Cetacean Society International

Whales Alive! - Vol. XI No. 3 - July 2002


Cetaceans in Captivity: The "Wall of Death"

By William Rossiter


The Wall of Death was created to show how many cetaceans have died in captivity. The Wall displays the absolute result of an industry that profits from human ignorance. For decades it was only homemade collections of dolphin silhouettes displayed at press conferences, campuses, meetings, and demonstrations. Each card had a name, and often a date and location. Now the Wall of Death is available on the Internet, at http://www.captivitystinks.org/. After exhaustive effort by Carl Dortch, the Director of Lolita's Legion (http://www.geocities.com/tokitae/), this modern Wall of Death now includes all mortalities listed in the latest official US Marine Mammal Inventory Report, and many historic and unofficial records as well. A recent addition was Winnie, about 26, who died at SeaWorld San Antonio in April, after less than three years at the display. Haida, about 21, died there last year from a brain fungus. Six other orcas have died there since it opened 14 years ago. Three remain. To keep up with such statistics the Wall will be in constant growth as many more names, countries and species are added, and experts construct a well-rounded scientific background resource. If you have doubts that cetaceans suffer in captivity check out this web site. Accept that the download time may be long; it is worth the wait.

Dolphins and whales in captivity evoke different reactions in people. CSI's position is based on moral and ethical grounds only, without a rationalizing overlay of "education", "science", entertainment, self-help, or profit. After much review, we know that the educational and scientific values purported from captive display are shams. We believe that entertainment and self-help do not justify another creature's suffering. We reject profit as obscene justification. To CSI captivity cannot be justified, except to care for those cetaceans that cannot be released to the wild. Essentially, it comes down to the price the whales, dolphins and porpoises pay for being captive. They are sentient creatures; they know they are captive and may know that they will die in captivity. Is it worth it? So how many have died? No one knows. The industry itself does not know the true numbers, because it is a statistic that only works against them. The industry has fought consistently to keep the records away from public and even government scrutiny. As an example of stretching principle for protection, the Smithsonian Institution's National Zoo has taken the position that viewing animal medical records would violate the animal's right to privacy, and be an intrusion into the zookeeper-animal relationship. We await the same silly argument from cetacean displayers. But whether or not we agree, right or wrong or in shades of gray, the industry is here to stay. In some aspects, like swim-with programs or Dolphin Assisted Therapy, business is booming.

Mexico's seven La Paz dolphins still suffer the noonday sun in one of the world's worst display facilities, while the central government appears to be struggling to do the right thing against the political power of the governor of Baja California Sur to keep the dolphins for local tourism and votes. COMARINO, the Mexican organization central to the fight to free these dolphins, recently held a very public demonstration (see photo below) before the Mexico City headquarters of the Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT). The crowd of 250 protestors attracted excellent media interest, and prompted private meetings with officials who seem to want to give COMARINO's ready crew an opportunity to rehabilitate the dolphins. There is a growing awareness within Mexico of the shame the La Paz dolphinarium has brought to the nation, but will it be in time to prevent another death?

Demonstration in La Paz, Mexico
Photo courtesy Dr. Yolanda Alaniz

Kshamenk, the Argentine orca that may create a government scandal if his CITES Export Permit is ever signed (see the April Whales Alive!), still lolls in Mundo Marino, which has taken a few, slow steps towards completing an application for export, very wary of the building controversy. However, his intended mate, captive born Shouka, has already been imported from Antibes Marineland, France, to Six Flags, Ohio.

Japan's Osaka Aquarium may have exported a Pacific whitesided dolphin to Canada's Vancouver Aquarium in July, 2001 without the required CITES permit, prompting a visit during the recent IWC meeting by Annelise Sorg, of Canada's Coalition For No Whales In Captivity. Osaka's five captive dolphins had a "cottage cheese" type of skin disease, even worse than the five bottlenose dolphins and one Commerson's dolphin kept at the aquarium in Shimonoseki, where two harbor seals appeared to be covered with yellow-green algae. Because of the disease, one of the Osaka dolphins' dorsal fins had been crudely amputated; it looked like the top part of the fin had been torn off. She also learned that in 2001 three dolphins had given birth. The first calf died within ten days, the mother then attacked and killed the other two calves within days of their births. The third mother died shortly after her firstborn calf. There was no explanation from Osaka's staff why the first mother was not separated from the other two, or whether such behavior had happened there before over Osaka's ten-year experience with captive dolphins. As Annelise said: "Yes, captivity kills. But first you go insane".


Go to next article: Report From Peru or: Table of Contents.

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