Captive dolphins still wrong

I recently read the article by Cliodhna McGowan titled ‘Captive dolphins found frolicking’, and as Captivity Officer for the Marine Connection, a marine animal welfare charity based in the UK, wanted to respond.

One point to note is that a sea pen is still a captive facility. Sea pens may be built in the ocean but the dolphins are confined to a tiny fraction of it. They wouldn’t normally live in a shallow ‘section’ – in the wild, dolphins have the entire ocean to explore travelling hundreds of miles and diving up to 150 feet.

Waste from 12 dolphins of course makes no dent in the open sea.

Despite dolphins held in a sea pen being in sea water, tides are restricted and waste sinks to the seabed contaminating the surrounding marine life, endangering the health of the dolphins and of course the human participants too.

The notion that a dolphin is able to ‘jump over’ the rock wall in glamorous ‘Free Willy’ style is ridiculous. Dolphins (as I would imagine Mr. Burrowes knows) use echolocation under water – effectively the use of sound waves, which bounce off underwater objects so that dolphins know where they are in relation to rocks and fish for example. So, when a dolphin locates the ‘loosely piled rocks’ it will see it as a barrier. They have absolutely no way of knowing what is on the other side of that barrier or any concept that the open sea might be a metre away.

And are we really expected to believe that a facility having paid US$100,000 for a dolphin and able to charge the public anything from US$19 to view the dolphins to US$8,000 for two weeks of ‘therapy’ would allow their precious dolphins to simply jump over into the sea? – I don’t think so.

There is no kind way of removing dolphins from their natural habitat and family and by supporting the development of further captive facilities this practice is perpetuated. The Japanese still use the term ‘scientific’ to justify their continuance of whaling – the same is true for the ‘scientific’ basis for dolphin captures. In some places the removal of dolphins is brutal. For example, In Taiji, Japan, dolphin pods are rounded up with nets, and driven into shallow bays – some are then slaughtered for their meat but the best ones are kept for selection by aquaria. Not very pleasant, but if we keep saying that the keeping of dolphins in captivity is ‘inevitable’ – I’m afraid that the practice of hunting down, capturing and transporting dolphins, under the guise of therapy, education, conservation or scientific research will continue.

One of the major reasons the dolphins are kept in a sea pen is because it is more aesthetically pleasing to the public. Many people feel uncomfortable swimming with dolphins or whales in a pool, but in a sea pen they can imagine that the dolphins are free and have come up to the deck or to them of their own free will. Companies that own dolphinariums are beginning to recognise this – but unfortunately, a sea pen or a tank; they both confine the dolphin and inhibit its natural habits.

Considering the costs involved to the public, I am always surprised to hear that people still think captive facilities exist for the dolphins’ welfare – as a conservation, education or research tool. If dolphinariums truly existed for the good of the animals, you would not be allowed to swim with them, they would not make them reliant on humans for food and they would not ride on their back or ask them to perform tricks that no wild dolphin would do. In fact, if these companies were doing it for the good of the animal, they would not have taken it from its family and natural surroundings, put it in a pen that could never hope to replicate its natural range (even if filled with sea water) and allow people to hug and kiss it, which is incidentally a health hazard, not only for the dolphins but also to human participants.

So let’s not see these facilities as inevitable. There is no good reason to keep a dolphin in captivity bar the profits of the company running the facility.

Dolphins can be seen in the wild in places such as the Cayman Islands, where education about their natural skills and habits can be carried out via genuine research and observation of their natural, wide-ranging abilities and conservation can be done in situ.

How can this be compared to seeing a dolphin do the same old impersonal and contrived tricks (even in a sea pen) that we have been seeing in aquariums since the 1960s – the real answer is it cannot.

The more people become aware of the real facts behind the issue of dolphins in captivity, the quicker the ‘inevitability’ surrounding these facilities will wear off.

Andrina Murrell – Marine Connection

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