Saturday, July 14, 2007

Captive Whales in Canada - An Introduction

Killer whales splashing excited spectators with their powerful fins, trainers riding bottlenose dolphins like water-skis and friendly beluga whales kissing wide-eyed youngsters – these are the images we conjure in our minds when we think of marine parks and other facilities that keep cetaceans.

But behind the carnival music and brightly coloured stages of the traditional whale or dolphin show lurks a dark history of exploitation, death and misery. From capture to transport to their final destination, cetaceans suffer and die in unnatural and terrifying conditions.

Forcibly removed from their homes and families, wild whales and dolphins that survive the capture process and subsequent trip to the marine park are then deposited into small and barren concrete tanks filled with chemically treated water in an attempt to replicate ocean conditions. Now unable to feed themselves, they must depend on park staff to provide sustenance. Animals must adapt to a completely new and alien way of life or die.

Captive breeding programs, justified by the industry as necessary for the survival of certain species, are in fact whale and dolphin ‘mills’ forcing them to breed and inbreed with other animals. This ‘stockpiling’ ensures a steady flow of replacements for those who succumb to the stresses of captivity.

Misleading the Public

Entertainment is peddled as education, conservation or scientific research. Capture and captivity are defended as necessary actions to protect whales and dolphins from the rigors and dangers associated with freedom in their natural habitats; dangers such as water pollution, whaling and predation from other species.

If people are not allowed to see these animals in a captive environment, the display industry argues, they will not care about animals in the wild. Marine parks also claim that whales and dolphins live better lives in captivity while affording the public the opportunity to learn about ocean life through ‘animal ambassadors.’

These arguments however, do not hold up to serious scrutiny. They are simply clever advertising strategies designed to mask animal exploitation. And like any other business, marine parks exist to make money. Profits always come before animal well being; the animals are simply a means to an end.

An Unnatural Life

It is impossible to provide whales and dolphins with their biological, behavioural and environmental requirements inside a concrete tank. Indeed, the trauma of capture and transport is almost as fatal as their captivity. The monotony of performing, the prevention of natural behaviours and the stress of captive life take its toll on the individual, often resulting in illness, disease and premature death.

Captive whales and dolphins are not suited for life in captivity and often develop abnormal behaviours, aggression towards other animals (including humans) and health problems directly linked to inadequate equipment, poor conditions or the careless actions of unsupervised visitors.

A Global Movement

These concerns have started a mass movement towards ending the capture and confinement of whales and dolphins. The more people learn about cetaceans, the more they find it unacceptable to imprison them. There are now several worldwide campaigns calling for an end to such practices.

Predictably, those who exploit animals for commercial gain will fight back harder than ever to retain control of their enterprises and profits. Marine parks will continue to justify their actions with pseudo-science and slick marketing ads while lobbying all levels of government, insisting that jobs will be lost and the economy will suffer if laws are passed to protect whales and dolphins from capture and display.

"No aquarium, no tank in a marineland, 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 marinelands can be considered normal." - Jacques Cousteau

1 comment:

Llailya said...

I just saw pictures of my mothers visit to Edmonton. West Edmonton Mall. I, myself have never been nor really seen the attractions they offer. I couldn't believe my eyes when i looked at the first picture. A sea lion. In the mall. Seriously?!
That is so sad. A tiny pool in the middle of the mall. Why is this even allowed???? I don't even wanna know what other animals/mammals are also living there inside the mall.