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How are dolphins and whales different from other animals?

Dolphins, whales and porpoises- or cetaceans- are marine mammals that are highly intelligent and self-aware. Their large, complex brains allow them to form unique social bonds, problem solve, empathize and communicate with each other. The encephalization quotient (ratio of brain size to body size) of dolphins is only second to humans!

Aren’t dolphins safer in captivity than in the ocean?

Captive dolphin facilities argue that the ocean is a dangerous place and that the animals are much safer and happier in their tanks. Think about this claim though. If we were given the option to go out into the world with its threats of pollution, violence, terrorism, car accidents, and disease, or to stay safe but imprisoned, which would you choose?


These animals also face a lot of dangerous elements that they wouldn’t be subjected to in the wild? For example, the 139 dolphin and whale deaths at Sea Life Park were reported to National Marine Fisheries Service with causes of death such as jumping out of tank, drowning, suffocation, death during capture, failure to thrive, trainer error, trauma, undetermined, capture related, killed by another dolphin, food poisoning, and foreign object ingestion. This facility was also subject of an alleged animal abuse scandal in the 1990s, after former employees claimed the animal curator at the time had punched and kicked pinnipeds, including one of Hawaii’s endemic and endangered monk seals, and drained a pool on a dolphin before inflicting wounds by beating it with a pole. It’s safe to say that these animals would have never been subjected to these types of deaths and injuries in the wild.

Don’t these dolphins contribute to critical research?

Some facilities do allow their animals to be used for research, claiming it can be applied to fellow members of their species in the wild. A lot of this research is quickly de-validated because the confined environment the animals are subjected to alters their natural behavior. It could be compared to studying the behavior of humans who have been locked inside a building their entire lives and using it as a representation of our species. This is why most research done in captive facilities is actually husbandry research and relates to finding better ways to keeping these animals alive in a captive environment.

What does attending dolphinariums have to do with slaughtering dolphins?

Many dolphins in dolphinariums around the world have been acquired from a Japanese drive fishery in the town of Taiji, featured in the Academy Award winning documentary The Cove. In this town, from September to spring, hundreds of dolphins that pass by its shores are herded into a cove by fishermen. The use long poles to bang on the ocean floor, scaring the dolphins. Once trapped in the cove, the "prettiest" ones of the right age are sold to marine parks, the rest are slaughtered, considered pests that are consuming too much fish. Although the USA no longer directly participates in acquiring animals from these fisheries and only one surviving cetacean is left in the USA that originated from one. Despite this, attending dolphinariums in the USA- or anywhere else- still contributes to the high demand for these animals. The multi-billion dollar industry created by swim-with-dolphin programs is so successful that it's being copied all around the world by many who are perfectly okay with buying these animals from drive fisheries. It also continues to add to the facade that keeping these animals in tanks for our entertainment is what's best for them, with some US dolphinariums going as far as claiming they're a "wildlife sanctuary" while keeping the offspring of dolphins they themselves violently captured from the wild in the 80s.


Although some money is made off dolphin meat, the majority of drive fishery profit comes from selling the most attractive looking dolphins to the dolphinariums. The dolphins you see when you attend dolphin shows or participate in swim-with-programs are dolphins that were either violently captured from the wild or are the offspring of ones that were.

HOW IS the ISSUE OF THE Japanese KILLING dolphins and whales ANY DIFFERENT THAN WESTERN COUNTRIES KILLING cows, pigs and chickens?

Cows, pigs, chickens and other “meat” animals have been domesticated both in the west and within Japan, and they are bred and raised in controlled environments. Dolphins and whales however, are wild animals.

Taking them out of the wild in large numbers has negative effects on the marine ecosystem, such as behavioral changes in prey and prey overpopulation.

It is true that cows, pigs and other domesticated animals face inhumane treatment in the west and is definitely an issue within itself, but pointing out one wrongdoing does not correct another.

What can we do to replace dolphin drive hunts economically?

Ecotourism is a great alternative to drive hunts, such as dolphin and whale watching and coastal cruises. A single slaughtered dolphin in Taiji can bring in a couple thousand dollars, but a single full dolphin watching trip could potentially bring in much more.

As one example, manta rays were heavily fished in the Maldives, Indonesia and Philippines for their gill plates bringing them close to localized extinction. When the killing of mantas was replaced with ecotourism, local incomes increased greatly and the communities earned a very positive reputation worldwide!

Is killing dolphins and whales really part of Japan’s culture?

Some coastal communities in Japan have indeed hunted whales for hundred of years, similar to whaling communities in Norway, Iceland and the Inuit population of Canada. However, it is only Japan that sends out fleets of large whaling vessels to the far Antarctic seas, processing whales in a factory-like fashion. Furthermore, the practice of sending fleets to far seas only started in the 1930’s and 1940’s, and continues to this day by order of the Japanese government and is funded by Japanese tax payers.

Dolphin fisheries are also historically cultural to some coastal communities in Japan but the volume that is is done in current times is also factory-like. Some fisheries, like Taiji pursue dolphins to sell them to aquariums, which can bring in as much as $200,000 for a single dolphin. Selling dolphins to aquariums for profit is not a part of Japanese culture.


Very few Japanese people consume whale and dolphin and there is no new significant science to be gained from hunting whales in such large numbers. There are many other beautiful parts of Japanese culture found throughout the country, but Antarctic whaling and dolphin hunting are not part it; they are very damaging to the country’s international image.

If the practice of keeping cetaceans in captivity is so horrible, why is it legal in most countries?

Public opposition continues to grow towards the captive marine mammal industry, particularly when it comes to cetaceans. As we learn more about what is required of these animals to survive in a dolphinarium, an increasing number of groups and individuals are beginning to realize the practice of keeping cetaceans captive is irrefutably unethical.

IN THE USA, These parks are monitored by the United States Department Of Agriculture and they do frequent inspections. Wouldn’t they shut the park down if they found unacceptable conditions?

Unfortunately not. South Florida’s Sun-Sentinel investigation summed it up pretty perfectly when they wrote, “the federal government is slow to enforce laws meant to protect marine mammals and has allowed violators to continue operating for years even after documenting contaminated water, starvation or deaths.” Inspectors sometimes visit parks only once in three years and problems cited are rarely followed up on.

Examples: Laukani at Sea Life Park died after three days in labor. In the previous 15 months, Sea Life Park had been cited four times by federal inspectors for failing to provide their marine mammals with proper veterinary care. When the federal inspector checked on the park after Laukani’s death she found that “at no point during her travail did she receive any on-site veterinary examination or treatment. The egregious lack of concern for this animal’s extended distress, pain and suffering does not constitute adequate veterinary care.” Laukani is one of 139 dolphins and whales that have died in Sea Life Park’s care.

To make matters worse, members of the captive marine mammal industry fought hard to weaken regulations further. In 1994, they put an end to the National Marine Fisheries Service being able to inspect and even enforce their parks. This made USDA federal inspectors even more overwhelmed with the amount of facilities they’re responsible for keeping an eye on and gave the parks stronger control of what information could be released to the public.

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