“What do they know, all these scholars, all these philosophers, all the leaders of the world? They have convinced themselves that man, the worst transgressor of all the species, is the crown of creation. 

All other creatures were created merely to provide him with food, pelts, to be tormented, exterminated. In relation to them, all people are Nazis; for the animals it is an eternal Treblinka.”

~Isaac Bashevis Singer, 1978 Nobel Prize Winner


A few weeks ago, Mika and Zak, two harp seal pups at the aquarium in Iles-de-la-Madelaine, were issued a death sentence by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. Due to an international outcry, with more than 124,000 signatures generated on a petition to save them, the pups’ lives have been spared. After much confusion as to what to do with the seals, the aquarium received word from the DFO a few days ago that Mika and Zak may be released into the ocean.

Every spring for the past 25 years, the DFO captured two young harp seals from the wild to put them on display at the Iles-de-la-Madelaine aquarium. Every fall, when the aquarium closes for the winter months, the seals are released back into their natural habitat. This year, however, the DFO changed their directives and decided that releasing the seal pups may endanger wildlife by potentially transmitting diseases to wild populations. With the recent information coming to light on the sorry state of marine life in captivity and the amount of medications that are given to such animals to keep them looking somewhat healthy, the DFO’s new directives are of no surprise.

Hearing of the death order, one of the aquarium workers alerted a wildlife rehabilitation centre in B.C., and the petition, which ultimately saved the lives of Mika and Zak, was launched.

The aquarium halted the planned killing of the seals but did not quite know what to do with them. At one point, they requested $73,000 from the public to send them to a wildlife facility in France. Animal activists and wildlife organizations were shocked—they felt like this was some type of ransom note.

This heart-wrenching situation raises questions about why the DFO is capturing wild marine mammals to begin with, and about the lack of legislation protecting marine mammals both in the wild and in captivity.

The aquarium states that its mandate is to educate the public about wildlife in the Saint-Lawrence River/Atlantic Ocean area and help humans create a bond with these animals. It appears rather contradictory to this mandate to exterminate these same animals once the tourist season is over.

How unfortunate that people view animals, not as souls and beings like themselves, but as “things” which can be forcibly claimed from the wild and disposed of when they no longer serve them or when they become a burden. What gives us this right? What makes it acceptable in the human psyche, the human heart? It is incumbent for us to reconnect to our hearts and see God in everyone, in every living being. Every living being has a divine spark, and we have no right to recklessly take away lives at will.

What exactly are we teaching our children when we bring them to zoos and aquaria to stare at miserable wild animals captured for our pleasure and “education”?

Based on reports from workers at Marineland, the Toronto Star recently published a series of stories describing the horrendous living conditions at that aquarium in Niagara Falls, and thousands of people have now signed a petition calling on the Ontario Premier to enact laws to protect animals in zoos and aquaria.

The DFO stopped the capture of whales for display in aquaria in 1999. Perhaps it’s due time to stop capturing all marine mammals—stop taking them away from their own families and homes. Just because we can kidnap wild animals, doesn’t mean we should.