Monday, September 22, 2008

The Dolphin's Curse

One of the things we have been talking about lately is the captive dolphin industry. The photo here shows what looks like a pair of happy smiling dolphins, frolicking and cuddling a human. Guess what. They aren't happy. They are cursed with a mouth that curls up at the sides and resembles a human's mouth when the human is happy and smiles. But the dolphins are not happy at all.
They were probably herded and selected and separated from their loved ones, in a brutal, confusing capture. They were most likely shipped to a penned setting, possibly polluted with chemicals and their own excrement. Their keen sonar system disoriented by strange machinery humming through the water. They were starved into submission. Tricks. Play. Be gentle.
The multi-billion dollar captive dolphin industry, along with the annual dolphin slaughter in southern Japan is the focus of the upcoming film, The Killing Cove, that the Oceanic Preservation Society has been working on for the last four years.
Look for it in early 2009.
And please don't spend hundreds of dollars to "swim with dolphins" in some hot concrete pen. Or go watch a show and buy dolphin-embossed souvenirs in a fit of compassion and love. PBS sheds some light on these corporate cetacean mills.
But the facts below about these brilliant, advanced creatures are chilling.

A study in 1985 revealed that of 32 killer whales examined after dying in aquariums around the world, half had died of bacterial infections, and one quarter of pneumonia. 53% of those dolphins who survive the violent capture die within 90 days.The average life span of a dolphin in the wild is 45 years; yet half of all captured dolphins die within their first two years of captivity. The survivors last an average of only 5 years in captivity. Every seven years, half of all dolphins in captivity die from capture shock, pneumonia, intestinal disease, ulcers, chlorine poisoning, and other stress-related illnesses.

To the captive dolphin industry, these facts are accepted as routine operating expenses. In many tanks the water is full of chemicals as well as bacteria, causing many health problems in dolphins including blindness. When a baby dolphin is born in captivity, the news is usually kept secret until the calf shows signs of survival. Although marine mammals do breed in captivity, the birth rate is not nearly as successful as the one in the wild, with high infant mortality rates.

Wild dolphins can swim 40 to 100 miles per day - in pools they go around in circles. Many marine parks subject their mammals to hunger so they will perform for their food. Jumping through hoops, tailwalking and playing ball are trained behaviors that do not occur in the wild. Dolphins are predators of fish and spend up to half of their time in the wild hunting for food. Supplying dead fish results in less exercise and lack of mental stimulation, thus causing boredom. When trapped together, males often become agitated and domineering. This creates pecking orders (unknown in the wild) and unprovoked attacks on each other and the trainers. In the ocean, although fights are not unknown, the wild dolphins have a chance to escape. Confined animals who abuse themselves (banging their heads against the walls) are creating stimuli which their environment cannot supply. Dolphins in captivity tend to develop stereotypical behaviors (swimming in repetitive circle pattern, with eyes closed and in silence) because of boredom and confinement .This is equivalent to the swaying and pacing of primates, lions, tigers and bears confined in cages.


ClaireWalter said...

Thank you for pointing this out -- and for calling it an "industry."

Charlie Wollborg said...

Wow. I had no idea the numbers were that bad.

We visit Shedd Aquarium in Chicago often with the family. Are they guilty of the same? They preach a strong eco message - even to the point where my nephew won't let me eat Red Snapper because it's "on Shedd's list".