“There is about as much educational benefit to be gained in studying dolphins in captivity as there would be studying mankind by only observing prisoners held in solitary confinement” – Jacques Cousteau
You may have remember a recent story here about an ongoing injustice in South Florida:
"The Miami Seaquarium keeps a prisoner in a watery cell twenty-three hours a day, bringing her out twice daily to perform for customers in the name of education and entertainment. She is an orca - an intelligent, sensitive marine mammal - and her name is Lolita. The crime for which she was ripped from her family and has been imprisoned for nearly 40 years, longer than Nelson Mandela's infamous stay on Robben Island: profitability."
Sadly, there's more.
Lolita is not alone in her plight. According to the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida (ARFF), “Florida is… still the biggest player in the marine park industry, with 13 attractions and 367 captive sea animals, more than any other state”.
(For more details about how to help end Lolita’s inhumane and illegal captivity, please visit www.savelolita.com and see the information at the end of this article)
Some facts about aquatic mammals held captive in marine parks:
- Tanks are kept clean with harmful chemicals rarely encountered in natural marine habitats. Because of high chlorine levels in their tanks, dolphins at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium in Florida were unable to open their eyes, and their skin began to peel off.
- In the wild, orcas and dolphins swim up to 100 miles per 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—but in tanks, the reverberations from their own sonar bounce off the walls, driving some dolphins insane
- The natural activity levels, sociality, hunting behaviors, acoustic perceptions, and indeed the very texture of small cetaceans’ (any of an order of aquatic marine mammals including whales, dolphins and porpoises) natural environments are severely compromised in captivity.
- Capture techniques cause intense stress, can be harmful and even fatal. Orcas and dolphins are harassed, terrorized, and chased until caught. Unwanted dolphins are thrown back. Some die from shock or stress; others succumb to pneumonia when water enters their lungs through their blowholes. Pregnant females may spontaneously abort babies. Some drown. Those who survive endure a life of captivity, never seeing their close-knit families again.
- The risk of dying increases six-fold in bottlenose dolphins during the first five days after a capture, and a similar mortality spike is seen after every transport between facilities. Every transport is as traumatic to a dolphin as a capture from the wild.
- Of at least 193 orcas held in captivity since 1961, 151 (78%) are now dead. The overall mortality rate of captive orcas is at least 2 ½ times higher than that of wild orcas. Their size and complex physical and social requirements cause them to suffer serious negative consequences when confined in tanks. Twenty-two orcas have died at SeaWorld parks since 1985: four young calves, others in their teens and twenties.
Less than 20 orcas are known to have survived more than 20 years in captivity; only two have survived in captivity for more than 35 years. One of these is Lolita.
Chicago is NOT a dolphin's natural habitat, and yet... - photo courtesy of wanderingone (flickr.com)
The Liability of Intelligence
A recent 76-page report by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) entitled The Case Against Marine Mammals in Captivity: The Fourth Revised Edition states, “One of the primary foundations for the moral and ethical arguments against keeping cetaceans in captivity is that they are intelligent. Ironically, it is their intelligence that has made these animals desirable for public display—their ability to understand human commands and learn complex behaviors or tricks has been exploited to provide humans with entertainment”. Studies involving dolphins indicate that they are at least as intelligent as great apes and human toddlers, demonstrating self-awareness and abstract thinking capabilities. The report puts this in perspective:
“…it can be argued that bottlenose dolphins have a level of understanding comparable to that of a two-year-old child, although the linguistic skills of cetaceans hint at intelligence far more developed. Locking two or three young children in a small room 24 hours a day—even one with a window and a dog for a companion during the day—would be considered child abuse. Yet confining dolphins in an equivalent space for their lifetime—with a human caretaker to interact with during business hours—is standard practice for dolphinaria and aquaria”.
While many marine parks claim to provide “educational programs”, the goals of for-profit facilities are to provide entertainment and make money. ARFF explains, “…justifications for marine parks as places of education and conservation have never stood up against examination. Traditional exhibits center on animals performing tricks that are exaggerated variations of their natural behaviors. These tricks prevent the audience from contemplating the barren concrete enclosures… Jacques Cousteau believed that captive dolphins are conditioned and deformed and bear little resemblance to dolphins living in freedom in the sea. It’s like studying human psychology only in prisons, which leads, obviously, to misinterpretations and absurd generalizations”.
Sadly, rather than learning about and gaining respect for the rich lives of these complex and fascinating animals, children come away from marine parks with an understanding that these beings are ours to dominate and exploit, as we do with countless other species of non-human animals.
The HSUS/WSPA report suggests, “The tide may be turning for captive marine mammals” as a result of growing public opinion against these facilities. In the United States, 13 dolphin exhibits have closed in the last fifteen years, while only four new exhibits have opened. In Florida, there was one closure and two openings.
ARFF reports, “As news gets out about traumatic captures, barren concrete tanks, high mortality rates, and aberrant – even dangerous – animal behavior, people are beginning to realize that hidden behind the dolphin’s “smile” is an industry built on suffering… people are becoming concerned about marine mammal suffering and uncomfortable at sea circuses. Citizens are now speaking out loudly that dolphins and whales belong in the ocean”.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) suggests, “Don’t visit parks or zoos that have captive marine mammals unless you are doing so to monitor the animals as part of a campaign. Encourage your local aquarium to stop breeding animals in order to make space for rehabilitating (and releasing) injured wildlife. Report poor conditions to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, leaflet at the park, write letters to the editors of local publications, and pressure officials to avoid subsidizing these facilities with taxpayer money. Support legislation that prohibits the capture or restricts the display of marine mammals”.
Today, Lolita continues to languish in her tiny tank, but you can help her find freedom. On Saturday August 8, 2009 from 12 noon until 2pm, there will be a Walk for Lolita in Key Biscayne, FL. Here are the details:
Walk for Lolita, Saturday, August 8
12 Noon until 2 PM
Please join demonstrators on August 8th from 12 Noon until 2 PM for the Walk for Lolita to express your concerns for Lolita's terrible living conditions and support her retirement plan to a protected bay pen in Washington state.
The Walk will start at the first beach after the toll booths and end at the entrance to the Seaquarium's parking lot.
We will be offering body painting to gain media attention. The greater the number of people with body paint, the more attention the media will pay to Lolita. Anyone who would like body paint should meet at Shelby's condo on 92nd and Collins before the walk to get sprayed. The paint will dry in 15 minutes and be fine for the short ride to the Seaquarium and will wash off in the shower with soap and water.
We hope for a high attendance on this Walk so the news media will take notice and honor Lolita on the date of her capture.
Please pass the word on to friends and family and visit the new Lolita website at SaveLolita.com. We hope to see you there!
How to protest for Lolita:
When you come to the demo, park in the FREE parking at the beach on the right hand side of the road before the Seaquarium; do NOT pay the Seaquarium to park. If you have any questions feel free to contact Shelby Proie at 412-983-0994. Thanks and we hope to see you Saturday August 8th!
"The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated" - Mahatma Gandhi