Animal Writes
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From 28 March 2004 Issue

Has Freedom Really Died in the Cayman Islands?

Six am Sunday morning, March 21, the One Voice Dolphin Rescue team received a phone call from Billy Adam who is spearheading the “Keep Dolphins Free in the Cayman Islands” campaign. The help of One Voice was needed immediately, he said. Two men had found a young dolphin in the water off South Sound Road, Grand Cayman. According to eyewitnesses, the dolphin had stranded himself in shallow water and wasn't moving much.

Captive dolphin facilities in Honduras and Jamaica were already standing by with airplanes and staff members, geared up to go to Grand Cayman and take over the dolphin rescue attempt. It was important for the dolphin freedom campaigners on island not to involve the dolphin captivity industry, for the simple reason that several dolphinariums are in the planning stages in the Cayman Islands, despite strong local opposition to dolphin captivity: The entrepreneurs behind the proposed dolphinariums would no doubt use the rescue effort to further propagate the position that a captive dolphin facility is needed in the Cayman Islands in order to deal with any future dolphin standings.

The One Voice team traveled to Grand Cayman immediately, arriving on-site within a few hours after the call for assistance came in. The many locals, who have been fighting the proposed captive dolphin facilities for years, were thankful that One Voice was able to show up with such short notice but, sadly, the dolphin died. He was only a few months old. When dolphins are this young their markings and coloring are not fully developed, and it is therefore sometimes difficult to determine their species. However, we suspect he was a spotted dolphin (Stenella plagiodon). Somehow he got separated from his mother and the rest of his pod, but we will never know exactly what brought him ashore.

For several hours, area residents, volunteers, and environmentalists took 30-minute shifts standing in the water, shading the dolphin with beach umbrellas and helping him keep his balance in the water. Billy Adam, Juliet Austin, and local veterinarians Dr. Brenda Bush and Dr. Elizabeth Broussard were among the team of caregivers who did everything possible to save the young dolphin. But at 3:30 pm the dolphin took his last breath.

Several people, including grownups, started crying when they realized the dolphin was dead. Although it was a sad scene it was also one of tremendous hope and encouragement for the One Voice team: We had recently returned from Taiji, Japan, where whalers intentionally drive hundreds of dolphins ashore and kill them in the most gruesome way imaginable. One day we witnessed the capture of more than 100 bottlenose dolphins, and we were shocked to see whalers and dolphin trainers working side by side to beach the panic-stricken animals. The trainers spent several hours selecting the ones they wanted for their dolphinariums. Dragging the dolphins ashore with ropes, they separated the mothers from their babies with extreme brutality. The dolphins’ cries of distress were met with complete indifference.

“We love dolphins.” This is the dolphin captivity industry’s first line of defense when confronted with the questionable ethics of capturing and confining dolphins. Their second line of defense is: “We are displaying dolphins to teach the public respect for nature.” But there was no sign of “love” or "respect” for dolphins on this day where dolphin trainers mercilessly stranded an entire pod of full-grown dolphins, juveniles, babies, as well as pregnant and nursing females and dragged more than 20 of them away from their pod members to be shipped to various dolphinariums. Dolphin trainers simply stood by and watched as some of the dolphins, in a massive effort to escape, got entangled in the whalers’ capture nets and, unable to reach the surface to breathe, died a slow and painful death of suffocation. We witnessed how members of the dolphin captivity industry, in their self-serving endeavor to choose the dolphins that best fit the desired criteria for dolphin shows and captive dolphin swim programs, knowingly and calculatingly exposed dolphins to trauma, injuries, and death. This is the dark side of dolphin captivity that the public is never told about. On South Point in Grand Cayman, however, we saw a very different picture. Here, we saw compassionate and caring people coming together in an extraordinary effort to save a dolphin, with the ultimate goal of releasing him back into the sea and reuniting him with his mother and other pod members. Among the rescuers was Gina Ebanks-Petrie, head of the Department of Environment. To the many volunteers that comforted the dolphin in his final hours, he became a reminder that these free-ranging and highly intelligent marine mammals belong in the wild, and that it is cruel to separate them from the three most important aspects of their lives: Their world of sound, their pod members, and the ability to move freely. With this in mind, they named the dolphin “Freedom.”

Thanks to the effort to rescue "Freedom,” the issue of whether or not dolphins belong in captivity once again became an issue of high interest to the media in the Cayman Islands; something it hadn’t been in a long time.

To our knowledge, there are four proposals to bring captive dolphins to the Cayman Islands. If the authorities approve the import of captive dolphins, the Cayman Islands will become part of the dolphin trade that nourishes its profits from deadly dolphin captures; a procedure that leaves dolphin pods traumatized and destroyed. The Cayman Islands will become supportive of an exploitative entertainment industry that treats nature and its inhabitant in a manner that works directly against the caring approach to nature we saw demonstrated in South Sound the day “Freedom” died. Compassion and care will be replaced with crudeness and greed. A passionate effort to save life will be replaced with the act of permanently destroying it by subjecting it to a violent capture and lifelong confinement.

The “Keep Dolphins Free in the Cayman Islands” campaign continues. Freedom died but in his death brought new life to the effort to keep the Cayman Islands on the list of tourist destinations that, rather than exploit captive dolphins for profit, celebrate the dolphins’ way of life in their vast marine environment -- wild and free.

Helene O'Barry
Field Correspondent
One Voice

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