The Captive Industry

“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!

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About Brittany Hahn

I’m Brittany Hahn. I graduated from UCLA with a B.S. in Psychobiology, and am now attending veterinary school. I decided to start this blog so that I can tell people the things affecting the creatures that I care so much about. My hope is people will be touched after reading about my feelings of desperation about these ongoing cruelties, at least in some ways. It truly hurts me that our generation is so apathetic towards the sufferings of marine animals. I know that there are so many other horrible things in this world, but I think that if we all cared a little more, and if we all helped a little more, we could make this world a little brighter. It’s easier not to care, but that doesn’t mean that it’s right.
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2 Responses to The Captive Industry

  1. Orcinus Orca says:

    I’ve been involved in three different interspecies communications projects in my life and I can say with confidence that Cetaceans are intelligent and understand the concept language.

    What is really needed is a way to communicate, to be able to converse with this intelligence and learn more about it. Sign Language, fancy keyboards, and recorded whistles have been tried in various forms over the past thirty years with little to no real breakthroughs. It seems clear that these are not the way to go. Especially with a species whose primary sense is sound. Humans are primarily visual.

    The issue is *frequency* not language. First we have to be able to hear and speak to each other to communicate.

    The majority of Cetacean vocal / hearing range [ 20 Khz up to 250 Khz for some species ] is above the human hearing range [ tops out at 20-22 Khz ]. Humans are simply not designed to hear what Cetaceans are saying nor are Humans designed to speak in their range as well as the reverse being true. Because of this some technology is required for effective and useful communication to take place. Some sort of device that can translate between the Human hearing/vocal range and the Cetacean hearing/vocal range.

    Surprisingly enough such a device has been around since 1945 that could do this job with only a few simple modifications to its design and operation. It just has never been applied to this problem for some reason.

    Interestingly enough it just so happens that this is a Military Device too. Public Knowledge, I’m not revealing any Secret Info here.

    • Thank you for the information. It was really interesting to read. Cetaceans are incredibly intelligent — I hope this is common knowledge by now. The question isn’t if they communicate — it’s a matter of figuring out how to communicate with them.

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