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The Shocking “Tails” of Captive Animals


After watching Blackfish, we were curious about the extent to which our exploitation of animals for entertainment is affecting the environment and the economy, and how this in turn shaped our identity. By tampering with other species and their natural habitats, we are causing the endangerment of species which can affect entire ecosystems. This brings up the question of the interspecies contact zone, and whether we are justified in tampering with it.

We also love animals, so the ethical question of how we’re treating them when they are in confinement was a major focus when thinking about our interactions with the environment.

Why are we looking into this?

  • Love of animals

  • To educate people about the severity of animal abuse under these circumstances

  • tampering with wildlife leads to endangerment of species that can affect entire ecosystems (interspecies contact zone)

  • animal cruelty is unethical


In recent years the topic of animals’ inhumane treatment in captivity has become an incredibly heated topic for ethical and economic reasons. Specific examples we will focus on pertain to the abuse of animals in the entertainment industry. We are focusing on the entertainment industry specifically, as the main purpose of this industry is to earn profits by exploiting animals in captivity. Whereas other human-wild animal interactions can be mutually beneficial, the animal entertainment industry seems to be relatively asymmetrical, where humans are the ones in power and the ones getting any benefits at all.


We intend to research the advantages and disadvantages of the current treatment of animals in captivity for entertainment purposes, and its impacts on the environment, economy, and us as individuals at Bryn Mawr College.


Within this project there are multiple questions we would like to consider.First, what are the environmental and economic impacts of continuing with or stopping these practices? To answer this question fully we will need to do online research, visit the library, watch documentaries and hopefully speak with workers at the Philadelphia Zoo. Our incomplete list of impacts is as follows:

  • Continuing the current system:

    • Pros: Conservation of near-extinct animals within the protection of zoo systems.

    • Cons: Taking animals out of their original habitat changes their natural behavior so that they become less ‘wild’ and lose many skills necessary in their native habitat.

  • Stopping the current system:

    • Pros: Animals can live natural lives without the abuse of humans. Ecosystems the animals natively inhabit will remain stable.

    • Cons: Releasing already unstable animals back into the wild may magnify the problem of attacks on humans. The animals may be too domesticated to survive on their own. The jobs of people working in the industries relating to the animals will be lost. A large loss of profits for businesses dependent on these animals will be incurred.

The second question we would like to research is who is affected by the positive and negative impacts of the treatment of animals in captivity? How are they affected? Answering this question will involve online research, interviews, documentaries, and a survey of Bryn Mawr students. In this question we will focus on the businesses related to animal confinement, the workers, and us, the consumers.

Third, where do these practices of animal abuse occur? We would like to research the following institutions:

  • Zoos

  • SeaWorld

  • Dog fighting, horse racing, and circuses

  • Animals in social media (movies, television, commercials, etc.)

To answer this question we will research online and at the library. Although we will focus on SeaWorld and Zoos, we acknowledge that the treatment of animals for other forms of human entertainment are equally important so we would like to include them in our research.

Fourth, why does the media try to cover up these conditions? To obtain data on the exposure of animal cruelty in the entertainment industry we will survey students at Bryn Mawr about how well informed they are on this issue (we might ask around outside of Bryn Mawr as well to lower the amount of bias). We will then research the benefits of hiding the hard truth from the public eye.

And lastly, at what point might people (Bryn Mawr students especially) decide to take action on these issues? What can we do to make a difference? Can we make a difference? This question will be answered through online research and surveys conducted on Bryn Mawr students. In the surveys we will ask the questions: After learning about these issues will you change any of your current lifestyle choices? Do you believe you can make a difference?

Topics to Consider in Our Research:

For the duration of our project we would like to consider the way zoos, dog fights, horse races, circuses, SeaWorld and media treat their animals. As well as how CAFOs relate to animal cruelty for entertainment purposes, how domestication of animals affects their behavior, the economic and ethical motivations for certain ways of treating animals (i.e. profits vs morals), and how this relates to us as individuals at Bryn Mawr College.

How We Will Research:

Because we’re not focusing solely on Bryn Mawr and the dining services, we’re going to rely mostly on online articles and documentaries. We will be pulling from multiple sources, including (but not limited to) personal reflections, scientific research, newspaper clippings, statistical analysis, etc. These sources will tell us about the conditions in which the animals live in in local zoos (Philadelphia Zoo and Pittsburgh Zoo) and water theme parks, whether they are part of a conservation effort or whether they are just for entertainment purposes, if they suffer from any ailments after confinement and other such issues.

In terms of personal involvement in this project, we were going to contact the staff and volunteers at the zoo, even though we weren’t expecting much information from them. They have an agenda and are biased in their alliances, so any “undercover” information will probably have to be found through forums or other such sources. We also want to conduct a survey among the Bryn Mawr student body about whether Bryn Mawr students attend animal exhibits, how often they attend these shows, and how much they know about the animals, the treatment of the animals, and the effects of confinement on the animal. We both decided that we could stand by a public space on campus and ask people as they walk by, as this could be a good opportunity to educate people about our findings as well.

Moreover, we were thinking of taking a zoo trip to the Philadelphia Zoo (if we find it to be relatively cruelty-free) and take pictures of the conditions that the animals live in. We want to see for ourselves how well the place is monitored, how small/large the space is for the animals and whether we would deem it to be an ethical living arrangement.

  • Online resources

  • Blackfish (documentary):

    • Lying in court

    • All about money and profit

    • animal cruelty

  • Survey at and around Bryn Mawr (how often students go to the animal exhibits, why they go-- entertainment vs informing, how much they know about treatment of animals in confinement, will they take action against these issues after learning more about them)

  • Zoo trip

  • Documentaries

  • Contact people at zoo

  • Libraries

Relationship with “Take Back the Market”:

In “Take Back the Market”, a lot of it discusses how things are done to be economically efficient, but not really for equity. In the same sense, it’s more efficient to keep animals in these harsh conditions because it saves space and money, yet there really is no consideration of the equity of animals. In fact, animals are viewed as a tool or a resource to gain money, not really as living organisms. Money seems to be the primary factor that motivates people to lie to the public about these dangerous behaviors.

Also, “Take Back the Market” is the same as this report in the sense that it lays out all the information for the readers to see, but doesn’t offer any solutions. We aren’t experts in this topic, so we can’t offer any realistic solutions to this problem. In fact, this raises the question: now that you know about this information, what will you do about it? Can you do anything about it? Are there negative consequences to trying to change the situation? Should we even do anything, or is the knowledge of the existence of this problem enough? With this issue, there are just as many negative consequences of trying to solve this problem as there are positive results, so we as consumers and as audiences must find the balance between not supporting these corporations but still advocating for the conservation efforts of these endangered animals.

  • Relating to survey: now that you know this information, what will you do about it?

  • money as motivation to lie to the public about dangerous behaviors

Relationship with “Arts of the Contact Zone”:

Contact zones are “social spaces where cultures meet, clash, and grapple with each other, often in context of highly asymmetrical relations of power” (Pratt). Within our research project we will be examining three different contact zones. The most obvious contact zone is between humans and wild animals. How humans affect the lives of wild animals, how wild animals are used to benefit society, and the asymmetrical balance of power between humans and animals. The second contact zone is between wild animals and the other species in their native habitats. This would be the interactions between species that make up an ecosystem. There is also a contact zone between and wild animals kept in captivity. As mentioned in Blackfish, many animals from completely different backgrounds and forms of communication are brought together in enclosed spaces and forced to interact.



Gibson-Graham, J. K., Jenny Cameron, and Stephen Healy. Take Back the Economy: An   

Ethical Guide for Transforming Our Communities. University of Minnesota, 2013.


Pratt, Mary Louise. "Arts of the Contact Zone." Profession (1991): 33-40. recent news about seaworld in case you’re interested



jccohen's picture

Isabell.the.polyglot and marina,

Great that you’ll be looking at the interspecies contact zone, and you’re already posing a number of provocative questions and areas for further investigation. 

You’re proposing a wide range of areas within your umbrella topic, and also a number of different research sources and methods; at some point you may want to narrow your focus so that you can achieve a greater depth of information and understanding.  Your idea of actually going to the Phila. zoo seems to me an especially rich one, both for learning about what’s going on there through first-hand observation and also for documenting in a way that would help make for a compelling presentation.  Might you want to consider doing your quick survey at the zoo itself rather than on Bryn Mawr’s campus?

Your questions about the usefulness (or not) of research and of raising awareness about an issue are difficult and important ones.  And of course the large question here has huge ramifications for any kind of teaching and learning and how that might position us (or not) to impact the world…a key question of this course!