A viral video released last March tells the tragic tale of Grandview Aquarium, a sad facility within a Chinese shopping mall that could more accurately be described as “the world’s saddest animal prison.” The video brought international attention to the plight of Pizza the polar bear, a clearly depressed creature confined to cramped, artificial quarters with no escape from the throngs of gawking tourists.

Sadly, Pizza remains at Grandview despite global outcry. And the poor polar bear is not the only animal suffering at the hands of the aquarium, owned by the group Haichang Holdings. Beluga whales, arctic foxes, and walrus calves are also prisoners of Grandview with little hope of escaping anytime soon.

At Grandview, a total of thirteen animals are housed in close quarters that hinder their natural movements and behaviors. Calls from Chinese animal rights advocates to the aquarium’s owners have fallen on deaf ears, and the company has yet to address any concerns — despite footage of Pizza pacing back and forth in his enclosure, exhibiting aggressive behavior and otherwise showing clear mental anguish.

While there has been no response from the holdings group, there has been a tremendous response to the petition created by Animals Asia to decommission the aquarium.

Natural Behavior is Important for Animals

While it may be fun to look at wild animals at zoos and aquariums, holding wild animals in captivity has adverse impacts — intentional or not. Unfortunately, there are many cases like Grandview where space is not sufficient. At  many other facilities — such as Sea World —  animals are also coerced unwillingly to perform for spectators.

Animals may not be able to speak to humans, but experts note that they can display clear signs when in distress. When Pizza violently swings his head, the behavior indicates that he is uncomfortable in the space. Small spaces limit an animal’s ability to, in essence, be themselves. This leads to stress and unnatural behaviors that may bring harm to the animal and others around them. Try as they might, zoos and aquariums cannot completely recreate the natural habit of these magnificent creatures.

The Negative Impacts of Animal Performances

While humans may find joy in seeing a dolphin go through a hoop or an elephant playfully spewing water on demand, the animal did not choose to become a performer, and was likely trained using fear and pain. The mortality rate of performance animals is often shown to be much higher than their wild counterparts.

Fortunately, more and more individuals, organizations and governments are fighting to end the inhumane treatment of captive animals. With enough pressure, the animal prisoners of Grandview may someday soon be released to a sanctuary to live the lives they deserve.