Why? Dolphins should be kept in captivity

Few things epitomise freedom as completely as a pod of dolphins
frolicking in the ocean. Their playful nature and their obvious intelligence
make humans feel a natural kinship with these ocean-dwelling mammals. It is
therefore not surprising that the idea of dolphins being held in captivity is
objectionable to many. However, is the captive dolphin industry truly as
worthless and evil as many environmental campaigners would have us believe?

Many people would never have had
the opportunity to see dolphins at all were it not for dolphin parks allowing
people an opportunity to see one of nature’s truly wonderful creatures up
close. The awareness this creates, especially among children, is certain to
lead them to support initiatives that protect dolphins. Even John C. Lilly, an
early dolphin researcher who is credited with the idea that dolphins can commit
suicide while in captivity, says in the appendix of his book Communications
between Man and Dolphin that “oceanaria have done a very great services for the
dolphins and killer whales in acquainting literally hundreds and thousands of
humans with their existence and with their capabilities in a circus way. The
dolphins and whale are indebted to the oceanaria for educating the human
species.”

The benefit of thousands of people
who get to view dolphins up close in captive facilities globally each year
raises awareness about these creatures. A documentary like The Cove would not
have had the same impact had people in the West not come to view dolphins as
intelligent and lovable creatures. Ironically, it is the dolphins in captivity
that generated this awareness. Dolphin interaction facilities like the two in
Cayman take this even further, allowing direct interaction with these
creatures.

Apart from the educational benefit
of having dolphins in captivity, the other main reason for the practice is to
enhance research opportunities into dolphin physiology, behaviour and
communication. Although it may not be possible to gain a full understanding on
the complexities of how dolphins interact in their natural environment from
what can be observed in captivity, the virtual impossibility of doing research
on creatures that inhabit the open ocean makes studying dolphins in captivity
one of the only options available to scientists.

An example of the progress that can
be made with captive dolphin interactions came recently when a young dolphin at
a captive facility was able to interact using an Apple iPad. The young dolphin,
named Merlin, was shown objects and then asked to touch a picture of the object
on the touch-sensitive screen of the iPad. Although this is a relatively simple
task, it is hoped that this can pave the way for communication between man and dolphin,
even if this communication will apparently have to take place on man’s terms.

When communication is achieved, it
is entirely possible that the dolphins will ask to be set free. However, if we
find a way to communicate successfully, would this not serve as validation for
the work these facilities have done?

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