It's easy to go online and purchase a ticket to one of Sea World's many parks or book a swim-with dolphins program for a Caribbean Vacation. But have marine park visitors ever asked how their beloved bottlenose dolphins get behind the glass tank? Since the questioning of marine life captivity many documentaries, articles, and books have published revealing the behind scenes of moving these animals from the wild to pools. The process of capturing and transporting dolphins for multibillion-dollar marine parks is simply unethical. The transportation of dolphins from sea to tank endorses the slaughter of thousands of dolphins, puts the animal's life at risk, and is made possible through the cooperation of multiple Asian Airlines making huge profits.
Where do these intelligent species come from? It's obvious that dolphins living in marine parks originally came from the ocean. A report from The Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums stated that only 36% of the dolphins in facilities are captured from the wild, while the remaining 64% were bred in a park or aquarium (Viegas). Capturing dolphins for entertainment purposes happens all over the world and is currently a legal practice in the United States. Despite being a legal act in the U.S., permits have not been issued since 1989 ("11 Facts about Dolphin Hunts"). The World Society for Protection of Animals states this is because " the unprecedented number of dolphin strandings over the last couple of decades that have made it unnecessary to take these marine mammals for the wild." Marine parks in the United States don't need to rely on it's own country's waters for these mammals, they can travel to other countries to import. Although dolphins are not on considered endangered or threatened by The Endangered Species Act, they are classified as "data deficient" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List (Weir).
There are many places around the world where dolphins are herded, but the most popular is Taiji, Japan. Fishermen there use a technique called "drive hunt." This technique involves herding dolphins into a single area by creating noise or explosives. After the dolphins are herded into the designated area they are roped off with netting. They are usually left over night and the following day representatives and trainers from marine parks all around the world enter the water to chose the best dolphins. The price of a trained dolphin varies from $32,000 USD to $250,000 USD. Dolphins that are captured in Taiji, Japan are shipped to Egypt, Mexico, Turkey, Dubai, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea, and the United States ("11 Facts about Dolphin Hunts"). Many marine parks like Sea World import dolphins but are unable to clarify whether their imports are from Taiji, Japan or not (Watson).
Dolphins that are not chosen are later on slaughtered. Fishermen use hand-held harpoons to kill the remaining dolphins. Killing a single dolphin can take up to thirty minutes. It is estimated that around 20,000 dolphins are herded during these drive-hunts ("11 Facts about Dolphin Hunts"). During one case of herding, if 250 dolphins are captured only around a dozen will be selected and transported to aquariums (Viegas). The dolphin meat is then sold all over Japan labeled as whale meat for consumption. Dolphin meat contains high levels mercury, methyl mercury, cadmium, DDT, and PCB's. These elements are extremely toxic to the human body when consumed. Not only are they being traded in the different parts of the Japanese market, but are being labeled as the less toxic whale meat. Taiji, Japanese fishermen claim this is a tradition in their culture and blame Western culture for not understanding this ritual. Since 1986 commercial whaling has been illegal by the International Whaling Commission, while dolphin hunting is still legal ("11 Facts about Dolphin Hunts").
Dolphins that survive the drive-hunt and are chosen for captivity are then prepped for the process of transportation. The most popular form of transporting dolphins is air travel. There are many cases where dolphins die before they are even loaded for transportation due to high stress and anxiety. Dolphins are highly intelligent and social beings that live their entire lives in family groups called pods. During drive hunts these pods are broken apart and mothers are separated from their calves for the selection process.
After selection happens dolphins are prepped to be loaded for transportation. Packing the dolphin starts by placing them in a sling and lowering them into a container with a damp, dense mattress. Lowering the dolphin can be done with a forklift or small crane if necessary (CITES). The dolphin is suspended by belts to support it's vital organs, which become vulnerable to obstruction when lifted out of it's weightless environment. The mattress is cut in different areas for the dolphin's fins to sit. Water is then added into the container so that one half up to two thirds covers the dolphin. The exposed skin of the dolphin is then laced with ointment like lotion called lanoline. Throughout the journey of the trip the dolphin will be sprayed with water to keep the skin from drying out. Special arrangements are made for pregnant dolphins, young nursing calves, or any other mammals with special needs. If dolphins are in advanced stages of pregnancy or are too young to go without a nursing for a long period of time, they are not permitted to travel. The container for traveling has specific standards for holding dolphins. Traveling containers must be made out of corrosion proof metal or a heavy duty plastic, able to withstand the weight of the animal and cannot leak. The container must be an adequate distance from the animal's flippers. Temperature must be monitored throughout the journey and adjustments of adding ice or heat need to be made based on the climate needs.
With all the requirements necessary for transporting a dolphin, dolphins still die during the process and travel time. Countries outside of the U.S. that import dolphins have been reported for severe brutality and ignore the policies put in place to safely move dolphins. In The Case Against Marine Mammals in Captivity published along side the Humane Society of the United States and the World Society for the Protection of Animals, authors wrote:
"Fierce debate continues over the issue of mortality rates and longevity, especially of whales and dolphins. The mortality data related to live captures are more straightforward - capture is undeniably stressful and, in dolphins, results in a six-fold increase in mortality risk during and immediately after capture (Viegas)."
The mortality rate of dolphins skyrockets after capturing and increases even more when they are placed in a strange container.
Dolphins use the sonar technique called echolocation. Echolocation is when a dolphin sends out a sound in the form of a click and the click reverberates back giving the dolphin information about its surroundings. Because dolphins rely heavily on this sense, they are extremely sensitive to frequency and sound. Scientists explain the use of sonar as a dolphin's ability to see, some even believe they are able to look into the mind's of other dolphins and detect certain emotions. Having the ability of echolocation, dolphins undergo high amounts of stress when they are induced to loud chaotic sounds or their sonar communication is misconstrued. Renowned dolphin veterinarian David Taylor made a statement that "there are noises in the sea as well." Although true, these noises are not confided to a single space echoing in a heightened manner and dolphins are not subjected to them constantly (Johnson). This is why drive-hunting works, the sounds of banging poles and explosives sends the dolphins fleeing in the opposite direction. In addition, dolphins experience great stress due to their inability to use echolocation properly in the containers they are placed in for travelling. Unless a dolphin is under special care, they are not sedated for the transportation process, leaving them alert to the noisy events occurring around them.
During transportation dolphins are unable to move for multiple hours at a time. Not being able to move for hours is another cause of stress for the dolphins in the transportation process. When the stretcher is fully wound for transportation dolphins often times go into a panic shock and are given Valium as a sedative to calm them for the trip. Being confined to such a small container for hours in a sling is like placing the dolphin in a straight jacket. In the wild dolphins swim up one hundred miles a day, this is not possible for dolphins when they go through a day of transportation. The weights of dolphins are equalized when they are in the water. For long periods outside of water, dolphins can feel like their body is crushing down upon itself. During one transport from Argentina to Germany, the trip took a detour to stop at the Mystic Marinelife Aquarium in Mystic, Connecticut. Upon arrival one of the female dolphins died within four and a half hours and a male dolphin died eight days later. Before death when the male dolphin was finally released into the larger pool from traveling, he was noted to dart erratically, hitting the barriers of the tank. This type of behavior is seen as "normal" for captivity neurosis after being introduced to the tank. In order to calm the dolphins, they are often times given a sedative. In this case, the male dolphin was treated with a sedative called Diazapam. After an autopsy done on the deceased male dolphin, handlers found pneumonia, gastro-enteritis, gastric ulcers, and pancreatic fibrosis. The immune system often times fails in dolphins during these transitions of high stress, causing the dolphin to get sick and ultimately die. This was not the only dolphin to die in the transportation from Argentina. Out of the eleven dolphins selected for the transportation to Germany, only two males survived (Johnson).
Transporting a dolphin is an extremely expensive affair. Some of the costs include paying a trainer, for the transportation of a trainer, paying the fishermen's business for the dolphin, paying for help to move the dolphin, and paying for the actual transportation of the dolphin. The main way of transporting a dolphin is through air travel since most of the locations that purchase dolphins are from out of the country selling. Airlines are the lifeline to this multibillion-dollar business, without the connecting plane dolphins wouldn't be able to sit in aquariums in land. Most airlines involved are from Asian countries, three major dolphin exporters are: Hong Kong Airlines, Singapore Airlines, and Air China. Between 2002 and 2012 Taiji fishermen caught and sold 1,203 dolphins for captivity. Of the 1,203 dolphins, fifty-six were sold to parks in Japan, leaving the 800 to be shipped to fourteen different countries. Some of the countries that accepted these dolphins were China, Korea, Ukraine, Iran, Turkey, and the Philippines. Airlines can make up to $50,000 to transport a single dolphin on a flight. In January of 2012, passenger airline Hong Kong Airlines made $109,000 in revenue over a seven-hour flight transporting five dolphins from Japan to Vietnam. After making such an incredible amount of money on one flight the airline sought interest in expanding transportation of dolphins. An employee disgruntled over the event, leaked the story to the China Daily. In response the airline received a massive amount of angry calls, online petition not to transport the mammals, and international fury. The company later confessed that they were "totally unaware of the complexities behind its shipment" (Kirby).
The Whale and Dolphin Conservation has written a total of 300 airlines to confirm they will not ship dolphins. Of the 300, only 34 airlines have responded some of the 34 include British Airways, Japan Airlines, Thai, Iberia, and Emirates. The first airline to create a no dolphin flying policy was airline Lufthansa Cargo. During a flight from Russia to Argentina two dolphins died, one including a pregnant female. The journey as a whole lasted fifty-four hours from tank to tank and included one beluga whale and four dolphins. It's no surprise that 266 of these airlines have not joined the petition to vow not to transport dolphins. From a business perspective, making up to $50,000 dollars on a single flight is a huge revenue that would be stupid to turn down. But even Hong Kong Airlines admitted that this task is no simple transportation. The driving force behind this continuing business is the gross amount of money these mammals bring in.
The most deceiving element in dolphin captivity is the dolphin's smile. The nature of the dolphin's upward-curving smile gives the illusion that these animals are constantly happy even if they are stressed out and miserable. Dolphin entertainment and interactive programs rely on the public believing that these mammals are happy to live in captivity. In order to keep this charade up, marine parks and aquariums are constantly shielding the public from negative stories about dolphins. These stories include dolphins dying prematurely in captivity, constantly being fed ulcer medication, intense sedatives, being injected with synthetic vitamins for floatation, breaking out in gruesome skin rashes from chlorinated water, and getting into brawls with other species that could be avoided in the wild.
Dolphins are unlike any other species, along with whales, they are extremely intelligent creatures. Most animals are born with innate qualities for survival and some even learn more qualities from their parents about migration, being aware of danger, predatory characteristics. Dolphins are able to do all of those, but more. They are capable of learning and passing on their knowledge to their companions. Pre-eminent scientist Lori Marino is well aware that what intelligence we know about a dolphin is just the tip of the iceberg. For instance Kelly is a dolphin that lives in a research center in the United States. Kelly has learned that she earns fish every time she helps clean her tank by bringing a piece of clutter to her trainer. After understanding the reward she is given, she found a small piece of paper, hid it under a rock in her tank and ripped pieces from the paper to earn multiple fish. From there she noticed that birds were coming to her tank hungry for her fish. Kelly used one of her fish to capture the bird and brought it to her trainer. She not only learned all of these strategies on her own but then taught them to her calf. The intelligence dolphins is remarkable and it's no wonder captive dolphins exhibit traits of insanity being forced to live in small, noisy quarters (WDC).
Dolphins' lives are lost during the capturing process, transportation is extremely risky and stressful, and airlines care more about making money than the wellness of dolphins. These mammals are far too intelligent to be held to captivity for their lives. In the wild dolphins can live into their fifties and some have even been documented to live far into their nineties. In contrast more than eighty percent of dolphins, whose age can be determined die before they reach twenty. The evidence of dolphin captivity and the risky process required placing them in aquariums is stacked against marine parks. Looking through a glass, the public doesn't see the process that occurs to get flipper into the tank and the ticket money that funds dolphin drive hunts around the world.