Dolphin Captivity in India: To Ban or Not to Ban

The fact that India is considering a prohibition on captivity is very significant to the global dolphin welfare movement, and falls in line with India's long-held culture of compassion towards animals.
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Dolphin at surface
Dolphin at surface

Why One Minister's Decision has Implications in Taiji and Around the World

As the Oscar-winning documentary, The Cove, showed to a shocked world, in Taiji, Japan, many hundreds of dolphins are brutally slaughtered each year. While that slaughter is horrific, what is equally so is the business that makes money off of exploiting live dolphins captured from these hunts: the global dolphin captivity industry. Fortunately, some nations, such as India, are taking affirmative action to prevent such heartbreaking cruelty from occurring.

Anyone who watched The Cove will understand the undeniable link between the slaughters and the captivity industry. In Taiji, a dead dolphin will bring in $500-600US for its meat in a market, whereas live trained dolphins, torn from their families in the killing Cove, fetch as much as $150,000US each on the international market. My son Lincoln coined the term "Blood Dolphin$" for this trade. The Taiji 'fishermen' will likely continue to hunt and kill dolphins as long as the demand for live ones continues. And continue it has: during the 2011-12 hunt season, we were surprised when about 50 dolphins were taken into captivity, thinking that was a lot. But this past season, which ended in March, a whopping 247 were forever robbed of their freedom. These dolphins are now confined to floating cages in Taiji harbor, being tamed and learning to eat dead fish.

Once these 'show-quality' dolphins are selected for captivity, and after they have watched their family and friends be killed before their eyes, they are sold and shipped to captive facilities in China, the Middle East, and Japan itself, which has 51 dolphinariums around that small country. These places, including aquariums, dolphinariums, and facilities with sea pens for swim-with-dolphins programs, are designed for one thing: to make profits off of the lives of dolphins who are forced to perform for and interact with well-meaning, yet unaware, tourists.

These places do not promote conservation. They do not educate. They do not provide a good life to dolphins. Don't be fooled: this is a multi-billion dollar industry that is hell-bent on making money. Each live dolphin is a cash-cow for these people who are blinded by greed, who see only dollar signs where there really is intelligence, emotion, and great suffering.

And when these dolphins die, often experiencing shortened and miserable lives in sterile tanks and pens, the dolphin hunters go out and get more from the wild, often in conjunction with hunts like those in Taiji and the Solomon Islands.

My phone rings seemingly every day with people alerting me to new captive facilities being constructed in their area. The rapid rate at which these places are popping up is disturbing to me. It means that more dolphin blood will continue to be spilled. The Cove in Taiji will continue to run red.

There is a beacon of hope, however. The Indian Minister of Environment and Forests, Jayanthi Natarajan, is currently considering a nationwide ban on captivity. This nation of 1.2 billion people does not currently house any captive dolphin facilities, although several proposals are now under consideration by various state governments. It is clear that the captivity industry is drooling over the massive, untapped market that India represents. They would love nothing more than to import hundreds of wild-caught dolphins from places like Taiji into new facilities and force them into lives of demeaning servitude. Despite the fact that there are only a handful of proposals currently under review, if even one of them gets approved, the floodgates will be flung wide open. And we know from experience that these floodgates are very difficult to close.

The fact that India is considering a prohibition on captivity is very significant to the global dolphin welfare movement, and falls in line with India's long-held culture of compassion towards animals. Minister Natarajan now has the ability to continue that trend and to become a global leader in dolphin welfare. Natarajan recently told the Hindustan Times, "We will not allow dolphinariums," a sentiment that has been similarly reflected by other Indian governing bodies. Despite these signs of hope, Natarajan has yet to enact this statement into legislation. The world is now looking to her for leadership in protecting animals from undue harm, and increasing the compassion they are rightfully due.

There are other places in the world that have enacted anti-captivity legislation, such as Brazil, Croatia, and Costa Rica. But an outright ban in India would set a strong precedent that would tell dolphin dealers and greedy industry people who dolphin abuse is not acceptable. India must ensure that the captivity industry knows the tide is turning in favor of treating dolphins with the respect they deserve as thinking, feeling, emotional beings.

It can be all too easy to blame the Taiji hunters for capturing and killing dolphins. However, as long as we as a society continue to buy tickets to see enslaved dolphins and refuse to see the truth behind the dolphin 'smile,' we are just as monstrous as they. These oceanic beings have been taken from their homes, watched their families and friends be slaughtered before their eyes, and are made to endure the trials of a life captivity. We all need to wake up and see the blood that drenches the hands of every man, woman and child who pays to see captive dolphins.

India is on the brink of taking a huge step in the right direction. Hopefully other nations will follow their example.

Take our pledge to not buy a ticket to a dolphinarium:

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