Like in rodeos, I used to think there wasn’t much harm done to these wild animals, and it was fun and interesting to visit them. But, just as in rodeos, circuses, or any other forum where animals are used for entertainment, there was a far uglier side to these chlorinated prisons for some of the world’s most intelligent mammals.
Families torn apart
Just like in elephant herds, capturing even one wild orca or dolphin disrupts the entire pod. To obtain a female dolphin of breeding age, for example, boats are used to chase the pod to shallow waters where the animals are surrounded with nets that are gradually closed and lifted onto the boats. Unwanted dolphins are thrown back. Some die from shock or stress, and others slowly succumb to pneumonia when water enters their lungs through their blowholes. Pregnant females may spontaneously abort babies. In one instance, more than 200 panicked dolphins who had been corralled into a Japanese fishing port crashed into boat hulls and each other, becoming hopelessly entangled in nets during their attempt to find an escape route; many became exhausted and drowned.
Orcas and dolphins who escape the ordeal of capture become frantic upon seeing their captured companions and may even try to save them. When Namu, a wild orca captured off the coast of Canada, was towed to the Seattle Public Aquarium, he was insured by Lloyd’s of London, according to the BBC, for “various contingencies including rescue attempts by other whales.”
Captured dolphins; some will be slaughtered for their meat, others will be sent to "abusement parks."
Adapting to an Alien world
In the wild, orcas and dolphins swim up to 100 miles a day. But captured dolphins are confined to tanks that may be only 24 feet long, 24 feet wide, and 6 feet deep. They navigate by echolocation—bouncing sonar waves off other objects to determine their shape, density, distance, and location—but in tanks, the reverberations from their own sonar bounce off the walls, driving some dolphins insane. Jacques Cousteau said that life for a captive dolphin “leads to a confusion of the entire sensory apparatus, which in turn causes in such a sensitive creature a derangement of mental balance and behaviour.”
Lolita, an Orca captured off Washington state, has been alone in a small cement pool at at the Miami Seaquarium for 38 years (as of 2009).
Captivity’s Tragic Consequences
If life for captive orcas and dolphins is as tranquil as marine parks would have us believe, the animals should live longer than their wild counterparts. However, while captive marine mammals are not subject to predators or ocean pollution, their captivity is nevertheless a death sentence.
It has been documented that, in the wild, dolphins can live into their 40s and 50s. But more than 80 percent of captive dolphins whose ages could be determined died before the age of 20. Wild orcas can also live for decades—some have been documented to be more than 90 years old—but those at Sea World and other marine parks rarely survive for more than 10 years. Florida’s Sun-Sentinel examined 30 years of federal documents pertaining to marine animals and found that nearly 4,000 sea lions, seals, dolphins, and whales have died in captivity, and of the 2,400 cases in which a cause of death was listed, one in five animals died “of uniquely human hazards or seemingly avoidable causes.”
Captive marine mammals have died from swallowing coins, succumbing to heatstroke, and swimming in contaminated water.
A former trainer at Hershey Park quit because she saw “a lot of frustrated animals that would die from ulcers.” A marine mammal behavioral biologist in Seattle says that “dolphins in captivity can exhibit self-inflicted trauma” and that some drift at the surface of the water and chew on concrete until they’ve destroyed their teeth. The stress is so great that some commit suicide. Jacques Cousteau and his son, Jean-Michel, vowed never to capture marine mammals again after witnessing one captured dolphin kill himself by deliberately crashing into the side of his tank again and again.
Who’s fighting it: IDA, LCA (Last Chance for Animals), Sea Watch Foundation, CETFREE (Cetacean Freedom Alliance), HSUS/Humane Society International, Cetacean Society International, International Dolphin Watch, ACRES, WSPA, PAWS, Earth Island Institute, downbound.com, animalsvoice.com.
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