Response to Coral W...
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Response to Coral World ad in the Virgin Islands Daily News

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Response to Coral World ad in the Virgin Islands Daily News
Naomi A. Rose, Ph.D., Humane Society International

An ad by Coral World appeared in the Virgin Islands Daily News on 6 December 2012, headlined “Bringing Dolphins to Coral World: Let’s Deal with the Facts,” which contained seven statements. The following are responses to these statements. References for these responses are available upon request.

Point 1: Our dolphins were born and raised under human care and come from a well-established facility. They grew up as part of a social group and have always been accustomed to interacting with humans.

Coral World must specify the source for these specific dolphins. Without this information, this is an empty claim. There are very few facilities that have a surplus of six dolphins that are all captive-born and have grown up in the same social group – most facilities have animals that were acquired from several different sources (whether captive-born or wild-caught) and did not grow up together. Indeed, most facilities do not have surplus dolphins at all, let alone six of them. Also, regardless of being captive-born, when dolphins are moved to new facilities, this increases the demand for wild captures. The captive dolphin industry is not yet self-sustaining – if the industry keeps expanding, then wild captures will keep occurring. Coral World may not go directly to the wild for its dolphins, but building a new exhibit anywhere fuels future captures of, and trade in, live dolphins globally.

Point 2: Our dolphins will swim freely in a 2-acre open-ocean habitat, one of the largest in the world. The habitat and our dolphins will be subject to U.S. regulations and standards, the strictest in the world.

It is unlikely that the dolphins will “swim freely” at all times. As is the case with other dolphin facilities, they will be gated and moved into the smaller enclosures (the “sanctuary,” the maternity pool, and the medical pool) whenever necessary, which is not only when births and illnesses occur, but also when animals are fighting or otherwise behaving incompatibly. In addition, the U.S. regulations and standards are not the strictest in the world. The U.S. swim-with-the-dolphin regulations were suspended entirely in 1999 and have not been enforced since. In addition, the U.K. and Brazil have stricter regulations (e.g., they require larger enclosures, better water quality, more stringent qualifications for trainers and veterinarians than does the U.S.) and, not coincidentally, they have no dolphinariums – not because captive display of dolphins is illegal in either country but because their standards are so strict that no facility has been able to meet them in a cost-effective way.

Point 3: Our dolphins will be protected from predators and boat strikes. They also will benefit from regular, high quality veterinary care and attention that will help them to live longer, healthier lives than their counterparts in the wild.

It is true that captive dolphins are protected from predators, food shortages, and many human-caused threats, including boat strikes. In addition, they receive veterinary care. The logical corollary to these conditions is that captive dolphins should live longer, as Coral World claims they do. However, that claim is not true. At best, captive dolphins in developed-world facilities live as long as wild dolphins, as
determined by peer-reviewed analyses from the mid-1990s. Dolphins in facilities in the developing world, particularly in Asia, however, live shorter lives, based on information taken from media reports. There are no peer-reviewed analyses that support Coral World’s claim. Therefore, what kills captive dolphins as efficiently as, or more efficiently than, threats wild dolphins face? The logical hypothesis is stress, but the captive industry has so far refused to conduct the research needed to confirm this or any other hypothesis.

Point 4: Our dolphins have been interacting with humans since birth. Dolphins will never be forced to engage in human interaction. Our dolphin habitat will have a sanctuary area where dolphins can go if they do not wish to interact with humans.

The sanctuary as planned will not be used by the dolphins. A facility in the Florida Keys had such a sanctuary (a dead-end smaller enclosure entered via a gate) and the dolphins never used it, whether there were swimmers present or not. The space was not attractive to them and the entrance was too restrictive. Dolphins must be trained to go through gates and rarely use them unless asked. The sanctuary must be attractive and freely accessible or it will not be used. A study in Australia of a facility with such a sanctuary (as large as the encounter space and as accessible) determined that the dolphins did in fact prefer the sanctuary over swimming with visitors. When swimmers were present, the dolphins spent a significantly greater portion of their time in the sanctuary than when swimmers were not present. When swimmers were not present, the dolphins divided their time equally between the encounter area and the sanctuary, because both spaces were equally attractive, which will not be the case with the Coral World sanctuary as planned.

Point 5: Coral World’s habitat will have a specially designed system that will allow the dolphins to be isolated in the event of harmful run-off or other unsafe pollution. Environmental studies show that the presence of our dolphins in the open ocean habitat, which takes advantage of currents in Water Bay, will not have any negative effect on water quality.

The permit application submitted by Coral World mentions “environmental studies” that show the dolphin enclosure will not have negative impacts on water quality, but it does not cite these studies. A study available on the internet (see Global Coral Reef Alliance White Paper 2003) concludes just the opposite – the effluent from a dolphin enclosure in Cozumel was determined to be a point source for nutrient overload in a reef system, which was subsequently damaged. While it is impossible with the information in the permit application to conclude that there will be a negative impact from dolphin waste due to insufficient flushing of the area, it is also impossible to conclude that there will not be an impact. In short, authorities must insist that more data be provided and/or collected to assist in determining the environmental impact of confining 6-10 dolphins in this location. Given some of the information in the permit application, especially regarding previous eutrophication events in Water Bay, it seems more likely than not that the dolphin exhibit will have a negative impact on water quality, but the bottom line is that Coral World has not made its case.

Point 6: Quite the reverse is true [responding to the claim that dolphin programs are unpopular]. A recent poll shows that 97% of Americans (ages 18-24) would be interested in swimming with dolphins; 87% of Americans with children in the household agree that these programs are an effective way to learn about animals. And dolphin programs are not closing down. New and larger aquarium facilities that feature dolphin programs are on the increase.

The poll referenced here was a public opinion poll (not an academic survey subject to peer review) using questions that were biased or leading. Whenever a survey or poll gets a 97% response rate of any kind, the question was almost certainly not phrased in an appropriately neutral way. In addition, dolphin exhibits are on the increase only in the developing world (especially Asia, including China), where expertise in maintaining captive dolphins and regulations protecting captive dolphins are notably lacking. In the developed world, including North America and Europe, dolphin exhibits are on the decline – there has been a net loss of about 10 facilities in the U.S. (including the closure of one SeaWorld park) in the past 15 years and there are only two dolphin exhibits left in Canada. Mexico has prohibited the capture of wild dolphins in its waters and the import/export of live dolphins for public display (the remaining dolphinariums in Mexico must therefore maintain their collections solely through captive breeding). In Europe, Switzerland has just joined the growing number of countries that have ended dolphin display – it has prohibited imports of live dolphins, so its last dolphin exhibit will close when the three remaining dolphins there die or are relocated.

Point 7: Today cruise ship passengers and overnight guests are heading to Tortola to swim with dolphins and spending their money there. Keeping visitors on St. Thomas will benefit taxis, stores, even other attractions because visitors will have more time on St. Thomas.

Cruise ship tourists will remain on St. Thomas rather than going to Tortola if there are any alternative excursions offered on-island that are interesting, challenging, exciting, unique, or otherwise entertaining. There is no need to offer the same excursion (swimming with dolphins) to keep tourists on St. Thomas. In fact, offering a copy-cat attraction seems singularly lacking in imagination and long-term vision. St. Thomas should highlight its unique, natural attractions rather than risk the welfare of wildlife and the health of a local ecosystem. St. Thomas should be an innovator rather than an imitator and there are many groups that are willing to work with St. Thomas tourism operators, including Coral World, to make this happen

Posted : December 13, 2012 7:06 pm
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President of Costa Rica, Oscar Arias Sánchez, has signed a decree which declares the sea around the country a protected area for whales and dolphins.This means both Costa Rica’s patrimonial and territorial seas have become sanctuaries for these intelligent, sociable mammals.This initiative is a further commitment to Costa Rican laws banning any activity that involves killing, capturing, injuring or pursuing any kind of whale, dolphin or porpoise, or using them for commercial gain.

"There are developments worldwide that suggest that a paradigm shift may be underway as more countries ban dolphinariums, the import and export of dolphins as well as capture of dolphins off of their waters."

"It is one that may take a step back for every two forward,but nevertheless, it is discernible. The media attention on controversial captures, unnecessary deaths, and inhumane transports is having an impact on the general public’s perception of marine mammals in captivity."

This doesn't even include the boredom and stress from captive, unnatural lives in captive, unnatural enclosures while being forced to eat dead food ( they hunt live fish in the wild) to entice them to perform more repetitive, unnatural behaviours that these captive marine mammals are forced to act out: day in, day out, for the rest of their shortened, unnatural life spans.

Coral World is behind the times wanting to open such an expensive $5-7 Million facility when so many enlightened countries are no longer even allowing these SWD interactive and live marine mammal exhibits.

"The impression of happy animals performing for treats is giving way to recognition of behind-the-scenes suffering."

"The HSUS (Humane Society Of the United States) and WSPA (World Society for the Protection of Animals) have presented the case against capturing marine mammals and keeping them in captivity.

"Yet while humans can separate out and analyze each aspect of the existence of captive marine mammals, one fact must remain paramount: to the marine mammals, the experience of captivity is not a set of aspects that can be perceived separately. Instead,it is a whole, inescapable life. Therefore, while humans can subdivide the captive experience and even conclude that one aspect is more or less damaging to the animals than another. The HSUS and WSPA believe that the entire captive experience for marine mammals is so sterile and contrary to even the most basic elements of compassion and humanity that it should be rejected outright."

HSUS AND WSPA both state: "It is unacceptable for marine mammals to be held in captivity for the purpose of public display."

It is even more unacceptable for Coral World to have PREMEDITATED PLANS for a BIRTHING PEN in their small, unnatural enclosure for the BREEDING of even more of these dolphins to forced to be born into captivity only to be sold off to other facilities, all for the sake of profit.
They will be breaking up families of dolphins who do mourn the loss of offspring and family members. Remember, these are highly social and intelligent creatures who are self aware and have the intelligence of a young child!

Did you know that Wild Dolphins, should they survive the bloody and brutal captures and culling, can fetch $40 Thousand Dollars or more?
Did you know that a well trained, young Dolphin can cost up to $250 Thousand dollars?

That's how Coral World is planning on sustaining themselves as by their own EAR (Environmental Assessment Report), their best year displaying those poor captive Sea Lions was 2012 when they had 3000 visitors between Jan. - March. They would need 35,000 people to visit each year, each spending at least $150 - $250 in order to make a minimal profit. So where are the rest of the 32,000 people going to come from during our slow off season when cruise ships head out for different ports during the summer and fall? You tell me?

Educating children about unnatural, forced behavior of captive Dolphins and Sea Lions is not education!
Bottom line: GREED AND PROFIT at the expense and exploitation of the Dolphins and the Sea Lions.
Say NO to the CZM permit and do the right, ethical and moral thing.

"The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated." Ghandi.

Posted : December 14, 2012 4:03 pm
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Submitted by Rita on December 14, 2012 - 1:05pm.

As testifiers came up to the podium to speak in regards to the application by Coral World to bring dolphins to St. Thomas to be utilized as entertainment for humans, a tragedy of significant importance plays out in a cove IN Taiji, Japan, which had become infamous in the highly acclaimed documentary THE COVE, I urge to watch this movie which can be seen in its entirety at
This is ground zero for the captive dolphin marine park industry. Marine Mammal trainers stand by the rocky shores to 'choose' 'their' dolphin. After dolphins have been chased by what is called banger boats. After locating a family of dolphins which are called pods, these consist of family groups, mothers, babies, grandfathers, sisters, brothers, and pregnant females......these boats slam poles against their hulls of their boats to create a wall of sound to frighten and confuse the dolphins. Several boats then herd these animals into The Killing Cove which is a bay with rocky shores. Marine Mammal trainers come from all over the world to choose the pretty ones, the young ones, for live capture in a captive dolphin attraction, be that swim with dolphin encounters or dolphins that are destined to be trained to provide entertainment for the marine park and attraction industry. The rest are brutally slaughtered stabbed, sliced open, hooks thrust into their blowholes to be dragged into the killing area. The fear and panic that ensues is nothing short of a horror show of immense suffering and cruelty. Dolphins throw themselves against the rocks in an attempt to escape the killers. Babies and mothers cry out for each other as they are murdered. Some dolphins are dragged by their tails into this killing area and drown as they cannot keep their head above water, being mammals that need to breathe air JUST LIKE US HUMANS. This link will show you what is done, and how these magnificent, intelligent, sentient beings meet their fate at the hands of people whose ONLY motivation is $profit$. What do you ask has this to do with Coral World's request? EVERYTHING. This IS what the captive dolphin industry is ALL ABOUT. They say that they are getting their dolphins from a captive breeding source, but where did this source begin, and who is to say they do not have wild caught dolphins who they breed, and why will CORAL WORLD not name this facility? An explosion of protest against captive dolphin programs are taking place around the world, and many countries such as the United States, South Korea, and many more have made it illegal to capture wild dolphins. In the next link you will see how laws affect dolphins worldwide:

The value of a dolphin in the killing cove of Japan is worth approximately $40,000.00. A trained dolphin's value is approximately $200,000.00 or more. Coral World has already noted that there will be an area where pregnant dolphins will have their babies - and admitted that surplus dolphins will be sold. It is shameful that in this day where people are fighting against puppy mills that there would be support to breed dolphins for the captive MARKET. In addition Water Bay, the site for the proposed sea pen is not deep at all, the temperature can hit 80-90 degrees, where would the dolphins find cooler water? The corals that are in this bay, all but dead, are on the federally listed endangered species list. The feces from the dolphins that WILL settle to the bottom of the bay WILL endanger both dolphins and humans getting into the water with them. Anyone coming into close contact with marine mammals risks infection. One particularly dangerous pathogen is pseudomonas pseudomalle, known to cause respiratory disease in humans and also serious wound infections which can result in septicemia. Dolphins have been known to attack humans and also to attack each other when under extreme stress, and the inability to escape stressful situations. There will be no escape from the noise of boat motors that will be in the bay at all times. Sea turtles that live in this bay will be affected by the pathogens existent in the accumulated feces of the dolphins.


This proposal is detrimental on many levels, to our ocean environment, our endangered corals, and our endangered turtles, but most of all it is unethical and immoral to enslave an intelligent species so much like our own for entertainment and monetary profit. I would have expected that Coral World get involved as a rescue and rehabilitation facility to rehabilitate and release dolphins back to the wild. Scant few exist in the world and as the voices of those opposing the captive cetacean industry get louder and more successful in shutting down facilities. A rehabilitation and release facility will be sought after and be known for its humanitarian acts to assist dolphins instead of enslaving and breeding them.

The CZM meeting pertaining to a permit application by Coral World to bring in dolphins that would be in Water Bay, St. Thomas, a bay said to be polluted and a sensitive area for endangered corals, and sea turtles.....was held last night and was largely controlled by Coral World and its employees, a great deal of whom are recent arrivals from the United States. Coral World stated their case and took up the largest portion of time in the beginning of the presentation by the owner and contracted employees. The Coral World employees signed up to testify very early and testified one after the other with loud clapping by the other employees. There were testifiers that were in opposition to the proposal and were greeted with clapping from opposition supporters.

When the meeting was abruptly stopped due to the staff of the Eudora Kean school staff wanting to go home, there were many Virgin Islanders whose names were on the list to testify that did not get a chance to speak their mind, whether in support or opposition. However most that I saw that were left without being able to speak were in opposition to the project. The CZM committee members told the disappointed and angry testifiers that they could make comments giving a window of 9 days hence. They did not say where to send thuis information, none were given. I checked the DPNR website and there was no mention of public comments in relation to this proposed permit for a dolphin attraction, and whats more the division of CZM link does not even open up. I invite the community to call the commissioners office of DPNR and request a second meeting where Virgin Islanders can speak their mind. The number is 340-774-3320 and ask to speak to the commissioners office - I did. I spoke to a very attentive person, her name is Sherri Abbott, and she will take calls, comments, and direct you to send in e-mails requesting a new meeting and to have DPNR put this up on their website. It is important enough to make an effort to have our voices heard.

Posted : December 14, 2012 10:00 pm
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I would love to see a dolphine experience come to St. Croix, particularly near F'Sted.

Perhaps they could incorporate it as part of the new Williams & Punch resort.

Cruise ships passengers would flock to it and local jobs would be created.

Posted : December 15, 2012 12:55 pm
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Dolphins, whales, and porpoises are closely related animals and are collectively known as Cetaceans. Dolphins are born to swim far and fast in their search for food. In the wild they may travel hundreds of miles a day, reaching speeds of up to 30 miles an hour and diving to depths of over three hundred feet. Bottlenose dolphins get their name from their bottle-shaped snout.

Did you know that dolphins…

… are as intelligent as human toddlers?
Scientific research shows that dolphin intelligence is comparable to that of human toddlers. They are self-aware and capable of abstract thinking and recognize their reflection in a mirror.

… ‘see' with their ears?
Like most bats, dolphins use sound to ‘see'. They use echolocation—making a sound and listening to it bounce off objects—for finding food and navigating without bumping into things. While hunting for food underwater, some dolphins also make very loud clicking sounds that may knock out any small fish or squid within range. The dolphins then gobble up the sound-stunned prey. Scientists believe that dolphins have little or no sense of smell but they do have a sense of taste like humans.

… listen with their jaws?
Dolphins receive sounds through their lower jaw. A fat-filled cavity conducts sound waves through the jaw to the middle ear bones and on to the hearing centers in their brain.

… breathe through the top of their head?
Dolphins do not have gills (like fish do), so they cannot breathe underwater. They must come up to the surface to get air. Dolphins do not breathe through their mouth and they do not have nostrils like humans do. Instead, they have a blowhole (a dolphin's nose) at the top of their head which they can open and close to breathe. Also, unlike humans, dolphins breathe voluntarily, i.e. they have to consciously inhale and exhale.

… once had legs?
Millions of years ago, dolphins had legs. If you look closely at a dolphin's skeleton, you'll see two small rod-shaped pelvic bones. These bones may be leftover hind legs that some scientists think mean the dolphin's ancestors walked around on land.

… have more teeth than crocodiles?
If dolphins had dentists, those docs would be busy! A dolphin's extremely long jaws may contain as many as 250 pointy white teeth.

… don't chew their food?
Despite having a mouth full of teeth, dolphins do not chew their food. They swallow their food whole and digest it in their three-chambered stomach. Teeth only help to firmly hold onto their prey.

… enjoy teamwork?
Dolphins are highly complex mammals who live in societies and rely on each other for kinship and survival. Dolphins swim in groups called pods of usually around a dozen animals. Sometimes pods combine to form super pods or herds of several hundred dolphins! These super pods can spread across several miles. Dolphins often hunt together which allows them to cover larger areas as they look for schools of fish. Sometimes they work together to herd a big school of fish into a small, crowded clump. Then they take turns speeding through the trapped fish to eat!

… are fishermen's helpers
For over 150 years, fishermen have told tales of dolphins helping them by herding fish into their nets. In southern Brazil, bottlenose dolphins signal fishermen when it's the best time to cast their nets. What's in it for the dolphins? Apparently the dolphins enjoy the leftovers that the fishermen leave behind.

… call each other by name?
Dolphins communicate with whistles and use individual ‘names' to identify one another. Some research scientists who study dolphin communication think that wild dolphins have special high-pitched calls known as signature whistles that they use to tell pod pals apart. Each dolphin chooses his or her own signature whistle, usually by their first birthday.

… have babysitters?
Cooperation among female dolphins is crucial to a newborn. These groupings are called ‘maternity pods'. Female dolphins, or aunts, tend to assist the mother during the birth of her baby. Aunts also stay close to help with babysitting.

… also live in rivers?
While most dolphin species live in the salt water of the ocean, the Ganges River dolphin in South Asia, the boto or Amazon River dolphin and the franciscana or La Plata River dolphin in South America, all live in fresh water. The baiji or Yangtze River dolphin, now believed to be extinct in the wild, lived in China until as recently as 2006.

… teach their kids to use tools?
When researchers first saw something strange on the snout of a dolphin in Shark Bay, Western Australia, they thought it was a tumor. The object turned out to be a marine sponge broken off from the seabed. The dolphins appeared to use the sponges as a protective glove on their snouts so the dolphins don't get stung by stonefish (a bottom dweller with highly venomous spines). The sponge also appears to disturb fish hiding on the seabed. The dolphins then snap the fish up!

… are surfers?
Boats create a pressure wave as they push through water. Dolphins surf on this wave at the bow of the boat, cleverly getting a ride at speeds they couldn't manage on their own!

… cannot really smile?
The dolphin's smile is a feature of their anatomy unrelated to its health or emotional state. Dolphins cannot move their facial muscles like humans can, and a dolphin can appear to smile even while injured or seriously ill.

… are wild animals?
It is important to remember that dolphins can be unpredictable and aggressive – to each other and to humans. They must be respected for the wild and beautiful animals they are.

Posted : December 15, 2012 3:27 pm
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Since 1991, WSPA has engaged in dolphin rescue and reintroduction programs, supported scientific research studies to fill information gaps, participated in outreach and education efforts through campaigns and commercial and governmental lobbying, and established partnerships with other animal protection groups that work on this issue.

WSPA has achieved several notable successes during this time including a pledge from the Seven Seas luxury cruise line to no longer offer dolphin encounter tours at any of their ports of call. WSPA has also co-produced a comprehensive report on the state of marine mammals in captivity titled “The Case against Marine Mammals in Captivity”.

Please explore this section of our website to learn more about dolphins in the wild and the reasons why they should not be kept in captivity.

11 Facts About Dolphin Hunts

1. Approximately 23,000 dolphins and porpoises are killed legally each year in Japan. The majority are killed at sea, but thousands are killed in dolphin hunts along coastal lagoons and coves. Dolphin hunts also occur in coastal island areas of the South Pacific and North Atlantic but they are nowhere near as large as those in Taiji.
2. The world outlawed commercial whaling in 1986. And yet, dolphin hunts remain legal becaus the members of the International Whaling Commission have not agreed to protect so-called “small cetaceans.”
3. Dolphin hunts take place both to capture live dolphins for marine parks and aquariums and to kill dolphins for their meat, despite the fact that the meat often contains toxins, including mercury and PCBs at unhealthy levels, and sells at a very low price.
4. A live dolphin captured for a marine park show can fetch up to $150,000. A dolphin killed for meat draws about $600.
5. In coastal areas, dolphins are hunted by “drive-fishing” techniques, in which the dolphins are herded and corralled into net cages by loud banging sounds that disrupt their sensitive sonar, causing them to panic. Once trapped in the nets, their fate is decided by veterinarians and animal trainers who choose which dolphins they will purchase.
6. Once a live dolphin is selected for a marine park, aquarium or swim-with-dolphins program, it is separated from its close-knit family unit, hoisted in trucks and planes and transported from the ocean to a far-away pool where it will face stiff odds of survival.
7. Over half of all captured dolphins will die within 2 years of their captivity. They must rapidly adjust to a new environment where they can no longer swim their customary 40 miles a day in open waters, engage with their social group or use their sonar properly.
8. Dolphins not selected for marine parks are then “sitting ducks” for local fishermen who kill them for the price their meat will fetch. They are typically killed at close quarters with spears, knives and hooks. In the open ocean, they are usually killed with harpoons.
9. The primary economic driver of dolphin hunting is the multi-million dollar marine park business, which allows fishermen the resources to undertake additional slaughter for meat.
10. Most citizens in Japan are unaware of the dolphin hunts and unaware of the serious toxicity of dolphin meat. However, the Japanese government continues to support dolphin hunting and has successfully lobbied to keep the International Whaling Commission from acting on behalf of small cetaceans.
11. International attention and protest has helped to halt some dolphin hunts in the past but has not stopped the practice from continuing in the 21st Century.


Take Part

The Cove Movie

Truly Moving Pictures

OP Society

Save Japan and Dolphins

Posted : December 15, 2012 3:32 pm
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Does an innocent swim promote animal cruelty?
Exploring the facets of captive dolphin swim programs

Near the top of many adventurists’ checklist is swimming with dolphins (SWTD). It has a shiny allure. The experience appeals to a wide demographic. Families use it as a bonding experience. Others see it as something on par with bus tours; it is what you do on holiday when near a warm coastline. Some people swim with dolphins because they hope for a mystical experience.

SWTD projects around the world cater specifically to some or all of these desires. Jeju Island, being a tourism hotspot, has two dolphin-experience facilities. In this article, captive SWTD projects will be explored for their benefits and drawbacks.

Fascination with dolphins is not something new. The ancient Greeks thought that dolphins riding in a ship’s wake were a sign of good fortune. In Hindu mythology the Ganges river dolphin was associated with Ganga, the deity of the river. Their presence is peppered through naval folk history.

In more modern times, during the 1960’s, the bottlenose dolphin won many hearts through the television show Flipper. In the series, a young boy and a dolphin have a relationship similar to that of Timmy and Lassie. People across the US wanted a similar experience with Flipper. Businessmen gave them their wish. Dolphinaria, aquariums specifically for dolphin shows and dolphin experiences, popped up all over the world. Many were forced to close due to public protest and non- adherence to animal welfare laws.

Currently there is no shortage of captive SWTD programs. Generally the experience begins with an introduction to a single dolphin in the shallow end of the tank. The trainer introduces the anatomy of the dolphin and makes sure that the client and dolphin are comfortable. Some show tricks are incorporated. The dolphin ‘sings’ when the trainer mimes a conductor’s hand movements. It also poses for ‘the kiss’ picture that the client can take home and put on the fridge. When it is time to go into the big tank the dolphin waves goodbye. Fish are given for a reward after each of these segments.

Clearly, this is not wild behavior. It is more like a one on one dolphin show.

An article entitled “Swimming with Captive Dolphins: Current Debates and Post-Experience Dissonance” by Susanna Curtin and Keith Wilkes, explores the divide between the reasons people go and what they feel afterwards.

Many of the people Curtin and Wilkes interviewed had hoped for a wild-like experience with the dolphins. Afterwards they felt that the dolphins were just doing tricks and often felt guilty about the small size of the pool.

They sum up the article on a positive note:

“Clearly the experience is not what people expect. However, there is little doubt that humans do derive some considerable benefit and enjoyment from SWD experiences. The question is whether the contact with an animal-other enhances understanding of the animal kingdom or whether such interaction programmes merely reinforce the socially constructed images from popular media.”

Erich Hoyt of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society goes deeper into the ethics of the SWTD experience in his book "The Performing Orca: Why the Show Must Stop".

He explains that there is some cross over in ethical perspective, but that the argument is essentially polarized. While both sides agree that any captive animal should be treated humanely, owners and curators of aquariums and marine parks say that any adverse effects are outweighed by the educational component that the shows provide. Critics of these shows say that the adverse effects on whales and dolphins in captivity have been proven and that inhumane treatment is not an ethical cost for education.

In 1985, Victoria, Australia passed a law prohibiting further capture of cetaceans (whales and dolphins). A report by the Senate Select Committee on Animal Welfare entitled "Dolphin and Whales in Captivity" stated that "[critics of aquariums and marine parks] believe that arguments advanced by oceanaria, for keeping cetacean captive, such as enrichment, awareness and improved knowledge, are inconsistent with, and subordinate to, their commercial motives."

The argument keeps circling back to these three issues: humane treatment of animals, the need for education and profit trumping all.

In 2009 a documentary entitled “The Cove” was released to great critical acclaim. It won the Academy Award for best documentary as well as a host of other top prizes. It’s content focused on Taiji, Japan and the annual dolphin culling that happens there. The film also explored the connection between the killing grounds at Taiji and the distribution of dolphins from this place to aquariums worldwide.

“The Cove” presents several interviews with Ric O’Barry. He was the man who had captured and trained the dolphins for the television show Flipper in the 1960’s. After seeing his dolphins transferred to aquariums and what it did to them psychologically he has devoted his life to liberating dolphins from captivity.

The scenes of the dolphin killings at Taiji are bloody and horrifying. The fishermen trap the dolphins in the cove with a large net system. They are then driven towards the beach, stabbed with a spear and left to bleed out.

In the film O’Barry claims that the majority of aquarium dolphins are purchased by trainers at the annual culling and distributed to aquariums around the world. Other sources claim that in fact most of these captured dolphins are sold mainly to aquariums in Asia and have never been allowed into the United Sates.

A dolphin experience program on Jeju Island does verify that it obtained its dolphins from Taiji.

In addition to shady sourcing, there is also research stating that aquarium life puts incredible stress on the dolphins. The Humane Society of the United States claims that some dolphins may die from the stress of capture alone. The capture of a family member also traumatizes the pod left in the wild.

In a dissertation by Kirsten L Stewart entitled “Human Dolphin Encounter Spaces” she states that “[m]any captive dolphins display physiological and behavioral indicators of stress such as elevated adrenocortical hormones, stereotyped behavior, self-destruction, self mutilation, and excessive aggressiveness towards humans and other dolphins.”

Posted : December 15, 2012 3:40 pm
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