GLEN — Two animal-rights groups held a protest Saturday outside the new Living Shores Aquarium at Story Land, questioning the commitment to animal welfare and giving a special nod to Lolita, an orca in Miami.
From noon until 2 p.m., about 10 people, representing the New Hampshire Animal Rights League and Until Lolita is Home, stood on the side of Route 16 in front of the aquarium, some holding signs that read, among other messages, “Animals are not our entertainment,” “Otters belong in the wild” and “Freedom matters to all.”
The protest generated no confrontations — a Bartlett police officer in a marked vehicle was in the Story Land parking lot nearby — but the protest did get many honks of support from passing drivers and at least one very loud, very clear expression of opposition from the driver of a bright red pickup truck.
James Glover, president of Until Lolita is Home and the NHARL, a nonprofit founded in 1977 and based in Concord with some 200 members, said Living Shores, which just opened on Nov. 4, should close its doors forthwith.
Glover said Palace Entertainment — the corporate parent of Story Land, the Living Shores Aquarium and the Miami Seaquarium where Lolita is — should release Lolita from the tank she has called home for more than 40 years so that she can retire to her native Washington State waters.
Glover, of Raymond, said Lolita’s fate was the subject of a 2015 protest by his groups at Story Land.
Founded in 1954 and operated by the Morrell family until 2007, Story Land is owned by the Parques Reunidos organization based in Madrid, Spain.
Palace Entertainment, based in Newport Beach, Calif., is Parques Reunidos’ American division and it operates 40 amusement parks, water parks, and family entertainment centers throughout the U.S. Its Granite State portfolio includes Story Land, Water Country and, as of last Monday, the Living Shores Aquarium.
During an interview prior to the opening of the aquarium, Lauren Hawkins, who is Story Land and Living Shores’ director of marketing, and David Houghton, a biologist and curator of the aquarium, said the facility is intended to promote education and conservation through, in some cases, a hands-on experience with creatures that live in tidal areas around the world.
Hawkins and Houghton touted the aquarium as the only one in New Hampshire, and, when asked, said many of the fish, birds and animals on exhibit were born in captivity, while some were rescued and others were humanely acquired.
Houghton said that as soon as it could, Living Shores would apply for accreditation by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. AZA says accreditation is bestowed only upon the zoos and aquariums that meet “the highest standards for animal care and welfare.”
Glover said that in this day and age of computer-generated graphics and high technology, and due to an increased respect and compassion toward other species and a rejection of their capture and confinement, physical zoos and aquariums are anachronistic and unnecessary.
Fundamentally, “all wild animals should be free,” he said, and anyone who wants to see them can do so in many ways, including visiting them in their native habitat. Pointing to the display of Asian small-clawed otters at Living Shores, Glover said it only promotes the animal’s popularity and makes it an even more sought-after species.
He hopes that people who saw Saturday’s protest or read about it “won’t buy tickets to this facility” and instead will seek out different ways to educate themselves about the natural world.
Hawkins, in an email Sunday, answered one concern directly raised by Glover, which was whether Living Shores has on-site back-up power. She replied, “Our facility is fully equipped with a life support generator to ensure all animals in our care remain happy and healthy.”
She gave a summary of the exhibits and attractions at Living Shores but did not answer questions about Lolita, the otters at Living Shores, or Glover’s premise that people don’t need an aquarium to have a learning experience.
“Living Shores Aquarium’s message of ocean conservation,” Hawkins said, “is echoed throughout the interactive environment where guests can get a greater understanding and appreciation for marine life and learn how to take care of their own surroundings to ensure our native wildlife will thrive throughout the world.”