Captured Dolphins - Closed Minds

 Christopher Porter and the Free the Pod campaign.
As a follow up to my post earlier this week and the article that just ran in TimeFinders Magazine I wanted to share more about the issue of animal captivity and the differences in philosophies that keep this a hot button issue. Months have gone by since our original interview and through that time there have been many twists and turns. Porter knew he was in a race to get people to support his campaign and understands fully that aquariums, activists, governments and the public can't get to common ground.

Like anything, each can find reasons to stand behind their cause but behind that, is what drives this world MONEY. We are talking huge amounts of money that come from our pockets directly to organizations and businesses that deal in animal captivity. How much of that investment positively impacts the wild animal species and their habitats is what we don't know. I venture to guess, after talking with Porter, the dollars are not floating towards where it makes the most sense.

Christopher Porter's switch from dolphin dealer to dolphin freer really made a stir and getting support has proved extremely difficult. One group that I contacted after speaking with Mr. Porter was Ric O'Barry's organization Save Japan Dolphins, where I spoke to Mark Berman regarding their support of the Free the Pod campaign:

“We have congratulated Chris Porter on getting out of the dolphin trade and we want to see the project move ahead. We are getting all the details ironed out. Dolphin trading must stop and Chris has the first step in promoting dolphin protection; we are continuing to look at his proposals to move forward.”

“The Government of the Solomon Islands is in favour of the capture and trading of dolphins, we want to guarantee the safety of these dolphins. The Government has to guarantee the elimination of dolphin capture and trade.”

“It also takes others to cooperate, we can’t do this alone.”


As the clock ticks away towards the final release of the remaining dolphins, I can't help but wonder how much cooperation went on and in the end who, if anyone, stepped up to help?

Ultimately though, I think public awareness is the key as Porter suggested in our interview. We, the public, either choose not to know or clearly don't know, what goes on behind the scenes to provide us with the pleasure of viewing, touching or swimming with wild animals. (Well, lets just take the word "wild" out of that statement because we are not seeing a wild animal anymore we are seeing a captured, controlled, manufactured image of the species.) Attending shows, parks, zoos and aquariums believing (or hoping) they are happy. Believing they are well taken care of...we are doing these animals a favour. It is the conditions with capture and captivity that we would rather turn away from.

Porter says:

"We do have an effect on them in captivity and we would feel the same way. Separated at birth from parents, living a separated life because of breeding and security purposes, spending many hours a day in a small pool, in solitary confinement like Tillicum. Of course, if you are an intelligent being it's going to have an effect. It does have an effect on these animals because they are so intelligent and because they are so intelligent we need to preserve them in the wild."


Of course, the argument that animals could be intelligent or feeling in a way that may compare to humans really gets some people on their high horse. They can't fathom that something less than a human would be traumatized being abducted from its pod, group, pride or family. In their minds an animal on land or in the sea that travels for miles in a day, communicating with its members and instinctively living as it's species has for hundreds of years would eventually lose all of its instincts, memory and needs. It will just adapt to its new tiny, artificial home.

I agree with Chris Porter's next point:

"If the argument is that we are displaying these animals to preserve their wild counterparts then we would be preserving these wild counterparts more. We wouldn’t have drift net fishing, we wouldn’t have thousands of dolphins captured still, we wouldn’t have killer whales who are getting hunted off of Chinook Salmon so that sports fisherman can get a photo and have something for their barbecue. We are not having that impact."

Around the world they are still capturing animals for multiple purposes that serve the human need to be even closer to them. Unless, of course, you live up the top a mountain in some expensive development and one of these lovely wild animals happens into your garden or garbage then it is "We've done everything to keep these things out but they keep coming back...it even went after our cat!"  Now, that is some hypocrisy there, spend money to see them contained behind glass but complain when we actually really interact with them.

As for the dolphins and whales, (that thankfully can't just show up at the door) aquariums and their paid scientists find new reasons to collect more.

Porter:

"They are talking about going to collect whales again and justifying it because the population assessments are done and determine “Yes, that population could support a removal” "It’s scientifically justifiable and so we are going to remove these animals."

"What if one country has an over abundance of whales or dolphins? We are not talking millions; we are talking maybe thousands, maybe hundreds. Maybe in theory we could take six away but if the rest of the world has a depreciation of these animals then we need some places that have an over abundance so that we can start getting the balance back and start changing people’s opinions."

"Even in 2010 zoos and aquariums are still talking about catching whales and dolphins. That’s not helping the wild population."


I'm not sure as a society we are prepared to give up our addiction to pleasing ourselves with show stopping performances, dolphin swim programs and animal displays. We are too self centered, bored, needy and entitled to explore the real business that feeds our obsession. Even Mr. Porter understands the public's draw to aquariums, zoos and the like:

"There are people that have told me I go to zoos and aquariums and I know it’s not right but it makes the kids happy and I forget about them for two three hours and they have so much fun."

"It’s our busy, stressful lives and sometimes we sacrifice the affects we are having on these wild animals. If they were people everyone would be sounding their alarms but when you have organizations from both sides recognizing that they are social animals then we have to accept that it is a bit like containing people."

"We are imposing our views on how they should live in the wild and captivity."


I will offer yet another unsolicited opinion...we have closed our minds. Public, aquariums, zoos and activists all covering their ears when hearing the truth about our actions. Not cooperating with each other, unable to sit at a table to discuss better management of species and habitats we have already impacted. We suck at managing anything that has been given to us by mother nature! No matter how great the intention, how masterful the brains, how much money or effort we throw at conservation we always screw it up.

Meanwhile, we take and take and take. Make excuses, point fingers, do studies, employ more people while the animals suffer worldwide. These dolphins that will get released have an unknown fate ahead but not because the ocean didn't welcome them back to freedom but because humans just can't let go of the controls.

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