Tomorrow scientists will be testifying before the House Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife about marine mammals in captivity. Lately there’s been a lot of interest. There was the documentary The Cove, which for me was quite eye-opening. I had never realized how those dolphins came to the parks around the world. I guess I always believed that they had been injured in the wild and were saved by coming to the parks. I know that some are, but it can’t be denied that the slaughter off the coast of Japan happens in part because of public demand to see the animals in parks.
I remember growing up reading stories where they were brilliant, being used for experiments, spies, and more. In the Dragons of Pern books, dolphins were people’s companions–smart and helpful in establishing colonies. In Star Trek the whales were descendants of space faring cetaceans, smart and necessary to the survival of Earth.
I know that’s all fiction, but it seemed so obvious to me that these animals were at least as smart as we were–if not smarter for returning to the oceans and not working themselves into stress-related death like we do.
It amazes me that there are people who see them only as a way to get money. These are beautiful creatures, smart and playful who have saved human lives in the wild. One of my happiest memories was seeing dolphins swimming off the coast from a vacation house when I was little. They were so graceful.
I’m not 100% sure what should be done about marine mammals in captivity. I do think that the trainers at Sea World have the best intentions and that they do bond with their trainers. I don’t think that Sea World is evil. I do think that we need to re-evaluate our process. We need to look at whether we should keep smart mammals in captivity, whether it would be better to move them to viewable sea pens, or some other option. I’m not a marine biologist. But I do think that there is something wrong with a system that allows such atrocities as that cove off the coast of Japan.