On Tuesday October 4, 2011, I went to hear Ric O’Barry speak. ACRES was hosting this open dialogue event with the dolphin-trainer-turned-activist. I wasn’t sure what to expect but was pleasantly surprised to see the overwhelming turn-out, the support everyone gave to the cause, and the standing ovation at the end of the night.
It gave us a chance to understand more about the issues at hand and the latest updates on ACRES’ campaign to free the remaining 25 wild-caught dolphins purchased by Resorts World Sentosa for their marine life park.
Dolphin hunting continues in several areas of the world, most notably Japan. In the Solomon Islands, dolphins have been hunted for meat for over 400 years. It was here that 27 bottlenose dolphins were captured in 1999 and were sold by Chris Porter to Resort World Sentosa (RWS). What we were told is that it was a non-violent catch of the entire pod, but no dolphin calfs were captured. Or at least no calfs were separated from the mothers. This point is a little fuzzy.
Since their capture, the dolphins have been fed dead fish, part of the systemic breakdown of their natural way of living in an attempt to tame and train them for their new role in Sentosa. Two dolphins died in October 2010 from infections. Undercover videos by ACRES have shown the appalling conditions under which they lived. They have since been moved to the Philippines, undergoing additional training in preparation for the marine life park.
ACRES has been campaigning to have the dolphins released, with a gathering momentum of support. Now Ric O’Barry who made the documentary “The Cove” has thrown his weight behind the issue and has promised to speak about the RWS dolphins wherever he goes. He has also reached out to RWS to offer the rehabilitation and release of the 25 dolphins into the wild. His experience includes the successful return of dolphins held in captivity for over 7 years and in his expressed opinion, these dolphins, as they have only been in captivity for two years, should have no trouble. Besides, if we can train a dolphin to catch a ball, surely we can teach one to catch fish.
The tone of the audience was supportive and curious as to how else we can help with the campaign, such as pressuring RWS and the government. Louis of ACRES has asked all of us to join their FB page Save the World’s Saddest Dolphins to show RWS that it’s not just a few activists stirring the pot. It’s important to keep the story front and centre in the media and not let it be swept under the rug. It was due to the tremendous international outcry (9000+ signatures) that made RWS abandon their plans of exhibiting whale sharks. We are all hoping for the same result for the 25 dolphins who continue swimming round and round in an enclosure, awaiting their fate.
What I was most surprised that night was the number of people asking about the welfare of dolphins in captivity. I guess some people believe (and it’s one of RWS’ points) that it’s safer for dolphins to be in captivity because in the wild dolphins face the dangers of being killed by whales or other dolphin hunters. I agree that the wild isn’t a safe place but it’s not the quantity of life, rather than the quality of life, that matters. If we all wanted to be safe, then perhaps we should all just stay home and not venture outside, in the streets, in our cars, and in planes.
Dolphins have a large home range, swimming some 113km in 10 days (as tracked by the Solomon Islands government). In captivity, dolphins are forced to swim in circles, rather than naturally in a straight line. The concrete tank is not only small but the soundscape is flat and devoid of interest, thereby depriving the dolphins of their primary sense, sonor.
The stress dolphins experience in captivity is well-documented. They are also the only animals in an aquarium/zoo who perform tricks for their food. Yes, we can all survive in captivity but just because we can doesn’t mean we should have to. Just because we can adapt doesn’t make it right. Imagine being in a house or even a mansion 24/7 and for the rest of your life? Not feeling the breeze or sun on your face. In an artificial environment, dolphins no longer feel the natural rhythm of the sea.
I don’t need to see a real live dolphin in an aquarium to appreciate their awesome beauty. I certainly don’t learn more about them by watching them do dog-and-pony tricks. In fact it saddens me to see them or any animal captive and what I learn is not more about the wild or the animals, but the cruelty of humans. I wonder if parents realize this is actually what they are teaching their kids. And as Ric O’Barry pointed out, acting out our desires is why our environment and planet are in the state they are in now.
I don’t understand what other arguments are needed to change the minds at RWS and all the people who think it’s okay. There were times during the evening that I was pushing back tears. Hearing about the dolphins is extremely difficult for me. It’s not anger, though many are. For me, it’s extreme sadness and a loss for how this is even possible.
I know change is in the air. We can all do our part and make a difference. RWS is a Malaysian company wreaking havoc on Singapore’s reputation. They are a consumer-dependent business and as consumers, we wield great power. What will you do as a Singaporean or Singaporean resident? As a consumer? And as a human being?