Heartbreaking Images of Dolphins in Drained Aquariums the Result of ‘Routine’ Practice, Says Ric O’Barry

The cruel and unusual cleaning method occurs at all ‘51 dolphin abusement parks in Japan,’ says ‘The Cove’ star.

Photo: Huang-Ju Chuan/Taiwan

Oct 22, 2012· 1 MIN READ
Salvatore Cardoni holds a political science degree from the George Washington University. He's written about all things environment since 2007.

"This is horrific." "Omggggg." "Terrible." "This makes me sick."

These are but a handful of the voluminous Internet comments made about a dolphin photograph that's been circulating over the past 24 hours.

Snapped by Chinese photographer Huang-Ju Chen, the undated photo depicts a dolphin lying on the bare floor of an aquarium tank in Japan while workers clean grime and goop off the walls.

"I was shocked at how the staff ignored the dolphin and didn't seem to be in any hurry to refill the pool," said Huang-Juto to Mongabay.

MORE: Does Strapping a Gun to a Dolphin's Head Sound Ethical?

While people on the Internet were incensed, the practice of draining aquarium tanks is apparently quite common.

"What you see in these two videos is routine tank cleaning. It goes on at all of the 51 dolphin abusement parks in Japan at least once a month—sometimes twice a month in the summer," says Cove star Ric O'Barry.

O'Barry was commenting on two YouTube videos of other, similar tank cleanings, seen here and here.

"They drop the water and scrub away the algae, then hose the tank down, then raise the water back up. This goes on here in the USA, in Europe, and everywhere else dolphins are held in tanks."

The key phrase in O'Barry's comment is "held in tanks."

In the open waters of the boundless ocean, a free, wild dolphin can live up to 50 years.

A caged dolphin, on the other hand, circles its tiny tank without purpose—often to the point of depression and suicide.

Even in the largest aquarium facilities, captive dolphins have access to less than 1/10,000 of 1 percent (0.000001) of the swimming area available to them in their natural environment.

Compare and contrast this to the fact that some wild dolphin pods can swim up to 100 miles a day hunting for food, and you'll begin to grasp why holding one captive in a tank—be it one with water or one where the water is temporarily drained—amounts to nothing more than the cruel deprivation of basic cetacean rights.

Do you think the practice of cleaning a tank by draining the water so that a dolphin is forced to lie on the concrete is cruel? Tell us in the comments.