Cetacean Society International

Whales Alive! - Vol. XV No. 3 - July 2006

Cetacean Captivity Update

By William Rossiter

Captive cetacean issues deserve an update. The business is always a major focus for CSI, but we don't have space for much more than a sample. Let's begin with our frustration with the main problem: how does CSI, or any other organization, reach the tourists, the ticket buyers. Their money fuels a worldwide and explosive market of exploitation and suffering, almost all in the name of entertainment. To a fault we can't understand why people ignore the consequences their entertainment demands, why they are so gullible as to believe that captive dolphins are actually smiling, or why they don't question how and why the dolphins are in the tanks.

What we need is some sophisticated advertising and marketing, something to compete with the glossy promotions that show smiling children being towed, or "smiling" dolphins groveling around customers in some "swim-with" facility. If you are expert at selling or promoting we need you to help us get the message across not to buy the ticket. It's a tough sell; peoples' eyes glaze over when they talk of their experience swimming in a tank with dolphins. It's magic; people spend fortunes to give their children the best birthday ever. It's desperation; people have spent their savings paying for their suffering loved ones to receive "dolphin assisted therapy" (DAT), without clinical proof that it's worth a fraction of the cost. More later on DAT, the modern equivalent to old fashioned snake oil remedies. Can you help us unsell the tickets?

The Japanese dolphin drives, as reported in October, 2005 and April, 2006's Whales Alive!, are "justified" by providing profits from dolphins sold for captive display worldwide. Seven survivors from the Taiji Fishing Cooperative's efforts to slaughter an officially permitted 2,380 dolphins by April were recently sold to a facility in Dalian, China, for about US$350,000 total. The monetary price included some basic training, but the price to local populations is incalculable. Undercover video of the shipment to China should be available at http://www.BlueVoice.org/ as you read this, the courageous work of an advocate, supported in part by CSI, CSI Board Member Deb Adams, the Humane Society of the US, and the Animal Welfare Institute.

The drives are grossly efficient; as many cetaceans as possible are driven by noise into shallow bays to wait in a sea of blood until they are killed one by one with knives and spears. A few are selected during the killing, and those that prove trainable enter the display market. The rest can be found in supermarkets, pet food and fertilizer.

Another rationale for the dolphin slaughter has been that killing off the cetaceans gives fishermen more fish to catch, an attempt to cover up destructive overfishing by humans that has nearly wiped out the industry in places. But because of fears that the fish also are contaminated the government has manipulated the media to limit public knowledge of contaminated cetacean meat. Many Japanese are very concerned with the safety of their food. Both fishermen and officials are very concerned that the public will link contaminated cetacean meat with fish, and not buy either unless tested and certified contaminant-free. Not only would that be expensive, but what will happen when many tested commercial fish show contamination?

The Japanese believe that the drives are morally and ethically right, an appropriate way for a resource-poor island nation to maintain its security, culture and heritage. External attempts to adapt the culture to the realities of a shrinking planet and exploding human population will continue to meet extraordinary resistance, as with efforts to stop whaling. This is just human nature. Much of the rest of the world may be appalled and disgusted, but the Japanese in general are not concerned with the numbers of whales and dolphins killed, or how, or why. The key is their cultural perspectives about using natural resources, and the problems they present to the rest of the world spread far beyond the dolphin drives or whaling.

So what's wrong with the Alliance? The Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums, which many people think of as SeaWorld plus some others, actually supports the drives! CSI was mistaken in October's newsletter when we commended the Alliance for opposing the drives; we didn't read what the Alliance really said closely enough: "The methods used in the Japanese drive fisheries to kill animals after they are herded to shore are, to our eyes, inhumane and should be stopped."

By omission the Alliance supports the Japanese drives as a legitimate source of dolphins for future acquisitions by the display industry, accepts the killing of the hundreds that remain, ignores many humane issues and population level effects, and supports the Japanese rationale that destroying coastal populations of dolphins and whales will improve fisheries production by eliminating competition (an argument discounted by many scientists). The Alliance position even appears to support the old argument that the captivity market at least saves some of the dolphins from slaughter, which was touted years ago by at least one Alliance facility that had purchased drive survivors. Taiji's fishermen laugh at this, confirming instead that the profit from dolphin sales justifies the drives, and the drives might not continue without the captivity sales.

Why is the Alliance supporting the drives? One obvious conclusion is that they believe the drives will provide necessary replacements for their members, or they simply object to any restrictions on the industry. It should be noted that the Alliance is politically powerful, responsible for weakening many major laws that affect their activities (such as the MMPA), and limiting the authority of NMFS.

The American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA), in sharp and welcome contrast declared in 2004: "The AZA strongly believes that the killing of dolphins and whales in drive fisheries is inhumane and should be terminated immediately."

The World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) in 2004 had also adopted the following strong resolution: "Members must adhere to the WAZA Code of Ethics and Animal Welfare and ensure that they do not accept animals obtained by the use of methods which are inherently cruel. An example of such a practice is the catching of dolphins by the use of a method known as `drive fishing'."

However, the Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums (JAZA), a member of WAZA, refused to stop members from buying or selling drive hunt dolphins. The Taiji Whale Museum is a member of JAZA. The non-WAZA Japan Cetacean Conference on Zoological Gardens and Aquariums even encourages the buying of more dolphins from the Taiji drive fishery.

Karen Sausman, WAZA President, in June 2006 wrote the following "Dear Colleagues" letter to members: "It has been brought to my attention that the inhumane practice of collecting dolphins through drive fisheries operations is continuing. As you know the WAZA Council and membership passed a resolution at our annual general meeting in Taipei in 2004 condemning the capture of dolphins through `drive fisheries.' While the vast majority of its members are not involved, it would appear that at least several members of the JAZA have conducted `drives' and/or accepted dolphins captured by drive operations, specifically through the Taiji Dolphin Drive, which the Japanese government currently regulates.

"I would remind all our colleagues to review the WAZA Code of Ethics & Animal Welfare. Our Code is quite clear in requiring members of WAZA to ensure that all of the animals in their care are treated with the utmost care and that their welfare should be paramount at all times. In addition to the animals in our care, our Code of Practice also addresses acquisition of animals for our institutions and specifically condemns cruel and nonselective methods of taking animals from the wild.

"I will be writing to the Japanese Government directly to express WAZA's condemnation of this inhumane practice and urging them to immediately terminate the dolphin drives. I shall, of course, also be writing to our colleagues at the Japanese Association of Zoos & Aquariums to enlist their support in ending the Taiji Dolphin Drive and any other such activities of this nature. I shall remind them that, as members of WAZA, it is in direct violation of the Code of Ethics and Animal Welfare that they have signed, to accept dolphins collected by a drive fishery operation or to be in any way connected with dolphin drive activities."

Make no mistake about it, this is a commendable statement by WAZA, even including direct advocacy with the Japanese government. WAZA may be ignored, as Japan has ignored the IWC, CITES and a host of other international efforts to constrain the nation's war on nature, but WAZA is really trying. CSI hopes to report in October on other steps being taken to bring an end to the drive fishery, or at least the international market that supports it.

The Solomon Islands captive bottlenose dolphins (see October 2003 Whales Alive!) are slowly dying off. Apparently about 20 still survive at the Marine Mammal Education Centre's facility on Gavutu Island, 30 miles NE of the nation's capital, Honiara. Guards prevent close observations, but at least 22 dolphins have died since they were captured in 2003. The highly promoted Centre's tourist market never happened, and there have been no known sales since the July 2003 debacle that embarrassed CITES and the Mexican government with an illegal shipment of 28 dolphins to Parque Nizuc in Cancun, Mexico, where at least six are known to have died. The Centre's remaining dolphins' medical care is unknown, and they may be kept alive on thawed-out frozen fish.

As a reminder, Chris Porter, a former sea-lion trainer with the Vancouver Aquarium, in 2003 put together funding from international entrepreneurs to start two companies, the Solomon Islands Marine Mammal Education Centre and Marine Export Ltd. The goal was a dolphin export business and a tourist resort in Solomon Islands, far from international scrutiny. They all thought there would be minimal problems catching and training local dolphins, and selling them to a growing market.

CSI was among the many who responded to stop what was happening, but we all were too late. We found no official help with Mexico, as the powerful owner of Parque Nizuc relied on speed and government friendships at the highest level to break Mexican laws. The environmental agency SEMARNAT was hesitant and embarrassed at best. We protested as two typed lines by a Solomon Islands official were accepted by an embarrassed and toothless CITES Secretariat. Their refusal to challenge a submarginal "Finding of Non-Detriment" may have lowered the bar for worldwide imports of many species and populations that will suffer as a result.

But it is fair to say that Solomon Islanders look at dolphins differently than the Western world. As TIME Australia reported: "Every January, after the trade winds have dropped, scores of men from remote villages on the east coast of Malaita paddle their canoes up to 10 km out to sea. When they spy the fins and breaching motion that signifies a pod of dolphins, the men raise a signal flag, converge behind the animals and begin to pound rocks together underwater. The panicked creatures flee into the shallows where they are caught by hand, taken back to a village and killed and eaten. Their heads are cut off and their teeth pulled out and made into necklaces which double as local currency. Says Malaitan Robert Maemae, `We believe we are coming from the dolphin. The dolphin is our master in our custom. We talk to the dolphins. We use the teeth to pay bride price.' (A tooth can fetch up to A50 cents depending on where it is sold across the islands; a dolphin may have up to 98 teeth.)"

As Porter's pressures continued to stymie the Solomon Islands' government, Earth Island Institute stepped in. EII has developed their "Dolphin-Safe Tuna" label into a powerful international conservation tool to ensure that dolphins were not captured with tuna. In 2004, EII negotiated an agreement with the Solomons' fishing company, Soltai, to support a ban on live dolphin exports. The Solomon Islands government made the ban into law in November 2005. Porter is in court asking, on the surface, to be allowed to move the dolphins to where he can regain some maintenance expenses. It is more likely he just wants to keep selling dolphins. Everyone who cares about dolphins should thank EII for their initiative in the Solomon Islands, but remain alert for Porter's next move. Many locals want him to go away, but only so that the traditional dolphin slaughters for bridal teeth can continue without so many outsiders watching.

The Beluga Trail currently leads to Sea World of Florida, which has applied to import three adult male beluga whales from Marineland of Canada in Ontario, although the captive-born individuals they list are still immature. The request was forecast as inevitable when the Georgia Aquarium received an import permit last October to import two belugas from La Feria in Mexico City, but that was for the humane rescue of those whales from a horrific situation, not simple profit. Casper, the more ill beluga, has shown recent improvement, thanks to efforts by the Georgia Aquarium, but is not out of danger.

Marineland is a massive breeding farm for cetaceans, with tourist shows almost an afterthought. Orcas are another specialty, recalling the death of Junior, an Icelandic orca that languished for years and died without seeing sunlight in the secretive "warehouse" where other cetaceans are rumored to be housed today. Marineland has 30 belugas, all but four wild-caught. They are there to breed more belugas for Marineland's future sales. Sales of wild-caught belugas are much more controversial, Canada is not likely to approve more captures, and US belugas may be the next targets for capture.


Many at Marineland came from ongoing, controversial and inhumane Russia operations, one of the other ends of the beluga trail. These Russian belugas, above, were offered for sale to CSI and many others in 1998. Are any now at Marineland of Canada? Some belugas then were leftovers from the cancelled military and science programs, but since the 90's captures of wild belugas have continued in Russia. The photo below shows some of the belugas currently for sale in Vladivostok, which has been busy supplying all the belugas displayed in Asia. One beluga simply vanished en route to Egypt. Video evidence and eye-witness testimony have documented inhumane events. NMFS is aware that import requests for ex-Russian belugas would support a business with reported Russian mafia links, and that may be impacting the survival of populations. CSI will be among the many to put all our resources into the battle to stop any imports of ex-Russian belugas to the US.


Shona died in March. The 36 year-old common dolphin was the last captive dolphin in New Zealand but one, near the grateful end to a graceless era. Her determined survival, as so many others died around her, is testimony both to her incredible resilience and to the astonishing exploitation of dolphins that fed Marineland's shows for decades. The widow of one of Marineland's managers was moved to recall that captured dolphins had "died like flies", two buried in her back yard. A 1980's Department of Conservation (DoC) report had found that six out of ten dolphins captured had died or had to be returned to sea, in an era before adequate rehabilitation was an option, or intent. Some released dolphins washed ashore dead soon after. Marineland displayed common dolphins, a species which even modern facilities find marginal because they just do not do well in captivity. The tourist-dependent businesses of Napier could not stand to see the money die along with Shona. They have spent months trying to get the Department of Conservation to approve a permit for replacement dolphins, recently submitting a supporting petition with 19,000 signatures.

Swim With The Dolphins (SWTD) is a growth industry sweeping the world almost unchecked. Driven by deep human desires and enormous profit potential new facilities are being built so fast that governments and locals don't know what hit them. Cruise ships promote dolphin swims during brief and intense island stopovers, and the travel industry can't keep up with the options.

So what's wrong with people having a little fun, and living lifelong dreams? If you care about the underlying exploitation, of the people as well as the dolphins, you will support CSI's view that there is a great deal wrong with the industry.

It's all about word choices. The poster below is the work of Belize's Hugh Parkey Foundation, which used "education" and "conservation" to get the Belize government's approval for dolphins at the Spanish Bay Resort, a recent example of SWTD facilities. The government in June approved the Resort, despite intense opposition from local citizens, environmentalists and the Belize Audubon Society. Tourists will spend US$100 for a twenty minute experience in the water with a dolphin. The Foundation claims the money will support research. Immediately after the permit the Foundation imported four dolphins from Anthony's Key Resort, a dolphin amusement park in Roatan Honduras.

Dolphin show poster

What's wrong with DAT? Dolphin-Assisted Therapy (DAT) is used to promote interactive dolphin displays worldwide, but has not been proven to provide significant help to overcome a number of human psychological disorders. Such long-term help has been medically documented for Animal Assisted Therapy using many other animals, but CSI is unaware of any reputable study documenting that DAT "overcomes" disorders, that is, provides medically substantiated, long term rehabilitation and healing. Until there is, DAT remains a faith-based medical treatment. Even if DAT finally is proven to have long-term therapeutic value, because it uses dolphins it will always have extraordinary ethical and conservation implications.

Because its easy profits attract powerful entrepreneurs, DAT has become a political and social force that must be viewed from a worldwide perspective. DAT facilities are appearing everywhere; a true growth industry. No one knows how many there are, what "standards" they use, how many people have been injured, or how many dolphins have died because of them. The hyped promotion of DAT has enabled the capture and associated slaughter of dolphins from vulnerable or unstudied populations, caused governments to permit inadequate facilities or fail to enforce laws, and rendered CITES Non-Detriment Findings impotent.

DAT facilities range from sophisticated and shiny to plastic-lined holes in jungle ground. CSI has tracked portable displays that trucked dolphins into remote regions, fleeced poor families with exorbitant "therapy" fees, and vanished before authorities arrived to shut them down. Dolphins have been abandoned as well; where did their replacements come from?

What's wrong with DAT? Besides causing the capture of many dolphins from unregulated waters and unstudied populations, it leaves behind a wake of destruction and is a gross exploitation of desperate people seeking cures for loved ones. To end this article as we started it: the real problem is convincing the potential DAT clients that clinically, dolphins are no better for therapy than kittens, dogs, and many other animals, but the dolphins pay a much higher price to be there, and so do the patients.

Go to next article: Cetacean News or: Table of Contents.

© Copyright 2006, Cetacean Society International, Inc.

URL for this page: http://csiwhalesalive.org/csi06303.html