Animal rights activists want Tampa Bay Rays to free their captive fish

07/11/13 Seán Kinane
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People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is asking the Tampa Bay Rays to release all of the fish in a center field touch tank at Tropicana Field.

Late last month Miguel Cabrera from the Detroit Tigers hit a home run that landed in the Rays touch tank. Even though no rays were harmed by that strike by last year’s AL Most Valuable Player nor another that happened years earlier, PETA sent a letter Wednesday asking the team to release the fish into the wild.

We spoke with PETA spokesperson Ryan Huling.

"There's no doubt that the Rays should remove their so-called 'touch tank' now that at least two balls going over 100 miles per hour have slammed into the enclosure nearly killing the countless rays that live there. As if the constant poking and proding from strangers wasn't enough, these animals are now in constant danger of getting hit with a ball and hemorrhaging to death, so we feel that's a recipe for disaster."

Have you had any response from the Rays?

"We have not received any response from the Rays yet, but we expect to hear back from them shortly."

You say that when the balls go in to the touch tank they are going 100 miles per hour, have you had any reports of rays actually being harmed from that?

"Well it's a miracle that the animals have not been harmed yet, but it's a recipe for disaster for them to continue as they have. These ray touch tanks have a dismal record as it is. 41 of 43 rays died in the Calgary Zoo's touch tank, 18 of 19 at the Fresno Zoo, 19 of 34 have died at the Brookfield Zoo, and certainly the rays don't want to sentence their name-sake to the same fate. So, the choice to shut down the tank should be a no brainer."

You say in the letter that the rays are confined to a small enclosure. Give our listeners an idea of how many rays there are in this enclosure, how big the enclosure is, and how big it should be.

"Well every ray is different just like every dog and cat. In their ocean homes rays have the choice to approach humans and other animals. When they are confined to a small tank in the open air, anyone who feels like it can come and poke and prod them, which also subjects them to dangerous diseases. Anyone who cares about animals should be against snagging them from their homes and keeping them in these tiny enclosures that are a fraction of the size of their natural habitat. The Ray's touch tank just adds insult to injury by putting them in constant danger."

You mentioned rays who have died in other zoos and aquariums, but are you suggesting that there isn't an educational aspect of having the fans interact with these animals?

"Well the only lesson that people learn from these touch tanks are that animals are here merely for our amusement and entertainment and that we can keep them in any tiny enclosures we like, as long as it gives us a few fleeting moments of pleasure. Animals who are kept in aquariums and touch tanks receive little federal protection and the few laws that do exist are often ignored. Many aquariums that violate these laws have continue operating for years, even after government inspectors have documented contaminated water, starvation, or death. They profit off of removing animals from their homes and breeding them in captivity knowing they will have short lives and will suffer immensely. In essence, these tanks are giving captive marine animals a life sentence with no chance of parole."

In the letter to the Rays, PETA mentions that the constant reverberations from the crowd could affect the rays. I take it you mean the cheering and things like that. How would that affect these fish?

"This is a highly unnatural scenario for them. They try to find calm, peaceful waters to lay in. They're putting them in an arena full of tens of thousands of fans and it's a terrifying experience for them. An then when you have balls flying at the tanks as they have recently, it's just adding insult to injury for them.

What do you hope the Rays will do and do you anticipate they'll take action on this?

"We certainly hope they will take action on this and they can make a genuine commitment to wildlife by working in conjunction with the Florida Aquarium to rehabilitate and return these rays to their rightful, wild home. There are plenty of ways to honor the Ray's seaside heritage without hurting animals. The tank could be replaced with an aqua garden with rare sea plants or even a dunk tank for voluntary human participants. Something that's truly entertaining without any cruelty.

The Tampa Bay Rays’ communications department told WMNF News they would not comment on this story.

A press release from the Florida Aquarium last year noted there are 16 stingrays native to Tampa Bay in the refreshed Rays touch tank.

Here is previous WMNF News coverage of the Rays

Here is previous WMNF News coverage of PETA

Letter from PETA to MLB's Tampa Bay Rays: WMNF News by WMNF News

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