Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Cost of Captivity

Fun fact: worldwide, most of the dolphins in dolphinariums, swim with dolphins programs* and parks like (and including) Sea World come from Taiji. For every dolphin taken into captivity, many more are slaughtered.

In Taiji itself, it's even more awesome: the swim with dolphins program is held in the cove. So after they spend months in pens being trained, they're brought back to the place they saw their family members brutally butchered to do tricks for people's entertainment. Amazing. As an added bonus, you can also eat grilled dolphin meat while watching them perform.

My last post discussed the brutal process of getting these beautiful, intelligent creatures from the sea to captivity, but what happens when they get there?

Usually (Monday was an exception), they're transferred from the wild to sea pens: netted off parts of the ocean that allow them to stay in the water they're used to, with the tides and waves and everything else that comes with it, but without any pesky distractions like being able to travel or hunt and eat live fish. There are two sets of pens in Taiji: Dolphin Base's pens and the harbor pens,

which are even smaller and mostly house juveniles. Yes, the dolphin hunters in Taiji capture (and kill) juveniles. And then they wonder why "stocks" are decreasing.

After that, it's lives of endless monotony, broken up with the occasional transport, which is done via open truck when it's local, or packed into coffin-sized boxes when it's international.

This new lifestyle (if one can even call it that) is nothing like what they're accustomed to and takes some getting used to. By "getting used to", I mean drugs and other substances.

That left-hand bucket contains dead fish about to be prepped to be fed to the dolphins. The right-hand bucket contains a variety of medications and treatments probably not all that dissimilar to what factory farmed cattle are given in the US (and for the same reasons: to keep the animals passably healthy so they can continue to serve humans as long as necessary). Here's a trainer injecting these substances into a fish for a dolphin:

As you can see, they come with an awful lot of gear for a process as simple as feeding the dolphins a few fish (nowhere near enough. In the wild, dolphins eat 4-8% of their body weight in live fish per day. In captivity, they get roughly one bucket, twice per day. They're always hungry so they're more likely to perform for their food). They often come with knives and cutting boards to open the fish up and stick something inside, as well as wooden mallets, but I haven't been able to determine how those are used yet (and may not want to know).

Once the fish is ready, it's used as an incentive to get the dolphins to jump, twirl, sing and do all the other tricks people know and love from dolphin shows.

For me, the image above is the worst thing about being here. Because I enjoy it. I love watching the dolphins jump and leap and seem to play together. It's beautiful, until I remember they're just doing it because they're hungry. This is not a game for them, it's survival. It's their only way of getting exercise while penned up for the rest of their lives. As horrific as the dolphin slaughter is, it's not as difficult for me to consider because I don't eat dolphin. I don't feel complicit. But recognizing that I still get some enjoyment from the misery these dolphins experience breaks the little bit of heart I have left.

* In case it's unclear, the dolphins in most swim with dolphin programs don't just happen to be in the area, living their natural lives. They are trained not to stray too far from a designated space and to be comfortable around humans, transported and dumped into their new "homes".

No comments: