Every Disney fan remembers the classic "Finding Nemo" line: "Just keep swimming, just keep swimming!" But according to 17-year-old Katie Emmons, the four captive dolphins at Disney World's "Seas with Nemo & Friends" attraction can't do that.
Emmons created a Change.org petition, "Free Disney Dolphins," calling on The Walt Disney Company to release their captive dolphins after visiting Disney World and seeing the conditions in which the dolphins were kept. Since it launched on June 3, more than 18,000 people have signed the petition.
Emmons, who cites "Finding Nemo" as one of her favorite movies from childhood, stated in a press release:
"By releasing these dolphins to be rehabilitated, not only would Disney be doing the best thing possible for them, they could also contribute greatly to scientific research and environmental awareness. And in addition to gaining great positive publicity, they'd be honoring their anti-captivity story, 'Finding Nemo,' by helping four real-life 'Nemos' go back to their homes in the ocean."
The practice of keeping dolphins in captivity has a long and sometimes controversial history. According to the World Society for the Protection of Animals, captivity contributes to higher mortality rates and psychological distress, and forces dolphins to ignore their natural instincts, including hunger. This March, Switzerland outlawed the practice keeping dolphins in captivity, joining the ranks of several other European countries with similar laws, including Norway and Luxembourg.
The treatment of dolphins caught international media attention when actress Hayden Panettiere began advocating against dolphin hunting in 2007. The "Heroes" star made several trips to Taiji, a Japanese fishing village that hunts dolphins annually. In 2010, Taiji was the subject of "The Cove," the Oscar award-winning documentary.
And Emmons isn't the only teen to use Change.org as a way to take a stand for causes they're passionate about and create real change. This spring, 17-year-old Katy Butler collected more than 500,000 signatures on her petition to lower the Motion Picture Association of America's (MPAA) rating of the documentary "Bully" in order to make the film more accessible to students. Ultimately, the campaign was successful.
Similarly, in April, 13-year-old Julia Bluhm petitioned Seventeen magazine to print one unedited photo shoot per month. She has since gathered more than 80,000 signatures and has met with Seventeen's Editor-in-Chief Ann Shoket.
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