Date of Award

Spring 5-16-2015

Degree Type


Degree Name

MA Museum Professions


Communication and the Arts


Martha Easton, Ph.D.


Aquariums, Zoos, Museums, Cetacean, Management, Stewardship, Collection, Ethics, Audience, Conservation


Cetacean, by definition, is a marine mammal of the order Cetacea; a whale, dolphin or porpoise. In light of their social intellect and friendly appearance, cetaceans are used in institutions such as zoos and aquariums as a source of education and entertainment for the public. Before the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, cetaceans were captured worldwide including in U.S. waters. In the United States today, there are over 224 zoos and aquariums accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Out of those 224, 34 of these institutions display cetaceans.

Even though the Marine Mammal Protection Act “Prohibits, with certain exceptions, the “taking” of marine mammals in U. S waters and by U. S. citizens on the high seas, and the importation of marine mammals and marine mammal products. (NOAA Fisheries.), U.S. aquariums and institutions are able to apply for permits that allow the importation of marine mammals.

Due to recent events and the documentary Blackfish, for-profit and nonprofit zoos and aquariums are being questioned on the care and display of these particular animals. With newly developed scientific evidence showing the psychological similarities between humans and cetaceans, activists and cetacean scientists believe that cetacean captivity might be drawing to an end. This thesis addresses the management and stewardship of maintaining cetaceans in captivity and the ethical and unethical practices that are found in zoos and aquariums.

This thesis will also discuss the history of cetacean captivity and how throughout the years governmental laws and code of ethics have altered in order for institutions to maintain their collection. Through research, this thesis will allow its readers to decide whether the management of zoos and aquariums use their cetacean collections for the benefit of educating the public on the importance of conserving these animals and their wild populations, or for the benefit of the institutions themselves.