As filmmakers and celebrities prepare to flock to the south of France for this year’s Cannes Film Festival (May 16-27th), among the films to make their debut at the 65th annual 12-day event is ‘Rust and Bone.’ The film is an adaptation of ‘Rocket Ride,’ one of the stories found within Craig Davidson’s 2005 short-story anthology, also titled ‘Rust and Bones’. In the story a young man loses his leg to the orca he performs with and tries to rebuild his life through amputee-support groups and other therapy, ‘Rust and Bone’s’ storyline unfortunately is closer to fact than fiction and serves as a reminder of the unfortunate risks inherent to holding these huge, socially complex marine mammals in captivity.
Although WDCS is unable to review the film prior to the festival's opening, the film’s general storyline as reported in the media involves a female orca trainer (Marion Cotillard) who loses her legs in a horrific accident involving the whales. Scenes for the movies were filmed at Marineland Antibes (France), a captive facility currently holding five orcas, including one wild orca captured in 1982 from Iceland. Another Marineland orca, Shouka, remains isolated and alone at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo, California.
We expect this film to stir public emotion and generate comparisons and renewed attention to the tragic and violent deaths of Dawn Brancheau and Alexis Martinez that occurred just over two years ago. Both trainers were killed by the orcas they worked with at SeaWorld Florida and Loro Parque on Tenerife in the Canary Islands, respectively, within just a few months of each other. Although I am not certain how the trainer and her relationship with the orcas is depicted within the film, if it is anything like ‘real life’, the job of a trainer will be portrayed as glamorous, dazzling, and exciting, suggesting trainers benefit from a privileged and reciprocal relationship with these huge, attractive and awesome animals. Or, perhaps the silver screen will reflect the truer image of this profession, telling a different story where trainers can be injured or killed, and where ruined lives, both human and orca, are the real drama behind the shows.
Whether it intends to or not, this film serves to further highlight the uncomfortable realities associated with the capture, confinement and exploitation of these magnificent creatures for our entertainment. Because regardless of the nature of the event causing injury and death, whether from orcas attacking their trainers or loss of limb during performances or other accidents, all result from the unnatural confinement of these large, intelligent and powerful animals. This practice is dangerous and deadly to both the orcas and the humans working with them. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) has even found this to be true, citing and fining SeaWorld in August 2010 for knowingly and irresponsibly exposing its trainers to known safety hazards (orcas) that could result in injury or death.
As WDCS awaits the judge’s decision in the OSHA vs. SeaWorld hearing that concluded in November 2011 where SeaWorld contested OSHA’s citation, ‘Rust and Bone’ is an unfortunate reminder of the true costs of captivity to both humans and whales.
Irrespective of this film, and considering the sordid realities of captivity and the more recent tragedies that have unfolded, it is difficult to understand how anyone can have a clear conscience about captivity. WDCS opposes the confinement of whales and dolphins in captivity, and is committed to exposing and sharing the truth. If you care about whales and dolphins, question the culture of captivity and take the pledge not to buy a ticket to zoos, aquaria or marine parks that profit from the exploitation of whales and dolphins.
Entries tagged as dolphnaria
So the Conneyland dolphins died because of an opiate overdose, that some idiot gave them during a rave. 'Zoo dolphins deaths 'Caused by Party Drugs'
We need to ask why the dolphinarium ever allowed the rave to take place so close to the dolphins in the first place?
Whales and dolphins are highly intelligent animals who need to live in complex social groups. In captivity they will usually have been separated from their families, sometimes being captured in cruel hunts. A concrete tank can never replace their ocean home or their families.
We have no right to put these amazing creatures in captivity. Captive whale and dolphin shows are not educational, nor are they ‘conservation’.
As this case proves, the dolphin display industry is about making money out of these creatures – but it’s often the dolphins that pay the ultimate price.
It is no secret that many of us want to be close to whales and dolphins. The honest truth is that most of us want to be close, sometimes at any cost. Until we know the truth, we might even feel entitled to it. We have a natural affinity for these animals that extends back centuries into the cultural heritage of our modern civilizations, and it is undeniable. Past public opinion polls have recognized this desire, including a fairly recent BBC poll identifying the number one activity that people wanted to do before they died: swim with dolphins. Captive facilities have catered to and exploited our love for these animals by packaging an experience that appears to be made from heaven—an opportunity to get up close and personal with these animals in a blatantly unnatural, but seemingly attractive and controlled, setting. As a society, we have been seduced by the lights, the shows, the spectacular tricks, and the glamorous and intimate relationships between whales and humans that are manufactured for our consumption.
Now, the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquaria have released a new Harris Poll that indicates the public endorses captive facilities, and believes them to be more educational than even the classroom. And it also seems to support the BBC poll’s conclusions that swimming with dolphins is high on the public’s list of things to do. However, the poll leaves out a lot of important points, and is merely reflective of a public that only knows one side of the story. The poll asks no questions about seeing marine mammals in the wild, or questions that might suggest there are other ways to learn about and experience marine mammals outside the confines of a facility. Many of the questions are leading or flawed in producing a predetermined positive conclusion that captivity is the best or only way to appreciate marine mammals and learn about them. The poll’s first question leads the responder to necessarily support captivity because it suggests that this might be the only way a child might see them in his or her lifetime (“aquariums are important because children might not get to see them in the wild”). More realistically, if the public can afford travel to SeaWorld or most other aquaria, they have traveled far enough to see these animals in the wild. Many of these facilities are located on or near the coast, oftentimes just yards away from where these animals swim free within their family groups. Furthermore, ‘seeing’ these animals in person is certainly not a prerequisite for loving them or being concerned about their wellbeing and protection.
And missing are the questions regarding the unspoken conflict between what is best for us, and what is best for them. These misleading figures reflect the responses of a propagandized and programmed public, spoon-fed from birth that it is acceptable and ‘normal’ to see these animals confined in a zoo or aquarium. We have been pre-programmed to believe that it is natural to seek entertainment and an escape to a place where these animals are accessible and willing to interact with us, and where we have been told they are happy, content, and even better off than if they were in the wild. We are so accustomed to these messages generated by SeaWorld and other marine parks’ public relations machines that our perceptions and beliefs have been shaped without our active participation. The seduction even greets us at the airport baggage claim of many major tourist destinations through attractive advertisements for captive facilities where you can swim with the dolphins. Through no fault of its own, the public has been denied the truth and has been swayed by the alluring messages of a multi-billion dollar commercial enterprise capitalizing on our love for these animals.
My four plus decades of life have provided me an opportunity to not only walk the varied paths of a dolphin lover and advocate, but to encounter many others along the way that have shared stories about their affinity for these animals, their feelings about captivity, and the rationalized choices that they make for themselves and their families. Growing up, I was lured and drawn in, like many, by the opportunity of SeaWorld, a logical destination for many families in the United States. It was here that I met my first dolphins ‘in the flesh’ at the petting pool at SeaWorld California when I was just eight years old. I left there wanting to be a trainer, believing this would be the best way to get close to these animals. But the catch is that I loved these animals before I ever set foot in SeaWorld. Through a lifetime of encountering these animals in the wild, education and an inborn passion to seek out what is best for these animals, I quickly abandoned my support of what I now see as selfish and indulgent entertainment. Now, I work to shut down those very same pools where I first encountered dolphins in person. Is this a natural progression for most people who encounter whales and dolphins in captivity? If people are given the truth about captivity, will they make the right choice--a choice in the best interest of dolphins?
Although I have come to know the backstory of captivity over time and work to expose and share it, the truth is that I was always conflicted. Long before I witnessed the drive hunts in Taiji, exposed the conditions at the dolphin petting pools, or reeled with the news of Alexis Martinez and Dawn Brancheau’s deaths, I knew there was something not quite right about SeaWorld and the stories they, and other captive facilities, told. With new truths about captivity surfacing daily, I am not the only one that feels this way. Truths of sordid dealings, brutal captures, and the incredibly deprived lives of the perpetually medicated and stressed animals are starting to sink in. However, it is the demand of the ticket counter that has facilities laboring to stock their pools and continue the revolving door of death.
A few facilities are already turning away from traditional whale and dolphins shows, and questioning the sourcing of these animals from the wild. We applaud their movement in a positive direction, and encourage them to continue to phase out their collection of captive whales and dolphins.
It is time to get honest about captivity, and what motivates us. I believe those who attend these marine parks, spending almost any amount of money to flock to SeaWorld on family vacations, do so because they love these animals and because they do not know any other story. In other words, the public goes to marine parks because they love these animals; they do not love these animals because of marine parks. They go because they believe in what they have been told. The public does not know the story behind the individual lives in those barren and shallow aquamarine pools, and more importantly, many may not want to. But once you do know the story, it is hard to turn back, and to see these shows for other than what they really are. You don’t have to dig very deep, I promise. As modern day circuses have fallen out of favor, so too shall marine parks that rely upon the confinement of whales and dolphins for their profits. But there is another story, and there will be many more that will continue to reveal the real truth and face of captivity—a truth that will help to reconcile that personal discomfort and conflict that so many have shared with me when they speak of captivity.
It comes down to one simple choice to set you, and eventually the dolphins, free: Don't buy a ticket. We go to these parks like SeaWorld because we love the animals, but it is the very same reason why we shouldn't. It is time that we embrace the truth, and the conflict, and question our culture of captivity. And with time, I believe those public opinion polls will reflect a different set of beliefs--one that finds the imprisonment of beings so very much like our own an abhorrent and archaic trend of the past.
It really is a very simple step to resolve the conflict between our self-interested love for dolphins, and the love and appreciation that is in their best interest. It truly isn't counterculture or heretical to question SeaWorld, or the 'state of the art' Georgia Aquarium, or any of the other captive facilities that thrive on tourist dollars, however sacrilegious it might seem for those of us that have grown up with it.
In the post festive haze, as we wade through the sea of discarded Christmas presents, it is hard not to recognise that one of the things that sets us humans apart from many other species (but perhaps not quite all species), is our relationship with ‘stuff’. We make it, we buy it, we collect it, we recycle or bin it and then the whole process starts all over again. But this is no surprise, our amazing ability to manipulate ‘stuff’, our ancestry as hunter-gathers and our ability to collect and store the objects vital to our existence has enabled our success, bald apes that we are.
This relationship with the material things around us is one element of our existence which differentiates us from whales and dolphins. Our ability to build cities, write and store religious texts, historical chronicles and technical documents, have local and national government and a global economy and through such commerce fund national education and healthcare, all of this and more make us uniquely special as a species. There can be no doubt that we have extraordinarily complex social systems that differ culturally between geographic regions.
As a result it is perhaps understandable that we have a natural tendency to consider ourselves as the pinnacle of evolution and we tend to measure the ‘success’ of any other species against ourselves. But, this may be one of our grandest follies. Success is a relative concept, if biomass were the indicator then many other species, much less complex beings than ourselves, would be resounding winners in the ‘success’ competition.
But back to the issue of complex species and their relationship with ‘stuff’. Who at times does not envy the liberated existence of a whale, swimming wild, feeding, socialising and going about their daily business without the encumbrance of any ‘stuff’. Perhaps admiration for ‘living free’ (not just wild, but also ‘free’) is one of the appealing factors that send us in our droves to go whale or dolphin watching.
Orcas, for example, are top marine predators, a fact which places them, by our own reckoning, at the apex of evolutionary success. However, their ability to go about their lives so successfully without the need for clothing to keep them warm, cooking utensils, food storage facilities or the possession of trinkets to keep them entertained, surely warrants at least some humble respect from we the collectors.
Over the millions of years of our planet’s history, the single biggest driving force for life on Earth has been evolutionary success. The simple point is that when observing the world through the snap shot of geological time which is the existence of Homo sapiens we must be careful not to use ourselves as the benchmark of success and refinement. There is a bigger picture. Whilst we often feel like it - and perhaps we are even wired this way - it is just possible that our species is not the centre of the universe.
There are ever unfolding revelations about whales and dolphins: their intelligence, their complex brain structure, the possession of spindle cell neurons by some species, their multifaceted relationships with each other and even the revelations that behaviour can vary – like our own - between different cultures. We also now know that bottlenose dolphins can demonstrate a sense of self, by recognising themselves in a mirror. The more we learn, the more questions we have. One particularly intriguing notion is the idea that some whale and dolphin species have such close social bonds - biologically important for ensuring feeding and even survival - that rather than just a sense of ‘I’ they may have a more profound sense of ‘us’, almost a collective consciousness driving certain behaviours.
To ask the question ‘Are they smarter than us?’ is to miss the point. Orca’s and many other cetacean species are certainly ‘smart’ by any definition, they are successful, but they are also very different to us.
Many now recognise that these impressive, cognitive beings are a ‘who’ not a ‘what’. They are not the property of any state, corporation or individual and that the time of keeping these sentient, sapient ocean giants in small tanks for our entertainment is over.
PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) is bringing a controversial court case against SeaWorld in the USA which will challenge the captivity of five orcas, on the grounds that it is an infringement of the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution which prohibits slavery and involuntary servitude.
The analogy with human slavery is a strong one. There can be little doubt that the orcas in captivity are held involuntarily for our entertainment. These orca’s are not offered a choice about whether they want to live in captivity. But there has also been some sensitivity in the US in comparing the plight of the orcas with that of African American slaves. Perhaps this demonstrates rather well that the initial social and legal hurdle that must first be overcome is that the status of orcas and other cetaceans as non-human persons in their own right must first be recognised. There is a mental journey required to recognise the rights of others, firstly in recognising their status as non-human ‘persons’ we recognise their basic right to life and from there work to recognise the right to various other freedoms and norms. At the time when the 13th amendment was raised in the US, some challenged the notion that African Americans were equal to whites, indeed some argued that African Americans were not even of the same species. Fortunately, those days of ignorance have largely passed and serve to reminds us what a long way we have come as a species in developing respect and understanding for each other, but, of course, we still have a long way to go.
Nevertheless, the strategy of highlighting the captive orcas’ plight as slavery and against the US Constitution is controversial, even among those who advocate for whale and dolphin rights. Steven Wise, a Law Professor and head of the Non-Human Rights Project (NhRP) is concerned that a judge will simply rule that orcas are not slaves under the Constitution (because they are not recognised as ‘persons’), which will then set a difficult precedent. Wise and colleagues believe that first they need to establish the legal non-human personhood status of cetaceans. This certainly seems a more logical strategy.
Rather extraordinarily, the NhRP has been invited to participate in the orca case on the basis of an ‘amicus curiae’ or ‘Friend of the Court’. This in itself is an interesting development. The NhRP has not sought to appear as an amicus to either PETA or SeaWorld, but instead to work to assist the court in understanding some of the legal and philosophical issues raised within the context of this case and to further the interests of the orcas.
“Our purpose is to ensure that the orcas’ best interests are being properly represented, that their legal status is advanced, and that an unfavourable ruling inflicts the least possible harm on the development of an animal rights jurisprudence” said Wise.
The fact that this expert advice has been sought independently by the court reveals that the issue of animal rights, and in particular the interests of these orcas, is being taken very seriously by a US court. There doesn’t appear to be a similar move to have a ‘Friend of the court’ provide a view on cetacean husbandry or the economics of keeping orcas in captivity from the industry perspective. This is an – albeit tacit – recognition that the interests of the orcas in this case may be more important than the interests of the industry itself. Perhaps some progress.
Wise states: “SeaWorld opposes our request to appear as an amicus because it is confident the Court will rule the orcas are not slaves under the Thirteenth Amendment. PETA apparently opposes our request because it wants the case to ‘go down in history as the first time that a U.S. court considers constitutional rights for animals.’ Winning is beside the point. But losing this case will neither help these orcas nor further any long-term strategy for creating a viable animal rights jurisprudence”.
WDCS is committed to the campaign for the recognition of cetacean rights. The Declaration of Rights for Cetaceans agreed in Helsinki provides a series of profound propositions to challenge the way that we currently perceive and treat whales and dolphins. The road to recognising their rights in national and international legislation will not be easy.
At the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Annual Meeting, scheduled for next month in Vancouver, WDCS CEO Chris Butler-Stroud will be presenting at a symposium titled ‘Declaration of Rights for Cetaceans: ethical and policy implications of intelligence’.
Many still consider the idea of recognising the rights of other highly cognitive mammals as an extremist view point, some even view it as a threat. Certainly it is challenging to the current status quo. The fact that we can now credibly use the emerging scientific understanding of both cetacean intelligence and the social complexity of whales’ and dolphins’ lives to argue for the recognition of cetacean rights in a highly esteemed forum such as the AAAS demonstrates that the scientific community is now taking the proposition of cetacean rights seriously as a topic for debate. Rationalising how cetacean rights, once recognised, will manifest through legal and political structures will be one of the greatest challenges as we work towards fully realising all the rights enshrined in the Declaration of Rights for Cetaceans and this will be the topic of Chris Butler-Stroud’s presentation.
We have the support of philosopher’s such as Thomas I White, we have the support from leading scientist such as Lori Marino and Hal Whitehead and the commitment of lawyers such as Steven Wise who are working to provide the mechanism by which the rights of non-human persons can be first recognised and then protected. A US court has tacitly recognised that cetacean ‘interests’ are a valid part of the debate and through the AAAS the scientific community acknowledges that we must examine the ethical implications of the emerging science on cetacean intelligence. Is it now only a matter time? The question for the orca’s who remain in captivity is just how long this journey will take us.
Find out more about the issues surrounding whales and dolphin rights on our website. Also, have a look at our new book - "Whales and Dolphins: cognition, culture, conservation and human perceptions" which brings together a wide range of experts to look again at our current knowledge of these amazing creatures. Available from the WDCS Shop.