Cetacean Society International

Whales Alive!

Vol. IV No. 3 July 1995


CETACEANS IN CAPTIVITY: THE PROVOCATION CONTINUES

by Bill Rossiter, CSI President


"It is the position of Cetacean Society International that it is no longer justifiable for cetaceans to be captured or maintained in captivity for purposes of exhibition, research or education. There exists a moral imperative for cetaceans in captivity to be maintained in optimal conditions for their physical and social well-being and for efforts to be made for their rehabilitation and release."

This statement revises CSI's 1984 position on cetaceans in captivity and reflects apparently changing attitudes among members and the general public; we are a part of such changes more than merely responding to them. It must be noted that we have tried to find objective surveys on the issue, and one purpose of the CSI position is to provoke something definitive. We took the new position after three wide ranging discussions in as many months, with only one dissenting vote among the Board of Directors. We know that CSI's members represent a broad spectrum of opinion on captivity issues. The issue is gray, the opinions are black and white. Your opinion is as valuable as any, and we ask you to consider sharing it with us. You might think that we want war but we think that we're trying to help. The issue needs airing.

Statements must be terse and assertive, as above, but any expansion would include qualifiers. We do feel strongly that further wild captures are unnecessary. Advocates claim problems with inbreeding, but genetic diversity could be maintained among cooperative facilities. Behavioral science has demonstrated the interdependent bonds in wild cetacean social groups, suggesting the traumatic impact of captures on those rejected but free, as well as those taken. Some capture operations resemble rodeos, and few document the aftereffect on the target group, or even if they remain a group. Facilities need to ignore these concerns and justify their captures as necessary but not harmful. CSI doesn't. Where captive facilities and their advocates hold up the very best examples as representing the industry, we are reacting to the worst as examples of what the industry could change but prefers to ignore. CSI clearly puts the individual cetacean first, rather than the project, facility, or industry. A working stock for display will always be available from successful captive breeding programs, stranding rehabilitation efforts, and improved care for those individuals that could never be considered candidates for release. Release is a viable option for many individuals, but too often seen only as a threat by the industry. Indeed, the industry sees many threats, perhaps including this statement.

By asserting that captivity is no longer justified by entertainment, education, or research we clearly oppose those who strongly believe that it is. As clearly, we also intend to entice opinion from as many involved people as possible. We have informally surveyed everywhere we could, including posting the statement to the Internet marine mammal scientific network, MARMAM, the European Cetacean Society, and the alt.animals.dolphins newsgroup. Opinions flowed in. Facts did not. Everyone including eminent scientists selectively used assertions or assumptions that backed up often polarized opinions. Many cited opinions realized early on, just from being in the presence of a captive or free cetacean; intangible but potent education indeed. We all know the feeling. CSI still wants your opinion, and needs your facts.

Do you feel that cetacean captivity is justified by exhibition? Increasingly people seem to agree that it is not. Yes, that is an assertion, and we hope to provoke objective data one way or the other. The major draw to display facilities is for entertainment. Ask the family sitting in the stands or ask the staff waiting to answer questions. When does the show or presentation become educational? The best answer would come from impartially surveying the customers for what they have learned, or studying the material that they are presented with. CSI asserts that many educational presentations contain too much blatant self-promotion by the facility, and an almost subliminal message about human control or stewardship of other lifeforms. Too often, the message has some contestable or self-promoting detail about the species' life in the wild, such as longevity, infant mortality, or even dorsal fin droop. Not often enough the message may include the increasing problem of human impact. Unfortunately, much of the educational experience seems to be sloughed off or missed by the public; they didn't come for that, they won't take it home. It is increasingly evident that the current political attacks on environmental issues affecting cetaceans are not alarming the public; the display industry certainly hasn't taught them enough to care.

Research on captive cetaceans has provided an enormous range of knowledge for decades. I personally feel some captive research can be justified, but much is not. CSI's focus is on today's pressing problems, and tomorrow's solutions, in the real world. We can't know all captive research projects, and we ask for examples that would temper our absolute statement that it is no longer justified. Unfortunately this is insulting to some scientists; as we try to make appropriate judgements they hold that we have no right to judge at all. We also provoked some less than professional responses from people too close to the issue as we intruded into daily bread and ivory towers. More productive responses listed projects on biology, physiology, cognition and some critical research on problems like tuned reflectors to stimulate net avoidance. The issue of justified captive research is very active for CSI, and needs to be covered in a later "Whales Alive!". Give us facts to work with; we all have opinions, no one has enough information, but if we care enough we must judge.

Each of us must make a value judgement regarding the justification of any aspect of captivity. We need your judgement of our statement. CSI is not trying to release all cetaceans or close all facilities. We are working for improvements. We want change. We need your opinion and your facts on the issue. In the end CSI will benefit, but more importantly, so will the cetaceans we all care about.


Go to next article: Report on 1995 IWC Meeting or: Back to Contents.

© Copyright 1995, Cetacean Society International, Inc.