Op-Ed: Why India Needs to Ban Dolphin Captivity Now, Before It’s Too Late

Renowned activist Ric O’Barry implores India to strike down recent proposals to open captive facilities in the country.
Dolphins in the wild, where they're free from captive-related suffering. (Photo: Photobotos/Getty Images)
Apr 27, 2013· 2 MIN READ
Laura Bridgeman is a Program Associate with the Earth Island Institute's Dolphin Project.

Ric O’Barry, former Flipper trainer and star of the Oscar-winning documentary The Cove, is asking that India take further steps to prevent the dolphin captivity industry from entering the nation.

“Since time immemorial, India has set the standard when it comes to having a compassionate attitude towards animals,” says O’Barry. “Enacting a ban on dolphin captivity will solidify their position as a global leader in animal welfare.”

As Director of Dolphin Project, O’Barry has worked for more than 40 years to end dolphin slaughter and exploitation. He is one of many renowned experts and scientists who are petitioning the Indian Minister of Environment and Forests, Jayanthi Natarajan, to implement a nationwide prohibition on dolphin captivity.

Natarajan is considering this prohibition in light of several captive facility proposals that are currently under review in the states of Maharastra, Kerala, and others.

Opposition to captivity in India has so far been vehement. Public demonstrations and campaigns have been accompanied by numerous anti-captivity stances assumed by major governing bodies.

In late 2011, the Wildlife Division of the Ministry of Environment and Forests condemned the Maharastra proposal, citing legal violations to the Wildlife Protection Act 1972.

Earlier this year the Animal Welfare Board of India issued an unprecedented nationwide advisory to all state governments against granting permission for captive dolphin displays. Just last month, the Central Zoo Authority has stated that it does not encourage the setting up of any captivity facilities in the nation.

These stances are supported by well-established indications that dolphin captivity is unethical and inflicts unnecessary suffering onto dolphins. Food deprivation, forced performances, and a complete lack of freedom contribute to significant stress and often premature death for captive individuals.

“The global captivity industry depends on its customers not knowing the truth about what goes on behind the bright lights and sensationalism,” says O’Barry, referring to the illusions that captive facilities construct in order to mislead customers into believing that the dolphins are “happy.”

The ethics of keeping animals captive for entertainment purposes is hotly debated around the world, with some nations already banning the use of wild animals in zoos.

However, the issue of keeping dolphins captive is particularly poignant since they are highly intelligent, emotional and sentient beings that are capable of great mental and physical suffering.

“Dolphins are very smart. They’re the only wild animal I’m aware of that regularly rescues humans who are in trouble,” O’Barry points out.

“They grieve for their lost offspring and companions. They have even been seen asking for help from humans. All of this shows their incredible sense of compassion and understanding towards others, yet we show them none in return when we keep them captive.”

O’Barry applauds Natarajan’s consideration of the ban on captivity, and hopes that she makes the decision that will save many dolphins from lives of suffering.

He says, “If even one captive facility is allowed to open shop in India, many more could follow. The demand for captive dolphins could skyrocket, which would negatively impact both wild and captive populations.”

Japan alone has more than 50 captive facilities, with most of these dolphins being caught from the wild during the infamous and bloody drive hunts in Taiji, Japan.

“The world is now looking to Minister Natarajan for leadership. Her decision to prohibit captivity in India will set a powerful precedent that could change the face of the animal welfare movement.”

Natarajan’s decision is expected within the next few weeks.

Follow dolphinproject.org for more details.

Do you think it's time for a global ban on animals held captive for human entertainment? Let us know in the Comments.

Laura Bridgeman is a Program Associate with Earth Island Institute's Dolphin Project. Her work focuses on raising public awareness of dolphin suffering through creating compelling educational materials, fostering grassroots actions, and maintaining a strong campaign presence through social media networks.