The Best Way to Enslave a Dolphin


A little under three years ago, just off the
coast of the island chain of Ogasawara, I got to swim with wild dolphins. Not dolphins fed by hand to come up to the boat,
not dolphins kept in a pool, not dolphins trained for tourist purposes. Just dolphins in the Pacific. And while it was one of the most
memorable experiences of my entire life, it wasn’t exactly what I was expecting. The ocean is deep and terrifying. And when you have a nine-foot bottlenose this
far from your face staring into your eyes, only to then shit, and swim away,
you tend to commit that to memory. But my biggest takeaway of that day was
that dolphins deserve to be free. I was merely a momentary visitor
plopping down into their living room, or I suppose in this case bathroom. They impress me. They are impressive creatures. And that day gave me a newfound respect
for an animal that I already loved deeply. But today, I’m not so moved. Because I’m at an aquarium , and we’re
going to see a dolphin show. What’s the value of a dolphin? In monetary terms, it’s not that much, actually. Untrained, you can get a dolphin
for around ten grand or so. Roughly the cost of a VIP ticket to Fyre Festival. Trained you’re looking at around
twenty to thirty thousand. A mid-range car. By definition, the more we’ve removed the wild
from the dolphin, the more valuable it’s become. Which shouldn’t be a huge surprise. A captive dolphin, especially one trained
to perform, can make a lot more money than one left to its own devices in the ocean. So naturally, to us, it’s worth more. But most of us understand that there’s more
to the value of a dolphin than monetization alone. It’s a living creature. Not just a product of our economic order,
but of the natural ecological system. Its original value is as part of a cycle that
allows us to exist on this planet, period. We just don’t really put a number
to that part. Not yet, anyway. Here in Churaumi aquarium, they’ve captured
all sorts of animals for you to come and look at. Animals of all sizes and shapes. Rays and dolphins and coral
and even whale sharks. Their website tries to package the capture
as semi-humane, but really, at its core, this is just a prison. These are caged animals acting out a small
window of their normal lives on repeat, day in, day out, for the entertainment of
millions of people per year. They talk big about their research and education
programs, because from their point of view, this is a place of learning. A positive outlet for tourists to engage with
a world they might not yet understand. And I’m certainly not saying that I have
any evidence to suggest that isn’t true. The trained dolphin show that they put on
is witnessed by thousands daily. For many, it will be the first and only point of contact
that they ever have with these creatures. Virtually nobody will get to go to Ogasawara
to swim with their wild brethren, but here in the aquarium they can get a
taste of what that might be like. Yet, even if all of that is true, and even if
they’re acting with the best of intentions, I question what’s actually
being learned here. Does seeing animals perform tricks better
convince people that they matter as a species? Does it convince them to protect them? Or does it teach them that the point of an
animal is to jump on command? I don’t know the answer, but if I had
to guess, I’d say it’s a bit of both. Let’s take it a step further. Let’s say, just for argument’s sake, that the money
from the aquarium’s visitors directly went to the Ogasawara marine reserve, and those
ticket dollars paid to keep that sanctuary alive. It doesn’t, I need to note, but let’s
just pretend that it does. Let’s pretend it helps to fund the research into keeping
wild pods healthy instead of just captive ones. Wouldn’t that be worth the cost? If you could abuse a single animal
in captivity to save two in the wild, is that an overall positive for the world? What about three? Five? A thousand? Where’s the line, exactly? Because no matter where you fall
on the spectrum, there has to be a line. Again, just for argument’s sake, let’s imagine that every single person leaving the aquarium has a newfound respect for our oceans. Would their first action not be to go home
and protest against the exact thing they just saw? Ironically, what if witnessing the injustice
of captivity was what caused them to fight for their survival in the first place? How could you even quantify that? And if you get rid of the visible injustice,
do you also not get rid of the impetus to fight it? After all, you’re more likely to fix an ill-worn shoe
if there’s a rock in it. The campaign to Save the Whales started because
a fourteen year old girl was mortified to read about the death of a blue whale. It has since gone on to become a cultural watershed, molding the opinions of millions of people about the welfare of Earth’s cetaceans. That blue whale didn’t die for nothing,
but only because that girl was mortified. So how do you put a value on that? Should we be making our aquariums
horrific just to inspire good people to want to put in the effort to shut them down? I don’t think anybody would agree with that. The point I’m trying to make is that saying
the ends justify the means is one thing, but to actually try to quantify them is another. We all know that saving the dolphins
won’t save the oceans, just as was the case with the whales before them. They’re the top of a very complicated,
horribly disrupted food chain. But they’re undeniably beloved creatures. Symbolic of the rest. It’s much easier to focus on them than a jackfish
or a shrimp or a jellyfish or anything else that we don’t value nearly in the same way. If locking them up and putting them on display
is the key to saving the rest, is it moral to do so? Is it immoral not to? If we want to save a species, any species,
any ecosystem, anything at all, really, the answer has to be in public awareness. But more than that, it has to be followed
up with public action. I’m not saying in any way that I’m pretending
that aquariums are the best vehicle to do that. But I’m also not saying they aren’t. I think that the greatest gift that big game
hunters give to the world is not the money that they pay to the game reserves they murder on,
but the revulsion they cause in the rest of us. Most of us see clearly the type of person who
wants to put a bullet in the brain of an elephant, and it makes us better people for doing so. We don’t want to be them. And it makes us us. But if they stop hunting on those game reserves,
we aren’t going to stop killing elephants. We just won’t get as outraged about it. But it’s still a very hard sell to say that justifies
the torture and murder of elephants. Even if it leads to their protection. Because if that’s our last resort
for saving our ecosystem, our ecosystem might as well be dead already. I don’t know the answer to this problem. I’m obviously just playing the
devil’s advocate here. But I do know that the experiences that
led me to this point can’t become the norm. Millions of people can come to this aquarium
and for many of them here will be the first and only time they ever interact with dolphins. And I truly wonder what they’re
taking away from this. And I hope it’s good. Because our oceans are dying. They need us. Not in the future, but now. And all I really got from this experience
was a show. This is Rare Earth.

100 thoughts on “The Best Way to Enslave a Dolphin

  1. was slavery the only way we could have gotten to equal rights? All of this makes me think about native american casinos too

  2. dogs were wolfs and you are not going to be a cry baby about that do you? youre not gona convince anyone to release the dogs, cats, sheeps, … to te wild just to gain nothing.

  3. I've always loved aquariums, but outside of seeing a whale show when I was too young to even remember it I've always hated the concept of keeping larger animals in captivity.

    Every couple of years I do a mental dance with myself on what I'm actually okay with and what I'm not. At the end of the day, I never even enjoyed the shows or the sharks, even as a kid. I just liked looking at jellyfish and rays. The simpler exhibits are the ones that stick in my mind.

  4. On Moreton island off the coast of eastern Australia, you are able to hand feed dolphins. These dolphins are not held captive though. They are, although somewhat tame, still wild dolphins. They travel around Moreton bay freely, and come sundown, they have the choice on whether they turn up for the feeding program or go do other dolphin stuff. And based on the records kept by the resort, that freedom is utilised a healthy amount. They show that almost no dolphin will be present everyday. It is a relationship based on trust and freedom, which I believe makes it a healthy alternative to what is currently occurring in aquariums globally. Of course, it’s on the dolphins’ terms, so it is not necessarily an easy alternative, but I think it is one of the best I’ve found so far.

  5. They're too intelligent and too aware of what they are, they shouldn't be in the shows acting like enslaved and mentally broken jesters. A better option is to see them from boats in the wild and let them interact with humans as they choose. otherwise you'll end up with more Tillikums

  6. Interesting cases put forward here, I have been an supported of the Vancouver Aquarium and their cetacean policy has been until recently was only housing those deamed non releasable. Now the federal government has ban keeping of all cetaceans. Not sure how I feel about that because it was the Vancouver Aquarium that gave me my respect for the oceans. I guess they'll have to adapt just like our marine friends will too

  7. There's bits you've left out… how the dolphin reacts to captivity…pretty badly, it seems. But, otoh, those places are the ones that help save stranded and orphaned animals. Some animals can be caged, other, no. So, let out the dolphins and get some other animals that would be happy, like otters. They would probably like a modified for otters aquarium. The don't need millions of cubic ocean to live in.

  8. "This episode was produced thanks to the cooking of a single old lady." I don't care if it is just one old lady, you shouldn't cook people for any reason!

  9. I think it's important not to fall into the trap of thinking keeping any animal in captivity is inherently bad, that leads to the territory of PeTA extremists and wanting to ban people keeping pets. The question is is it possible for the animal not to constantly suffer in captivity more than it would in the wild, given sufficient investment in welfare. This isn't an easy thing to answer, nature can be no less cruel than a zoo, and in terms of things like life expectancy for a lot of animals the wild cuts it dramatically short.

    As for if dolphins can ever be happy in captivity, that's not a question I feel qualified to answer. But if we ask it of dolphins we must ask it of other animals.

  10. I am a big fan of your post, this was your best yet. I use to live on Okinawa and my thoughts are the same about that aquarium. if you have a chance to go to the zoo, take a look.

  11. The reality is much more tragic. Behind each show dolphin, there are about 17 his/her family members brutally killed in places such as Taiji, Japan. About 50% of captured wild dolphins die within the first year of captivity, because they often refuse to eat, and their immune systems shot for no apparent reason. Many died despite being force-fed and crammed with all kinds of medications because they “lack the will to live,” according to some dolphin trainers.

    One trainer was certain that he even witnessed a dolphin committed suicide. The dolphin waited for him to come to say a last goodbye, then swam to the bottom of the tiny tank and never emerged for air. Dolphins are voluntary breathers…
    https://www.quora.com/Why-are-Japanese-killing-dolphins/answer/Helen-Tam-Semmens

  12. Those fuckers eat whales ffs, they don't care about anything but themselves, whales would be out of the endangered species a decade ago if it wasn't for them.

  13. We enslave everything including ourselves. Always trying to get something out of everything. Some mother fucker saw a dolphin and wondered how much can we make from it if we canned it with Tuna or better yet if we put it in a circus to perform for our entertainment. Yeah lets catch it and teach him to balance a ball on it's nose. Look at flipper! A hollywood star! The possibilities are endless.
    We're fuckin sick in the head.
    Yes we are. You disagree because you're fuckin sick in the head too and you don't know any better.

  14. Okinawa's aquarium is by far the most amazing aquarium, in show and treatment, I have ever seen. And yet, as is the case with zoos, it is painful to see these incredible animals locked up. My children grew up with this aquarium in their backyard and with an activist is a father. I can truly say that they learned volumes at every visit. And now, they too are activists. So, was it worth it? I don't have the answer either, Rare Earth. But I am thankful for your story!

  15. This one was deep, man. Not just like deep in water, but "deep".
    It would be nice if people just left the animals alone AND didn't pollute the ocean.

  16. Dolphins should be left alone. I'm not anymore entertained by a captive dolphin than I am by seeing someone injured whether in a video or some idiotic sport.

  17. This episode reeks of Schrodinger's cat. It's dead and alive at the same time. As I am growing up , I see this phenomenon often.

  18. The problem always lies in that it's much easier to focus on one being than to a whole world.

    Maybe if we start to narrate it as being how bad the the condition humans would be in in the future it'd be better. I mean we already have a lot of examples where destroying nature ends up destroying ourselves, it shouldn't be much of a stretch.

  19. I’ve attended one such show when I was 13 with my mum in Sochi. Remember I refused to watch it and sat with my back to the pool all show. Have no idea where this protest had come from in 13-year-old.

  20. This reminds me of a question I posed myself once. If someone dies from cancer or an overdose or something like that and their death becomes motivation to find a cure/stop drug abuse and saves lives, are we better off with them having died? Would them dying be necessary?

  21. Cows are living creatures, and we've trained them for millennia to give us food. Should we protest at the farms? Just advocating for the devil, I love beef and all meats.

  22. "Roughly the cost a VIP ticket to Fyre Festival"
    Me : NAM flashback of Internet Historian's Fyre Festival video

  23. you can get a dolphin for much less in japan.. they eat them.. you could jsut pay fishermen to catch them and not kill it.. normally they slice it with a big knife on a pole and then it will slowly bleed out and theyll then dismember it and if youd just buy it by kilo for the meat.. lops out in the beach and sendit off for school lunches.. but a live one could be pruchase.d maybe 1000 or 2000 or whatever im sure..

  24. Well put.
    I hope that your words reach enough people that some change can come of it. I, too, am a huge fan of dolphins, and all cetaceans, for that matter.
    Keep up the good work!

  25. I have some sort of weird reaction, dolphins make me cry. I have read that some people have that too, but I still have no idea why. Every time I see a dolphin, tears just pour down my face and I can't stop.

  26. My friends took me to this aquarium a couple of years ago. I remember sitting at the cafe next to the whale sharks, looking up at them swimming slow circles in their tank and just feeling sad. It was the last time I went to an aquarium.

  27. A person could live a whole life not caring about wildlife. Aquarium and zoo offer a point of contact for people to become aware of those animals as something seemingly enjoyable in the part where you don't normally have access to them. Of course most people might think of nothing deeply out of the experience, but at least there will be some who does and hopefully does something to help eventually. Some aquarium and zoo help conserve wildlife in many ways so I think there is some value in that.
    In the perfect world there will be no captive animals for entertainment, but that's a long way down the road that I believe we are slowly going toward. Until that day, this kind of entertainment might be the necessary evil for raising awareness in people's mind.

  28. So long and thanks for all the fish
    So sad that it should come to this
    We tried to warn you all but oh dear?

    You may not share our intellect
    Which might explain your disrespect
    For all the natural wonders that
    grow around you

    So long, so long and thanks
    for all the fish

    The world's about to be destroyed
    There's no point getting all annoyed
    Lie back and let the planet dissolve

    Despite those nets of tuna fleets
    We thought that most of you were sweet
    Especially tiny tots and your
    pregnant women

    So long, so long, so long, so long, so long
    So long, so long, so long, so long, so long

    So long, so long and thanks
    for all the fish

    (yeah)

    So long and thanks for all the fish
    So sad that it should come to this
    We tried to warn you all but oh dear?

    (oh dear)

    Despite those nets of tuna fleets
    We thought that most of you were sweet
    Especially tiny tots and your
    pregnant women

    So long, so long, so long, so long, so long
    So long, so long, so long, so long, so long

    So long, so long and thanks
    for all the fish

  29. Humans as a species are going to hell, sure, there maybe a few unicorns that escape that fate, the rest of us are going to hell…….

  30. I'm glad that here in Switzerland it's forbidden to hold any dolphins or whales captive. There was one aquarium that had some dolpfins in the past. After three dolpfins died in one year the court ruled holding dolpfins and whales as unconstitutional and legislation was passed later.

  31. It'd be great if we could divorce discussions of conservation and ecology and biodiversity from taking shots at meat-eaters or hunters. I have no problem with sustainable game reserves. I'm not a hunter, but I respect people who are. People who've spent their entire lives living in human zoos may convince themselves they're more enlightened and may look down on them, but at least hunters have earned the leather on their backs and the meat in their bellies. They got their hands dirty, they paid the iron price, and they've had the full, wild, free-range human experience. We are predators, and there need not be any shame in that.

  32. I know there are captive performing dolphins around the world but really, does anyone expect Japan to respect sea animals?

  33. I’m particularly fond of my local aquarium as it has no dolphins or large mammals that require additional space, but 80% of the learning is about conservation and showing the dangers of over fishing and carefully choosing the type of fish you consume. That and it has a tremendous amount of actual science happening as well as a nice ambient atmosphere.

  34. Just look up the dimensions of the natural habitat of zoo animals and then how much space they have . Heard animals are isolated , loners are being put together, night animals exposed with no hideout in the day.. animal conservation my ass , those animals (a lot acquired illegally ) can’t for the most never be released into the wild. There is a terrible free zoo in my city in a supposedly modern country where a group of chimps is in a 10×10 concrete cell with little shelter from rain. They have severe behavioral problems and bloody behinds from the concrete. Go to a wildlife conservation park or a natural history museum if you want to see animals .

  35. Encouraging people to swim with wild dolphins is incredibly reckless. There are multiple studies showing how people swimming with wild dolphins reduces their time to forage and rest. It also causes increased stress – for example, spinner dolphins in Hawaii get swamped with people and boats will chase and harass them. Your footage shows dolphins deliberately avoiding a group of swimmers swimming towards them. That group of swimmers might have just scared off the fish that the dolphins were hunting, or interrupted their rest, play and social interactions. But it doesn't matter, so long as you get an experience, right?

    Meanwhile, you talk scathingly about aquariums while visiting one in Japan that is nowhere near the standards of accredited facilities in the US. Go to these facilities and you'll learn that there's more to it than just guest engagement. Most of what we know about dolphins was from studies with them in human care. Even today, they are helping their wild counterparts. For example, without SeaWorld San Diego's assistance in developing a special tag to monitor heart rate by using it on their cetaceans, we wouldn't have found out the recent discovery of the blue whale's heart beat. Another example is developing silent drones to take blow samples from wild dolphins. So this involves dolphins in human care participating in hearing tests, visual acuity tests and assessing the exact height of an exhale from a dolphin's blowhole. We need dolphins in human care to help look after their wild counterparts and equip ourselves with the tools and knowledge to do so. Data collected from wild dolphins informs policies on how to manage them and protect them, but collecting data is impossible without dolphins in aquariums.

  36. More Japanese anthropomorphizing or otherwise seeing cetaceans as fun, smart 'pets' is probably a good thing…you are much less likely to eat an animal you think is cute.

  37. The answer is anarchist revolution. Once the profit motive is eliminated, there will be no need for sanctuaries or circuses.

  38. We wouldn’t know much about many of these animals if we hadn’t created public aquariums. I’m talking about the research, not the dolphin tricks or the exhibits that your kids play in.

  39. So glad to see I'm not the only one who thinks the word GHOTI is so cool that it's worth sharing with the rest of the world, in parties, at the doctor's, on the street…

  40. Dolphins are such intelligent a interesting creatures its horrible what people do to them in the name of entertainment

  41. You actually got more than a show. You got motivated enough to tell us the truth about the imprisonment of another species.

  42. After growing up in Kenya in the '70s, before the [human] population explosion, I became used to seeing wild animals — perhaps not as close as a zoo, but in their natural environment. I struggle with zoos.

  43. I agree. However the way to get the vast majority of the sentient life forms on the planet to give a shit about the aforementioned planet is to raise their standard of living so there is opportunity to care about something other than their own survival. It is difficult to effect change amongst the 2/3rds of the human biomass that accounts for the worst actions against the environment if their lives are constrained by lack of economic opportunity. In other words, a man will butcher the last of a species if it’s the only option to feed his starving family. The only “awareness” that is effective is the awareness of a full stomach.

  44. Used to visit a wild dolphin in Ireland. We took our time with building up trust and had no problems. Stupidest thing I did was grabbing onto it’s dorsal fin after a few visits, and it dove down and out to sea. As word got out about her more and more people started visiting this little cove off a cliff in County Clare. She started attacked people then who assumed they could grab and pole it without building that trust. I believe one person stuck a finger in its blow hole and got their ribs broken. Still one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had.

  45. I'd like to play devil's advocate and present the point of where these doplhins came from.
    Perhaps the dolphins displayed in this particular aquarium were saved and would otherwise not be able to survive in open waters?
    Is it certain that someone just went and randomly plucked them from the sea?
    If not, then I can think of no better role for a member of a species than to represent its environment and wonder to the rest of us.

  46. My favorite video of your’s so far. Indeed it is a very fine line between wildlife education and wildlife abuse. I know we wouldn’t take it too kindly if another species did any of those things to us.

  47. The Japanese will be the very last people on the face of the planet to give one solitary crap about ocean conservation.

  48. how about small, "interactive robots" which you could connect to through an app or browser for a rented time to go visit wild animals without having to travel, or put yourself in danger?

  49. Do you eat meat or drink milk? Or eggs? Why do you appreciate a dolphin in an aquarium more than the cow whose milk you drink? The chicken whose egg you eat or the pig that's killed for your dinner? Isn't hypocrit to complain about dolphin slavery just before you go out for some sushi or shove a burger down your throat? The proximity to that dolphin, seeing how smart they are and the things they learn to do make people respect the dolphin more than if it would just be a photo in a magazine

  50. I pretty much lost my faith in aquariums when my first Goldfish died.
    And later, when I saw Free Willy and learnt about all the shenanigans they get up to in seaworld, I thought: "yeah, that sounds about right."

    My cat kills little things for the sheer pleasure of the act, but I'll never put that little demon in a cage

  51. I wish that the entire world would forgo any fishing for one year. One is easy. 3 would be better but…small goals.

  52. There's no line. Dolphins or any other animal don't need to be saved by humans. Exactly the opposite. They needed to be saved from humans

  53. God gave us dominion over all the animals that lay upon this Earth let's not try and piss him off when he comes back says no other creature but us

  54. One of my best friends is a wild dolphin. I have been swimming with her regularly since 2002. I am very fortunate. I would never pay or go to see animals in captivity, it is very cruel and unnecessary.

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