Recent photographs of you fin-shaking with a dolphin held captive against its will in a Cancun sea pen beg one question: have you seen the Oscar-winning documentary The Cove?
I’m assuming you haven’t.
I’m assuming you are blissfully ignorant about a kind man named Ric O’Barry and his forty-plus year quest to put an end to both the Japanese drive fishery slaughter of dolphins and the capture and live trade of dolphins to zoos and aquariums around the world.
Rather than condemn or villify—like some folks on Twitter—your unfortunate cetacean play-date, I'll choose to take the high road and educate you. Sharpen your pencil and pull up your chair, this is Dolphins Behind Bars 101.
1) 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.
2) 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 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 amounts to nothing more than the cruel deprivation of basic cetacean rights.
3) It isn’t totally safe to swim with captive dolphins. They are wild animals and all wild animals, even if they appear to be smiling at you, are still unpredictable creatures. They can be moody. And while injuries in ‘swim-with’ attractions are uncommon, they do happen. A dolphin can bite, ram, or otherwise hit a person.
4) What about educating children on dolphins? How would I do that without dolphinariums or places like Sea World? I’ll leave it to famed ocean explorer Jacques Costeau to explain: “No aquarium, no tank in a marine land, however spacious it may be, can begin to duplicate the conditions of the sea. And no dolphin who inhabits one of those aquariums or one of those marine lands can be considered normal.”
5) While a good number of dolphins in U.S. dolphinariums and zoos are born and bred in captivity, many dolphinariums and 'swim-with' programs in foreign countries still stock up by purchasing dolphins snatched from the wild. Many of these dolphins are taken during a barbaric ritual called drive-hunting. The most notorious drive-hunting spot on the planet is located in Taiji, Japan—the infamous Cove. As depicted in The Cove, Taiji fishermen lure between 1,500 and 2,000 dolphins into the shallows of the cove and separate out the ones deemed worthy of selling to an aquarium. The rest are bludgeoned to death with harpoons, with their meat then being sold in supermarkets. About 1,500 to 2,000 dolphins are killed in the cove each year as part of the country’s 20,000-dolphin quota.
If you truly wanted to spend the afternoon with a dolphin, head south on the Jersey turnpike to Cape May and buy a ticket for this dolphin watching tour.
For $30, you'll get to see pods of the second smartest mammal on the planet where they belong: free, swimming in the open ocean.
Anyone and Everyone Who Thinks This Must End