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'Blackfish' concerns aside, animal parks still good for kids

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Gabriela Cowperthwaite/Magnolia Pictures

(Read caption) 'Blackfish': Tilikum performs for a crowd at SeaWorld, Orlando, Fla. in a scene from the documentary 'Blackfish.'

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I've long considered zoos and animal parks to be "animal jails." This doesn't represent any principled stand against animal suffering (as a lifelong non-vegan, I'm vulnerable on that front), but rather a dislike of the general "free creatures penned up" vibe and a quite-possibly overly empathetic imagination.

A new film, however, is putting fuel on the flame of those who harbor lingering suspicion of the practice of charging money in return for exhibiting captive animals. "Blackfish" raises questions about SeaWorld: namely, whether its practices are humane for the animals, and safe for handlers and animals alike. In the process, it raises larger questions about animals in captivity everywhere.

The film presents quotes and perspectives like this one shared on CNN:

"I am not at all interested in having my daughter who is 3-and-a-half grow up thinking that it's normalized to have these intelligent, highly evolved animals in concrete pools," said John Jett, a former SeaWorld trainer, who said he grew increasingly concerned about the stressful conditions the animals were living under at SeaWorld. "I don't want her to think that's how we treat the kin that we find ourselves around on this planet. I think it's atrocious."

That said: While conditions, financial models, and effectiveness vary from zoo to theme park to circus, there are still a number of good reasons to keep taking your kids to them.

1. The parks have improved

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