The following question was posed to me by my mother on my Facebook page earlier this week. Read and enjoy:

Cathy Nash:

Hi my Boy. I’ve had many comments about UShaka in Durban. People feel that these dolphins were rescued and have been wonderfully looked after and cared for at the dolphinarium. They say that these people in Durban do wonderful work for sea conservation and they do NOT drug or dose their dolphins. They also say that these dophins get loads of food and are NOT starved and made to do tricks to get food. What do you say?

Nikki Botha:

Hallo Mrs. Nash! 

I am not surprised that you are told those dolphins are rescued. Unfortunately nothing could be further from the truth. Have a look at this link:

http://www.ceta-base.com/phinventory/phins_ushaka.html

Just above the table, you will see four links: living dolphins, deceased dolphins, historical dolphins and transferred dolphins. You will see that currently, there are 11 dolphins on record of which two were wild caught (off the Southern African coast) and the rest were born in captivity. If you click on the other links (as mentioned above), you will get an accurate record of the history of dolphins at this particular facility. What is most shocking is that as recent as 2000 this facility imported a wild caught dolphin (who died).

I would like to tackle your comment point by point if I may:

“Wonderfully looked after and cared for”: let me give you an analogy. If an innocent prisoner or captive victim (regardless of the form they come in) are looked after well, does it make it acceptable that the victim is held prisoner/captive? I am very sure your answer will be no. Having these animals looked after doesn’t make it right that they are captive. Of course their care matters, but it’s not the point. The point is that they do not belong in captivity. You know it, I know it and this facility knows it.

“Sea conservation”: I am all for conservation of the oceans. And FANTASTIC that they do that. But that does not give them a free pass to exploit. That’s exactly what they are doing. We have already established that these dolphins belong in the wild, right? So if they are NOT in the wild, they are NOT rescued and they CAN be rehabilitated back in to the wild (and yet they are not), then why are they there? Education? Here is my response to someone who tried the education argument:

“Captive facilities have very good marketing. They sell lies to an unsuspecting public and they do so by appealing to the good in people. Put “education” in any sentence you have a captive audience (pardon the pun). This entire issue is about supply and demand. As long as they sell lies, there will be a demand; and as long as there a demand, there will be a supply. If the demand decreases, supply decreases; regardless of product (in this case, the “product” is a dolphin). That is logic at its simplest.

Next point we need to consider is the difference between captivity (zoos, dolphinariums, aquariums, etc) and sanctuary. What dolphinariums do NOT offer is sanctuary. I work in animal rehabilitation and I can PROMISE you that if we talk about sanctuary it means that these animals CANNOT live a normal life in the wild, but there is quality of life left. So we have two options: either we put to sleep, or we provide life long care in a safe environment which resembles their natural environment as close as possible (which, you have to agree, a tank and pool is not for a dolphin). Captive facilities however, don’t have “broken” animals who are given life long care. They have healthy animals which can live a fulfilling, perfectly natural and normal life in their natural environment as God intended it.No disagreement so far, right? This brings me to the educational value.

Which do you think offers more educational value (especially if you want to talk about abuse against animals)? On the one hand, you have healthy wild animals in an unnatural environment doing things on command (which they would never do in the wild) in return for food they will not eat in the wild (dolphins do not eat dead fish in the wild – they are taught to eat it on human command). On the other hand, you have animals who are in life long care because of – for example – the hand of man; they live in an environment which is as close to the real thing as you can get; AND they behave as naturally as God intended it as possible (depending on the physical capability of each individual animal).

My conclusion is that if I as an outsider had to look at the two scenarios, it would be a no brainer that I would see the sanctuary as having far more value to those who wish to learn more about animals; and it would touch me much more on a personal level seeing these animals in need (it’s a normal biological imperative ). It would most certainly teach me how NOT to treat animals; whereas the captive facility would make me think that all I am seeing is humans dominating another being which cannot fight back or have a say in the matter). And quite frankly, in this day and age, we don’t need to teach our kids anymore bullying thank you very much. Because that is exactly what bullying is defined as.

Despite that, if you (as in general, not you personally) are so concerned about the animals, then surely you would want what is best for them? If they had a voice and you had to ask them: where is home and would you like to go there?” I am convinced they would say they would want to go home. It’s instinct. A wild animal can NEVER EVER get rid of their wildness and that wildness is that raw instinct we as humans have lost so many eons ago.
But, if you are willing to sacrifice what is best for that animal in favour of human “education”, then you’re putting yourself first and then it has NOTHING to do with the animal anymore. Where is the educational value in that?

The bottom line is – and you KNOW this – wild animals belong in the wild. Moreover, dolphins belong in the ocean. Not in a tank, not in a pool, not in a bath tub. And as long as we buy in to it that they DO, we will never be able to save them.”

“No drugging”: Do we know this for sure? Do we take this at face value? We have proof that the captive industry uses drugs. We do not however have proof that they don’t. I am not accusing this particular facility, but I am just saying. It’s like when you buy tuna with a dolphin friendly logo on it. Do you know for sure that the tuna is dolphin friendly or are you taking it a face value? I am not an expert in dolphin behaviour. Not by a long shot. But my own personal theory in this case is that because the two captive dolphins have been at this facility so long, they have been conditioned to the point where drugs are no longer necessary. But I am 99.9% certain that when these wild caught dolphins were first taken captive, drugs played a major role to keep them docile and calm. Taking dolphins from the wild and confining them is one of the cruelest things you could do to a dolphin. In the wild they swim kilometers and kilometers a day. Then they are suddenly and brutally ripped from their natural environment and manhandled, and put in a tiny space away from pod members. Dolphins call each other by name and form close bonds within a pod. That also gets taken away from them. Imagine that happening to you. You are kidnapped from your home, your freedom is taken away, you are ripped from your family (never to see them again in your entire life) and then you are enslaved and forced to submit to the will of another. I can see why they feed these animals drugs. I have seen with my own eyes how these animals just give up the will to live. God alone knows, if I were in their shoes, I would too. 
Furthermore, because the rest of the dolphins at these facilities are captive born, and they do not know a natural environment and they are kept within a family structure, it would stand to reason that they don’t really need to be drugged to keep them calm or cooperative. Again, I am no expert, but that is my personal opinion.

“Not starved to do tricks”: The same reason applies here. These animals have been in captivity so long (and most of them know nothing BUT captivity) that it is no longer necessary to coerce them in to performing. They are 100% conditioned that they do what they do by route. I mean Gambit has been a captive for THIRTY SEVEN years. Imagine that. Imagine being held captive for 37 years. I am sure you start to forget what life was like before……however, I also firmly believe that it will not take that long for them to remember what it was like once they are placed back in their natural home. 

In one of the best known public service announcement videos which speaks out against captivity, it says: “we are their biggest enemy, and their only hope”. 

I am sorry for the long read, but hopefully it has helped some

Grant Nash:

Thanks Nikki Botha for the wonderful reply. You have covered all the points beautifully. If I could add one last point Dolphinariums claim education and preservation but Japan has the most captive facilities per square kilometer in the world. They have 50 in the south of their country alone. Yet every year just around the corner from these facilities they brutally slaughter thousands of these animals. You would think after all the education someone would stand up against the killing.

You would actually think that someone from Ushaka would stand up against the killing, that the industry would rally behind this sad brutal killing and try stop it. Instead they are SILENT. They will not speak out. Their closest media partner in Durban won’t even have us talk about it on their radio station. Why ? It’s not making ambassadors for the sea then does it ? Sadly it’s about money money money and painted as compassionate wonderful places we fall for their lies, because Dolphins are such amazing creatures who wouldn’t want to interact with them ?

The question I ask myself is who wouldn’t want to save them ?