‘Just a money-making venture’: Campaigners fail to stop opening of Trafford Centre Sea Life aquarium

By Erin-Anne Verard

Animal rights groups have failed to stop a controversial Sea Life aquarium from opening in Manchester’s Trafford Centre next week.

The £6.5million attraction owned by Merlin Entertainments sparked outrage among campaigners who feel it is an infringement on animal rights to exploit them for the entertainment of humans.

Although Merlin gives monetary contributions towards conservation efforts it was revealed that just £250,000 – 0.02% – of their £1billion pound revenue from 2012 was directly donated to marine preservation.

The grant was given to a turtle sanctuary in Greece, in statistics released to the Captive Animals Protection Society.

Manchester Animal Action, who campaign locally against all forms of animal exploitation, said the public have the wrong idea about the work of aquariums.

“People who do go tend to have been convinced that aquariums are vital conservation projects simply because they contain some threatened species, and that the aquatic animals – particularly fish – do not suffer pain or stress as terrestrial animals do when kept in captivity,” a Manchester Animal Action spokesperson said.

“However, we know that this is simply not the case – aquariums such as Sea Life exist as money making entertainment ventures and the animals imprisoned there do suffer.”

In 2006, Manchester-based charity the Captive Animals Protection Society (CAPS) released Suffering Down Deep an investigative report into aquariums in the UK.

The study found that 90% of animals in the UK’s aquariums showed abnormal ‘stereotypical’ behaviour, an indication of mental distress and 74% of UK aquarium’s animals were held with physical damage – including lacerations, infections, deformities and abnormal growth.

The CAPS spend time at events and doing stalls in order to raise awareness about the welfare and ethical issues that surround animals in aquariums.

The Merlin Entertainments group say conservation is at the very heart of the Sea Life business, which has been running for more than 30 years, and dispute any allegations of maltreatment.

“Indeed Sea Life, more than any other aquarium brand, has built its whole reputation not just on creating exciting and informative marine attractions, but most importantly doing this responsibly and ethically,” said James Burleigh, divisional director of new developments at Merlin Entertainments.

“Not only is the welfare and care of our animals always paramount, but at Sea Life there is also always a strong emphasis on information and education, and giving something back to the marine environment.

“This is summed up in our Breed, Rescue, Protect philosophy which makes us different from so many other aquaria, and which will be evident when we open in Manchester.”

The aquarium will open on Thursday June 6.

Currently, Manchester Animal Action and the Captive Animals Protection Society have no plans to hold a demonstration at the Trafford Centre, but MAA are working on their own literature discussing issues surrounding exploitation of aquatic life.  

Mr Burleigh added: “We are of course aware of the concerns of some animal rights groups and over recent months we have made great efforts to meet with them and to address their concerns directly, and while we may have very different views on the fundamentals of keeping animals in captivity, to demonstrate the depth of our feeling for, and commitment to, the creatures in our care.”

Picture courtesy of Dale Chumbley, with thanks.

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