“It is not the job of these animals to sacrifice their freedom just to please us by performing.” [A Fall From Freedom]
Captivity is a popular, yet controversial topic to debate these days. Activists argue that marine parks exploit the lives of dolphins and killer whales (also members of the dolphin family). Ric O’Barry has passionately fought to free these creatures from their enclosed cells; “This show is nothing more than a display of dominance. It teaches us that dominance is good.” Proponents of marine parks claim that captive dolphins provide education to the masses. They contend that holding these animals captive allows children to learn to appreciate just how important dolphins and other marine mammals are. To this, Ric O’ Barry fires back: “The show only serves to perpetuate our insidious utilitarian perception of nature. It is in fact a form of bad education [A Fall From Freedom].” I agree with this sentiment. If the first impression of these mammals that children get is seeing them in captivity, how will they learn that dolphins thrive better at sea? They won’t learn that there is a better way to preserve them.
On the subject of beneficial research on captive dolphins, no new information has been obtained from captive studies that wasn’t already known. In fact, much more information can be learned from field studies. Behavior among wild dolphins is not the same as behavior exhibited by captive animals. There is not as much room to freely interact, and the complicated population structures that exist in the wild are non-existent in captivity. As intelligent and social as these animals are, dolphins define themselves by their relationships with others among these long-term, stable communities. Essentially, what it comes down to is that there is no such thing as a happy, solitary dolphin. Additionally, researchers have developed new ways to study wild dolphins using advanced non-invasive procedures. These methods provide far more rewarding data than any gathered in oceanarium environments.
On the subject of captive killer whales, the name Tilikum comes to mind. This orca is kept at Sea World in Orlando, and has killed three people. Although there have been numerous events in which captive orcas have shown aggression towards their trainers, Ric O’Barry notes that no wild orca has ever been sighted grabbing someone off the beach and pulling them underwater. Even though researchers do swim with wild orcas, there has never been a documented instance of aggression towards a human being. Since 1968, 4 people have been killed by killer whales, and over 50 people have been injured. The actual number of people injured by these animals is higher. This number only consists of reported injuries. “I question the mental health of these captive animals. After all, captivity changes them forever, and habitat dictates behavior.” (Ric O’ Barry)
To read more on why captivity is not justified, click HERE to read an interview with Dr. Lori Marino on the ethics of keeping dolphins in captivity. Dr. Lori Marino is a neuroscientist and Senior Lecturer in the Psychology Department at Emory University. She has written over 80 publications on cetacean neuroanatomy and brain evolution, comparative behavioral ecology, and evolution in cetaceans and primates.
Luna, a wild orca, is depicted trying to imitate a motor boat. Luna was separated from his pod and made friends with humans. Sadly, his life came to an end in a tugboat propeller collision in 2006. To learn about his story, watch the movies The Whale, or Saving Luna.
Make a difference! Take “The Pledge” not to buy a ticket to a marine park with captive dolphins!