio park, and transferred the orcas to
their park in California (Geauga Lake Family Amusement Park, 2004). Thus,
these three parks were not included in the study. It is not clear why these three
parks decided to abandon their orca programs; however, pressure from conser-
vation organisations and from the general public is assumed to have played a
role in this. At the time of the content analysis, Nanki Shirahama Adventure
World in Japan still kept orcas and has thus been included in the analysis. Eight
out of the 13 aquaria and marine parks are located in the Western Hemisphere,
including North and South America, and Europe (these parks will be referred
to as ‘Western Parks’ in this paper), and ve are located in Asia. Interestingly,
all remaining Asian marine parks displaying orcas are located in Japan. The
number of orcas held in the parks varies from one to nine mammals, with a total
of 49 orcas held in marine parks worldwide (today 45; Table 2).
Marineland Niagara Falls, Six Flags Vallejo, Kamogawa SeaWorld, and Izu
Mito Sea Paradise offer orca petting opportunities (Figure 1). Miami Seaquarium,
SeaWorld San Antonio, Marineland Niagara Falls, Acuario Mundo Marino and
Kamogawa SeaWorld offer feeding opportunities, and all parks, except Acuario
Mundo Marino, Marineland Antibes and the Taiji Whale Museum offer photo
opportunities with orcas. At SeaWorld in San Diego and in Orlando, visitors
have the unique opportunity to have a look behind the scenes of the park, when
participating in a ‘trainer for a day’ programme. In addition, SeaWorld Orlando
offers a ‘keeper experience’.
All marine parks offer a variety of educational components (Table 3). A
number of marine parks offer camps and special programmes for various
target groups. Camps, for example, include day, overnight and scout camps.
These are mostly for children under the age of 12, families and teachers. The
purpose of such camps is to educate children, parents and teachers about the
wildlife and attractions the aquaria have to offer (SeaWorld Orlando, 2004a).
Scout programmes are specically designed for Boy Scouts and Girl Guides,
where ‘scouts will learn about animals and the environment in a fun, interac-
tive and educational manner. All programs are designed to meet handbook
requirements and help scouts earn awards and achievements’ (SeaWorld
Orlando, 2004b). It is interesting to note that all North American marine parks
(SeaWorld in San Diego, Orlando, and San Antonio, Miami Seaquarium, Six
Flags Vallejo, and Marineland Niagara Falls) offer some sort of camp experi-
ence, while none of the marine parks in South America, Europe and Japan do.
132 Journal of Ecotourism
Six aquariums and marine parks offer lectures and/or seminars to visitors
for the purpose of educating them about the parks, the animals and environ-
mental issues (SeaWorld Orlando, Six Flags Vallejo, Marineland Antibes, Port
of Nagoya Public Aquarium, Nanki Shirahama Adventure World and Izu
Mito Sea Paradise). Most marine parks and aquaria provide a variety of
educational material, either on their webpages or by mail order. Marineland
Niagara Falls and Kamogawa SeaWorld offer information on animal caregivers,
including tasks of trainers, training schedules, feeding, and animal care
(Kamogawa SeaWorld, 2004; Marineland Niagara Falls, 2004a). Conservation
information on marine wildlife and the environment is provided by the three
American SeaWorld parks, Marineland Niagara Falls and Marineland Antibes.
In addition, the webpages of the three US SeaWorld parks, Six Flags Vallejo,
Marineland in Niagara Falls and Antibes and the Taiji Whale Museum offer
learning opportunities about marine mammals on their respective webpages
(Marineland Antibes, 2004; Marineland Niagara Falls, 2004b; SeaWorld
Orlando, 2004a; SeaWorld San Antonio, 2004; SeaWorld San Diego, 2004; Six
Figure 1 Petting Orcas at Marineland, Niagara Falls, Canada
Source: Michael Lück.
Educating Visitors to Marine Parks and Aquaria 133
Table 3 Animal connection and education at marine parks, oceanaria and aquaria holding orcas
Orca petting 3 3 3
Orca feeding 3 3 3 3 3 3
3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3
Camps 3 3 3 3 3 3
Boy & girl
3 3 3
Adventure 3 3 3 3
3 3 3 3
For teachers 3 3 3 3 3
For kids 3 3 3 3 3 3
Lectures/seminars 3 3 3 3 3 3
Care/caregivers 3 3
134 Journal of Ecotourism
Table 3 Continued
3 3 3 3 3
3 3 3 3
3 3 3
3 3 3 3 3 3 3
Online quizzes 3
3 3 3 3
Educating Visitors to Marine Parks and Aquaria 135
Flags Marine World, 2004; Taiji Whale Museum, 2004). In addition to online
information, SeaWorld Orlando, Six Flags Vallejo and Marineland Antibes sell
educational material online, for example, books, videos, posters, teacher
guides and school supplies. The three American SeaWorld parks, Seaquarium
Miami and Marineland Niagara Falls also offer information on careers with
marine mammals in their respective parks. The Taiji Whale Museum and the
Port of Nagoya Public Aquarium provide information on commercial whaling,
and on tools, boats and equipment used for whaling (Port of Nagoya Aquarium,
2004; Taiji Whale Museum, 2004). When comparing the parks by location,
it becomes clear that the Western parks tend to have a clearer focus on educa-
tion (Table 4).
While Western parks developed a much more practical approach to educa-
tion, for example through camps and special programmes for children and edu-
cators, Japanese parks focus more on theoretical education through lectures
and seminars. In addition, educational materials are more comprehensive, and
easier to obtain at the Western parks. For instance, ve out of the eight Western
parks provide information on conservational issues, while only one out of the
ve Japanese parks was found to do the same. Williams (2001), suggests that
one of the reasons for this is that all remaining Asian marine parks holding
orcas are located in Japan, and Japan is still an important capture site. For exam-
ple, two orcas were captured in Japan in 1997, with one animal sent to the Port
of Nagoya Public Aquarium and the other to the Izu-Mito Sea Paradise (Jacobs,
2006). Five out of the eight Western parks offer a link to animal information on
their webpage; only one of the Japanese parks offer such a service; in addition,
only Western parks provide a glossary and ‘online quizzes’, while none of the
Japanese parks sold educational materials.
Table 4 Educational aspects of Western marine parks vs. Japanese marine parks
parks and aquaria
(n 5 8)
parks and aquaria
(n 5 5)
Educational mission statement 1 0
Camps/special programmes 6 0
Lectures/seminars 3 4
Conservational issues 5 1
Information on commercial whaling 0 2
Animal information on webpage,
glossary, online quizzes
Educational material for sale and/or
Information on careers 4 0
136 Journal of Ecotourism
Marine parks justify the keeping of orcas, belugas and dolphins in captivity
on the basis of education, and conservation through education. However, oppo-
nents argue that there is little education to gain at the parks. Jiang’s (2004a)
study conrmed that the display and performances/shows of marine mammals
are one of the main attractions to those parks, but that educational aspects are
equally important for visitors. A content analysis of the webpages of the vari-
ous marine parks and aquaria was conducted in order to gain an understanding
of the various educational tools that are offered by these parks. Investigating
the depth and quality of the material was not part of this exercise. It was found
that a number of parks do offer a variety of educational programmes and mate-
rial. Leading this effort are the parks of the SeaWorld group in San Diego,
Orlando and San Antonio. The most striking nding, however, was that there
appears to be a distinct difference between the Western parks, and those in
Japan. Generally, the Western parks have a much more focused and profes-
sional education system with many hands-on components in place, while the
Japanese parks rely more on formal education through lectures and seminars.
During the process of writing and revising this Research Note, the orca
‘Neocia’ at Marineland in Niagara Falls, Canada, died at age 12, on 1 August
2004. Neocia was the fth whale in as many years to die at Marineland Niagara
Falls (Pellegrini, 2004). On 20 October 2004 ‘Hudson’ (6 years old) and on 21
December 2005 ‘Kandu 7’ (21 years old) died at Marineland. Consequently,
Marineland is left with only three orcas (Jacobs, 2006). On 29 August 2004, ‘Ran’
(15 years old), on 18 September 2004, ‘Kyu’ (7.5 years old), and on 21 January
2005 ‘Goro’ (19 years old) died at Nanki Shirahama Adventure World in Japan.
There are currently no orcas left at this park. ‘Splash’ died at SeaWorld California
on 5 April 2004, aged 15.5 years and ‘Kim 2’ died at Marineland Antibes on 23
November 2005, aged 23 (Jacobs, 2006).
The authors would like to thank Chiharu Hibino for her assistance with the
retrieval and translation of information from the Japanese websites, and Erich
Hoyt for his help with updating data on orcas in captivity. Thanks also go to
David Telfer and David Fennell for their comments on earlier drafts of this
paper. Also many thanks to the two referees, whose valuable comments made
this Research Note much stronger.
Any correspondence should be directed to Michael Lück, School of Hospitality
& Tourism, AUT University, Private Bag 92006, Auckland, New Zealand
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