Driving by the fairgrounds with the windows down and enjoying the breeze, I’m taken in by the swirling lights, the Ferris-wheel cars aloft in the air, the waft of an announcer’s call streaming melodically through my window: “Look at our sea lions, folks! Aren’t they cute?” Wait. Huh? My brain goes immediately to: Sea Lions? In Imlay City? It seems strange, yes, but upon further investigation I discover the source of my confusion: a traveling show known as Sea Lion Splash.

If you happen to be as confused as I am, the Humane Society offers a description of this attraction: “Sea Lion Splash is a traveling show that features sea lions who drag themselves across a stage while balancing a ball on their nose, lift their bodies while supporting their substantial weight on one flipper, and move their flippers in a manner to simulate clapping, waving, and dancing.” Dragging. Balancing. Supporting all of your weight on one flipper. I don’t have flippers, but that sounds painful! Clapping, waving, dancing…I pondered the actuality: people believe this to be entertainment. But, what struck me is the fact that sea lions don’t naturally clap, or wave, or dance. Sea lions swim, in the ocean, and eat fish. They are social, generally found in huge colonies, living close together with other sea lions on land and in the ocean. They are built for the sea and can dive to depths of 600 feet or more. Given the space, sea lions can swim in bursts of up to 25 miles per hour.

It is sad to see yet another species exploited for the purposes of what some call entertainment. Sea Lion Splash gives their 30 minute show, and then the people move on to the next sparkly attraction. But that’s just the thing: these animals aren’t sparkly animatronics. They are real, with real needs, inclinations, and natural instincts that aren’t being met by the traveling menagerie that they—by no choice of their own—find themselves living in. It takes only one Google search to locate the most recent (April, 2021) USDA inspection report of Sea Lion Splash which lists six violations of the Animal Welfare Act, things like inadequate living space, failing to check water quality, and treating a sea lion’s eye infection with expired medication. This alone should compel our community to reject this show instead of welcoming it and paying for it.

There is so much to be learned about sea lions, their behavior in the wild, and how to best protect them. None of this can be gleaned from a traveling show that houses 300 pound sea lions in small portable tubs and forces them to do unnatural tricks to delight and entertain continually revolving venues of fair-goers. These animals captivate us, but shows like Sea Lion Splash just keep them captive. Please think twice before attending this show. Hopefully, fingers crossed, this will be the sea lions’ last splash in Eastern Michigan.

—Melissa Neigh,