The captivity of cetaceans

Here is more than a century already than cetaceans are offshore captured and maintained in captivity to the fine only ones to amuse the general public, to be the object of searches or, more recently, with the aim of “therapeutic” contacts moved closer with human beings.

Maintain in captivity of the cetaceans which, in their natural environment, cross kilometers a day is a barbaric act. When we know how much the captive cetaceans suffer from the lack of space, from the aggression of the treated water, from the noise, from the isolation, from the solitude, from the hunger often. That they suffer of all kinds of physiological and mental pathologies, develop abnormal behavior and greater aggressiveness, their normally important life expectancy is reduced in some years and their reproduction in pond raises grave problems and establishes globally a failure.

To understand indeed in which point the captivity is cause of suffering, it seems to us convenient to raise some of the established observations, during studies, on dolphinaria.

The capture

The capture of free dolphins takes place in a climate of extreme violence. During these captures, number of females fails, cetaceans run aground or drown themselves. Certain pursuits can last hours. The “tail-grabber”, a kind of huge sugar tongs provided with a lasso, is mostly used to extract dolphin outside the water by the tail. Sometimes, dolphin is seized by the head, when he comes to swim in front of the blade of bow of the boat confidently. Number of dolphins dies during the capture.

At the environmental level, it seems that 66 % of all dolphins captured in the world are grown-up females. This affects seriously the rate of reproduction of the group as much as its social coherence, because of the essential role which play females this level.

The transport

Transported in stretcher, the cetacean is maintained outside the water during hours. The skin quickly dehydrates, its breath becomes difficult, bedsores appear to the diverse points of friction.

In 1998, two dolphins transported since California to Florida mirror 18 hours to make the route(course) by plane. On arrival, their ” necroses of pressure ” were such as one ofdolphinsdied a few days later. Recently, the Lufthansa airline company decided that it would transport no more captive dolphins, considering the sufferings imposed on the animal and the too important risks.

The arrival in pond and the “desensitization”

The arrival in pond provokes a triple shock at freshly captured dolphin(heir apparent):

– Abrupt and spectacular reduction of its living space

– Narrow contact and under constraint with the human race

– Required to feed on corpses of fishes and either on alive preys.

These traumas oblige the professionals to confine dolphins in a pond of isolation during a month or more, “to desensitize” them. The dead fish is then imposed on them by force-feeding, because it is doubtless for dolphin the most terrible test. 53 % of captured dolphins  die in the days which follow their arrival in pond.

The seclusion

Freely, a normal pod counts on average hundred of dolphins. These occupy permanently a “central” territory 125 kilometers long, which they leave frequently to make longer journeys towards other pods. Dolphin Tursiops of the Pacific likes diving as deep as 535 meters whereas Tursiops of the Atlantic Ocean remains frequently under 390 meters of water. Dolphins spend hardly 20 % of their on-surface time. Their main activities are the “foraging” (search for invertebrates in funds), the exploration on long distances ( scouting ), the hunting in group (numerous very diversified methods and culturally passed on), the socialization, the games and the vocal exchanges (every dolphin knows it at least 250 others) as well as the education of the children. This one lasts from five to fifteen years and the intergenerational contacts remain frequent during all the grown-up life.

In captivity, from 3 to 5 dolphins by pond, 275 m2 of the surface, the 5 meter depth on 20 % of the surface of the pond, the depth of 3,5 m on 80 % of the surface of the pond and the additional surface: 75m2 by animal. Particular requirements: pond of isolation of 125 m2 and 3,5 m of depth. A pond of isolation by species.

As comparison, imagine to live all the remainder of your life, in a room of 2 m on 2.

Such conditions of lack of space, forced idleness, loss of any control over their own activities, their sexuality and their environment, within a social life reduced to some individuals, are the main cause of sufferings and death for captive dolphins. The chlorine in the water of the pond, the absence of trace elements and period of sunshine, the constant grip of antibiotics, the stress, an always identical naked decoration contribute to degrade even more their health.

Social ethology

The composition of the natural group is also seriously perturbed in captivity: in natural environment, the females of several generations live with their youngs in a territory which is theirs. Males live in suburb, grouped together in complex alliances and make only brief visits to the group of their mother when they are adults. The normal proportion is two males for a female

In captivity, this relationship is inverted and females are more numerous. This pulls conflicts completely unpublished and appropriate for the only environment of the captivity between pregnant mothers or on the point to give birth and even in infanticides on behalf of jealous females. A kind of grateful polygamy is reconstituted, who corresponds not at all to the natural models.

The food

Freely, the diet is extremely diversified and varies according to the busy environment and the available resources. Nevertheless this food must be always absorbed living being: it is about shrimps, squids, small invertebrates, fishes mule, anchovies, herrings etc.

In captivity the fish dead and cut in fragments of size and variable quality, in one step accepted, must be massively enriched by vitamins, by antidepressants and by antibiotics. The food is essentially distributed during the shows or during the training, as means of constraint. The European Regulation 3626/87 says that every dolphin owes be fed in the hand but specifies in its section B, paragraph 42, ” that the food can serve as award but no punishment “.

Rate of survival and longevity

Freely ” dolphin Tursiops of the bay of Sarasota (Florida) lives for a long time: females often exceed the age of 50 years whereas males live on average more than forty years ” (Cetacean Societies. Fields studies of dolphins and whales. Edited by Janet Mann, Richard C. Connor, Peter L. Tyack and Hal whitehead. University of Chicago. 2000)

The longevity of captive dolphins on the other hand is from 10 to 15 years.

Reproduction in captivity

The reproductions are there rare and are the fact of artificial inseminations. When they take place, the newborn children often die prematurely.

Several captive females were allowed die further to the death of their newborn child. It was the case for Mavis, captive in the pond of the dolphinarium of Edmonton Mall. Mavis was in his third young, in his third death there and it is not the only one to have lived it in the dolphinarium of Edmonton Mall, Maria lost two youngs and died at the age of 19.

The fact that females have so much evil to bring into the world a viable and fertile young, is an irrefutable proof that the ponds of dolphinaria, do not answer the ecological demands of dolphins. Now at the moment, we count at least 176 dolphinaria in the world.

Besides, it would seem whether often they are the mothers who kill their young. “This behavior is frequent at captive heir apparent, but widely censored by the industrialists of the show who adduce to maintain dolphins in prison “. Ric O’ Barry, former trainer in dolphinarium reconverted in the cause of dolphins, quotes in particular the case of Sally in Waragamba Dam, to Australia, which flooded in this way not less four of his youngs.

The reproduction in pond, lauded with so much ardour by the current establishments, produces only sick and sick beings hardly capable of reaching the adulthood. Do we know that the mothers deprived of their delphineaux are treated in antidepressants? Do we know that when these are torn away from their mother to see itself sent towards some distant ponds, they continue to call him plaintively during weeks? The atrocious crowding due to the overpopulation and to the lack of space, generates a climate of tension the violence of which we guess only by its effects.

Captivity and premature death

The life expectancy of dolphins in captivity is strongly lower than that of free dolphins. Certain studies show that dolphins in natural environment, according to the species, can have a life expectancy similar to ours, whereas in captivity, rare are the ones who overtake on the 25 years.

The fact that the captivity is objectively disastrous for cetaceans (dolphins, killer whales and belugas) recovers by no means from a “anthropomorphic” speculation: the mortality rate of these marine mammals is stunning, even when we compare him(it) with the deaths of all other species held in zoos (30 Tursiops died in 30 years in Antwerp, more than 46 to Duisburg for the same period, 12 deaths in 14 years in Bruges) whereas the average life expectancy of the captive cetaceans is reduced by half at best(in the best case).

In May, 2001, Gary, 20-year-old hardly, dies in the term of 16 years of continuous captivity in a noisy hall, without natural light and badly ventilated. The girl Delphine Marie follows him by few, by dying at the age of 19 in August 2001. Manon in Marineland of Antibes is 13-year-old dead woman…

We could quote some more names of dead captive dolphins prematurely, to tell the truth, we could quote all dead captive dolphins at the moment. A single completely exceptional example of prolonged survival: Nellie, 53ans what was moreover worth a real article published in the Daytona Beach News-journal of February 28th, 2003, contrary to dead dolphins prematurely

This balance sheet seems to demonstrate that most of the dolphinaria do not answer the ecological needs of dolphins.

Indispensable ecological conditions

. A big enough space

There are dolphinaria including ponds 500 meters deep? Because dolphins dive gladly in this depth. Freely, their “territory” is on average 120 km. And their “clans” are in perpetual exchanges with the other “clans”. Clan generally trained from 10 to 15 individuals, strongly bound some to the others. Dolphins need the contact of them “close relations”. Now in dolphinaria, dolphins are on average three by ponds (far from making 120km), and result only very rarely from the same “clan”.

. A rich and varied food

In natural environment, dolphins hunt and eat a big variety of alive fishes, assuring  their food balance and building up to itself a coat of subcutaneous, necessary fat to assure the smooth running of their metabolism.

In dolphinarium, dolphins are most of the time, be nourishing of dead fishes and often voluntarily below the quantity that free dolphin ingests, so as to maintain them in a state of food dependence and to make sure by there, their collaboration.

Besides, one of the favourite activities of free dolphins is to search the ground, when funds are shallow or to pick small invertebrates under the sand of funds. This activity, typically devolved to females and to children is made impossible by the nudity absolved from the decoration. Dolphins live henceforth in a chlorinated water and are fed by means of a special diet, consisted of frozen fishes, vitamins and diverse medicines to maintain them alive. The food is distributed according to a program of ” positive intensification “, in other words, dolphin has to make its show to have to eat…

In certain dolphinaria where we subject dolphins to an extensive activity for commercial reasons, dolphins(heirs apparent) are not more fed than during the shows or the programs of ” swimming with dolphins”.

The écholocation:


All the evolution of cetaceans took place in the sense of a sophisticated hearing, which crowns a sense of the écholocation of a big precision.

The écholocation consists in sending sounds which they receive in echo to communicate and to be situated.

The principle is the same that the one that we use during the echographies and dolphin so has a ” acoustic photography ” of its very faithful environment.

Now, in captivity, the sounds which dolphins propagate echo on the walls of their pond devoid of relief, provoking an intense stress (if we had to make a link with our human senses it’s as if we met locked into the most total black!) and forcing dolphin not to use any more this tool.

source : http://www.dauphinlibre.be