Over the past two decades we have seen an increase in the number of ocean parks and aquariums developing across Asia, fuelling the public demand for seeing whales and dolphins up close. This is driven by an industry which profits from animal suffering, ripping animals from their families and their natural environment, to incarcerate them in tiny pools and make them perform tricks for their food.
The rise in the use of whales and dolphins in entertainment within countries such as China, Indonesia and Vietnam is nothing short of shameful. The captive cetacean industry has had a foothold in the USA, Europe and Australia for many years, and many thousands of individual animals have suffered, and continue to suffer in the name of entertainment.
But as the tide is turning on the industry with countries legislating against the display of cetaceans for public entertainment, and public opinion shifting in countries such as the USA, UK and Mexico , so it has developed new markets within countries with a public that often have less awareness of animal welfare and porous legislative controls that do little to actually protect captive animals from suffering.
In Indonesia, wild caught dolphins are subjected to frequent road and air transport, living in tiny pools as part of ‘travelling’ dolphin shows. We can only imagine the stress such transport and time spent immobilised must cause for these individuals. The operators ‘justify’ their use by saying that the dolphins have been rescued due to injuries and entanglements with fishing nets, when in reality they are caught to order to supply an industry which sees them as commodities rather than sentient individuals.
In Vietnam, wild caught dolphins are subjected to poor living conditions and the indignity of being forced to jump through hoops of fire to entertain a public largely unaware of the stress and suffering such conditions cause.
Whilst in China, over 1000 wild caught whales and dolphins now languish in the countries ocean parks, their lives deemed as dispensable by those that operate the facilities. A recent trend within China has also seen the development of ocean parks in shopping malls, encouraging shoppers to ‘stop by’ and view animals such as wild caught beluga whales stereotypically swimming within their tiny pools, in between doing their weekly shopping. This epitomises the attitude of the industry, using animals as commodities to be used, abused and eventually discarded and replaced when they fall ill and die.
The rise in the ocean park industry across Asia is fuelling a huge demand for more wild capture within Russian and Japanese waters. Many hundreds of dolphins, pilot whales and false-killer whales ripped from their ocean homes in Japan, and beluga whales and orcas all being forcibly removed from their families in Russian waters to meet this insatiable appetite for ‘bigger and better’ attractions.
The finger of blame for this cruelty must be pointed directly at those that are responsible for the wild capture, purchase, and eventual incarceration of these animals. With little or no regard for these animals as individuals that live within complex family groups, within societies built upon cooperation between individuals, empathy for fellow family members and moral behaviours which ensure group harmony and cohesion.
It is these messages of the emotional and cognitive capacities of these intelligent, socially complex animals that we are promoting across Asia in the hope that a largely uninformed public will one day turn their own backs on this industry and help to set free those individuals that continue to suffer in the name of entertainment and prevent further individuals from suffering the same fate.
On World Ocean Day please join us in opposition of the keeping of whales and dolphins in captivity - check out some of these great organisations exposing the reality of the marine park industry and spread the word:
Whale and Dolphin Conservation