A lot of people have asked me this question. Since I am so into Ocean Conservation and animal rights, what are my views on animals in captivity. Here is my answer.
In the case of sharks... Sharks are some of the most misunderstood animals in the world. They are also some of the most endangered. Ever since the release of Jaws, sharks have been feared for no legitimate reason. Television has done nothing but really add to the thought that sharks are nothing more than mindless eating machines and man eaters. Sharks in captivity have helped us to discover so much about these animals and prove to many people that these animals are far from the mindless eating machines most have grown to fear. Do I think sharks should be kept as pets? Absolutely not. The fact that lemon sharks, blacktip reef sharks, nurse sharks, and others are part of the pet trade is disgusting to me. No one can hold these animals for very long and in many cases these sharks are simply put down. In aquariums, sharks are so well cared for it's incredible. I feel that sharks in captivity have become ambassadors for their species. Speaking from personal experience, it's amazing how how people are so quick to change their minds once they see something. Once they see scuba divers swimming alongside sand tiger sharks, hammerhead sharks, and others with no problems, it can easily change an opinion. Even the gentle whale shark is such a mystery to most people that seeing them in captivity can really turn some heads. I feel that if there were no sharks in captivity, the situation with shark finning would be that much worse because there would be that many more people not caring about what was going on. At this point though, I feel that any shark that successfully breeds in captivity should not be collected from the wild and any mature shark should not be collected either.
In the case of dolphins... Simply put. If Flipper never came out.... Who would care about dolphins? What would the big appeal have been? Similar to sharks I believe that dolphins in captivity are ambassadors of their species. If aquariums didn't have dolphins... Who would care what happens every year in Taiji? Who would care how intelligent these animals are? Sure you would still have the hardcore activists going out and doing what they need to do to try and save these animals, but the fight would be so much weaker than it is now. Even in Japan people LOVE dolphins. I don't mean that in they love to eat dolphins. I mean they are just as interested in dolphins as many Americans are and are just as infatuated with them. Most Japanese citizens are unaware of the methods that take place before they see dolphin meat in a store. Without dolphins in captivity, I truly believe dolphins would be in a lot more trouble then they are right now. I do feel though that there are enough dolphins in captivity and no more are needed to be taken from the wild.
In the case of manta rays... Not much is known about manta rays. They are one of the most mysterious animals on Earth. That being said... I do feel like mantas are currently needed in captivity. So many just hear the word ray and the first thing that comes to mind is some monster animal out to just stab people left and right with their barbs. While that is not the case with any ray, mantas are special. They have no barb and are filter feeders. There are very few of these animals in captivity right now. The ones that are in captivity right now are acting as ambassadors for their species and helping to raise awareness. Unlike many other species of ray... Nobody truly knows how many of these animals exist. It is real important that people wait until the populations of the these animals are truly known. Should we be taking a few of them out of the wild right now to help spread awareness of these animals... I would like to think yes. Unlike sharks and dolphins, there have been no major movies involving mantas. It's easy to see that people are nowhere near as aware of mantas as they are dolphins, so that makes their presence in aquariums that much more important to the survival of the species.
So you can see that I am generally in favor of having animals in captivity as long as it is not devastating the populations in the wild and we are not overpopulating the captive population by removing individuals from the wild populations. Animals in captivity help to raise so much awareness. We all have voices, none of these animals do, whether they are in a zoo, aquarium, or in the wild, they still have no voice in the world and are essentially at the mercy of man. If we continue the course we are on, we will eventually obliterate each and every one of the wild populations. If zoos and aquariums along with the ambassadors living within can continue to influence people, then there is still hope of saving all of these creatures.