An aquarium dolphin leaps out of its tank in a seemingly desperate attempt to escape captivity.
The captivity industry is responsible for making dolphins and whales into money-making commodities, and it contributes to the sense that these animals are here to be controlled by us. Even more pragmatically, marine parks are driven by demand. They are an entertainment industry and the demand drives them to keep more and more animals confined.
The public has the power to end all of this: Don’t buy a ticket!
Dr. Lori Marino is a neuroscientist and Senior Lecturer in the Department of Psychology and faculty affiliate of the Center for Ethics at Emory University. The interview below is about the ethics of keeping dolphins in captivity.
Some experts say that dolphins in captivity behave just like, or nearly like, dolphins in the wild. What’s your opinion?
I don’t need to give my opinion because there’s an abundance of evidence that shows that dolphins and whales in captivity show a lot of the same abnormal behaviors that are exhibited by other animals in captivity. These include things like stereotypes where they do repeated movements, self mutilation and just basically other behaviors associated with being psychologically disturbed. There are also several peer-reviewed studies that have shown elevated stress hormones in dolphins and whales in captivity.
So there really is no way that an artificial setting could provide an opportunity for the range of natural behaviors that dolphins enjoy in the wild, just from a physical point of view. The largest tank in the world is something like less than one ten-thousandth of one percent of the natural range of most dolphins and whales. So there’s physically no way that these animals could exhibit natural behaviors in captivity.
I know that some members of the captivity industry have made the point that in captivity these animals are fed fish and they don’t need to deal with the stress of capturing their own prey. But in fact, being fed dead fish can be a stress. In the wild, they really enjoy the opportunity to collaborate with each other and catch prey and travel with their companions, and basically work for their prey. In captivity, all of that stimulation is taken away.
So there is a lot of scientific evidence that shows that dolphins and whales — both wild-born and captive-born — exhibit a lot of psychological abnormalities in captivity.
Would you say that dolphins in U.S. aquariums and marine parks are well-cared for?
Well, what I would say is that modern husbandry techniques are very sophisticated, but this isn’t the same as being well-cared for, and it doesn’t mitigate the fact that these animals cannot thrive in captivity. Surviving for a certain amount of time is not the same as thriving, and the mortality statistics show this conclusively. Dolphins and whales live only a fraction of their natural life spans in captivity. So if they’re being so “well-cared for,” what is killing them? That’s a question that needs to be answered.
Is a dolphin show an effective tool to help educate the public about dolphins and dolphin conservation?
This is really a topic that has been on a lot of peoples’ minds lately. In April, I was a witness for a congressional hearing on this matter, and I testified that the educational claims made by the captivity industry have absolutely no foundation. There’s no compelling evidence, at all, that visiting dolphin shows and seeing dolphin and whale displays is educational. I’ve done a lot of research in this area and I’ve published peer-reviewed papers that show this so-called “educational claim” is not supported by any evidence.
In fact, what most people don’t know is that the Marine Mammal Protection Act requires captive displays to be educational in order to keep these animals on display, and yet marine parks all over the world continue to display them without even having met this criterion.
In addition, I’ve done a lot of research on the information on AZA websites, or websites of AZA facilities, and a lot of the information is factually incorrect. So I would ask you, how can it be educational if it is wrong? The public should not confuse entertainment with education. So no, there’s absolutely no evidence of this at all.
Scientists have learned a lot by studying dolphins in captivity. In light of this, do you agree or disagree with keeping dolphins in research facilities?
I agree that we’ve learned a lot about who dolphins are from studies in captivity, but I do not think we should be keeping them in captivity.
I did studies with dolphins in captivity. In one of those studies, my colleague and I showed that they are self aware; they recognize themselves in mirrors. But dolphins have paid a very high price for satisfying our curiosity. For instance, the two dolphins that I worked with at the New York Aquarium when I did that mirror study are now dead. And in fact, many of the individual dolphins that were research subjects in these groundbreaking kinds of studies are dead, prematurely. That tells you something.
Despite having learned a lot about dolphins from captive studies, if we think we’re intelligent, then that means we need to adjust our behavior to the information that comes in from our science. What we have learned about who these dolphins are tells us unequivocally that they do not belong in captivity.
I think it’s really important to know that those of us who are advocating for dolphins have nothing to gain and everything to lose from doing this. For instance, after I did the self awareness study, I gave up doing studies on captive dolphins once I discovered I was working with two self-aware individuals. I felt that they should be leading the life of an intelligent, self-aware, social being, and they weren’t.
In fact, not only do I have nothing to gain, but I have given up a lot of professional opportunities when I made that decision. But it was the right one.
What have scientists learned by studying dolphins in the wild? And do you think field studies on dolphins are a replacement for captive studies?
I think that field studies are and can be a replacement for some captive studies. In the past few years, almost nothing has been learned about dolphins from captive studies. Likewise, some of the most exciting things we’re learning about dolphins and whales are coming from studies of wild individuals. In other words, field studies. For instance, we now know that dolphins and whales have complex cultural traditions. This was learned from field studies, field observations, and actually could never be ascertained in captivity where they’re deprived of their normal social relations. So all of the cutting edge research on dolphin and whale lives and behavior and psychology is coming from the wild, not from captive labs.
Ric O’Barry says that the captive dolphin industry as a whole fuels the dolphin hunting industry. Do you agree with that?
There’s a very simple equation here, and that is that the captivity industry drives the dolphin hunting industry because it creates a demand for dolphins. Plain and simple. If there weren’t a demand to see dolphins in these spectacles and on display, then the captivity industry around the world would not be breeding dolphins, not taking dolphins from these horrendous drives and so forth. It’s a very simple equation. So yes, indeed, the captive dolphin industry does fuel dolphin hunting of all kinds around the world.
Is it cultural elitism to disapprove of, or speak out against, another country’s traditional hunting practices?
No. The secret is that dolphin drive hunting is not a cultural practice in Japan. Most of the citizens of Japan don’t know about it, so it can’t be an important component of their culture if they don’t know about it.
But also, and perhaps even more importantly, we speak out against all kinds of human rights violations around the world all the time, and I would ask why should we be silent when it is a violation against a non-human? Again, cultural or not, morality dictates that this be stopped. It is something I think that Japan’s government likes to say to make us look like cultural elitists, but the fact of the matter is that we speak out against all kinds of violations everywhere and this is just one of them.
Resource: Animal Planet
In conclusion, whales and dolphins are wild mammals. Their behavior is unpredictable and have known to injure, attack and even kill trainers in the past. There have been cases where dolphins and whales have been tortured through sensory deprivation or depression. A desperate attempt to escape captivity is made to jump out of the tank or stop breathing- a way to end it all. Dolphins are also conscious of every breath they take, they have been known to consciously stop breathing while living in captivity. Many trainers have witnessed this tragedy.
Dolphin Rescue, Rehabilitation and Release
Ocean Lifeline supports dolphin and whale rehabilitation centers such as the Hawaii Cetacean Rehabilitation Facility. The Hawaii Cetacean Rehabilitation Facility (HCRF), named Pōolamau in Hawaiian, developed as a partnership between UH-Hilo and NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), is the only facility in Hawai‘i and the Pacific region dedicated to the humane care and treatment of injured, sick, and out-of-habitat whales and dolphins. The HCRF focuses on caring for the various forms of Kanaloa (Ocean Deity).
Pōolamau refers to the transition of these Kanaloa as they embark on a journey, returning to a thriving life in the pō of the ocean’s depths or returning to the pō that is the realm of the gods. This hale is named to best facilitate and honor the delicate transitions of our beloved Kanaloa.
UH-Hilo’s HCRF is authorized by NOAA Fisheries to house 18 species of whales and dolphins, up to 15 feet long and can accommodate 1-2 small whales or dolphins at a time. Phase 2 plans include a larger pool to accommodate larger whales, mass strandings, and a swim-out pool for animals to begin swimming , diving, and feeding on life fish before release.
The HCRF is directed by Dr. Jason Turner (Director) and Ms. Jennifer Turner (Assistant Director) both of UH-Hilo. Volunteers from the Hilo Marine Mammal Response Network (HMMRN), comprised of UH-Hilo students and community members, support the facility with their time and efforts.
The Ocean Lifeline production team interviewed Dr. Jason Turner for the first OLL documentary, coming soon. We admire and commend his work to help rehabilitate dolphins and whales to release the highly intelligent cetaceans back in the wild. “It is critical that stranded dolphins and whales not be pushed back into the water – they strand for a reason, and experts need to be able to properly assess them if we are going to be able save them,” said Turner.
Another reputable educational facility is The Marine Mammal Stranding Center in New Jersey. The MMSC is dedicated to responding to marine mammals and sea turtles in distress along all of New Jersey’s waterways and to the rehabilitation of these animals for release back into the wild. In situations where animals may not be re-released, every effort is made to secure a proper, enriching facility to provide lifetime care. MMSC is further committed to the well-being of marine mammals and to inspire responsible stewardship of our oceans through educational programs and collaboration.
Rehabilitation centers saving rescued animals is the kind of educational research that is real and needs support from the general public. It costs $350 a day to care for an injured whale or dolphin for rehabilitation. Why would we pay $69.99 or more to watch a trainer balance on the mouth of a killer whale or watch dolphins jump through hoops for this “so called” educational experience? Staring at a captive dolphin or killer whale behind glass is NOT educational. It teaches children that keeping whales and dolphins in a controlled and confined pool is natural. Whales and dolphins need thousands of miles of ocean to migrate and socialize within their complex social pods.
Please support rehabilitation centers that are actually caring for sick or injured whales or dolphins with the intention to release these intelligent and self aware mammals back in the wild, where their home is.
The below is a price list at a marine park. The marketing tactic is that “you will have a ton of fun doing it and have a best friend for a week.” Supporting marine parks like this is not helping dolphins or whales, it is only perpetuating using dolphins and whales as a money making commodity. If the perception of the general public toward “dolphin swim programs” doesn’t change, guests will perceive dolphins like this anonymous guest:
“I cannot think of a single reason not to do this. Yes, it’s $1,000.00 – but it’s a hell of a thing. FWIW (for what it’s worth) – Dolphins are basically dogs, high social and intelligence scores – happy to please and want to be part of the group and enjoy being rewarded. Basically non-symbiotic dogs in the water. ”
However, dolphins are not dogs and cannot adapt so easily to the confines we create for them in captivity. We can also embrace our wonder about wildlife in other more considerate ways. Furthermore, Dolphins may not “enjoy” being awarded with food for tricks in captive. A lot of the time, they are being starved for food and in order to eat and survive, they are pressured to do tricks. At one marine park, while filming the Ocean Lifeline documentary, the trainer waited to award the dolphin until the dolphin slid out of the water and upright onto a mat, demeaningly posing for a fish. Dolphins are some of the most intelligent creatures on this planet – dolphins and whales in marine parks are the ones paying the price, solely for our own entertainment.