First up, I wanted to post this clip of the Taiji dolphin drives. You’ve likely seen video of what the drives involve, and The Cove has done a lot to go behind the screens and try to help the public see the reality of the drives. I am posting this clip not to gratuitously add to the bloody imagery. I am posting it because it is a clip filmed for the BBC in 1986. So it is a reminder that this goes on year after year, and has been going on year after year for a long time. It is hard to imagine the sheer number of dolphins and whales who have gone through this, but the time span between this clip and today forces you to stat grappling with that question. The clip also makes me wonder whether humanity, and humanity’s awareness of this cruelty, will evolve enough to mean that the drives will no longer be going after another 35 years have passed.
Next up, is another account of the thought-provoking unnatural paths which life at a marine park can lead an animal down. I don’t have pictures (so this is more of a “Knowing Is Important” item), but this is the story of a dolphin called Shalest, who was at SeaWorld Florida in the 1980s/1990s. I had heard of Shalest before, but her story was brought up again in response to my effort to find out if there were more stories like the one posted in a comment, by Jen, on yesterday’s Seeing Is Important post:
There was a dolphin called Bubbles in the the Gasser families travelling circus that had to have a pectoral flipper amputated after catching a serious pseudomonas infection that caused the fin to rot and Gangrene set in. She recovered and performed in shows again but died a few months later after developing Hepatitis.
My search for more stories prompted this, on Shalest, from former SeaWorld trainer Jeffrey Ventre:
One day she was in a small side pool at W&D stadium with other dolphins (circa 1991) all of which were more dominant than she. Although it wasn’t directly witnessed, what apparently happened was she was being chased and tried to flee (a nice option for wild animals); similar to how Morgan kept trying to get away from the animals at LP on that video… but much smaller space with quicker movements, in a shallow side pool; so nowhere up or down to go in the water column, either.
She must have been near the perimeter of the pool and when she accelerated, she severely sliced a large piece of her tail fluke… but not quite all the way off. The median notch divides the tail into two lobes, each being a fluke. So she sheared about half of one lobe/fluke… but it was hanging on… not completely severed. And it was bleeding.
I remember inspecting the pool to try and determine what could have caused the partial amputation. When I looked into the water outflow pipe, which was of fairly large caliber (guessing 12 inches in diameter) the pipe tube was lined with PVC… The edge of the PVC liner formed a sharp plastic angle where it was cut with a saw, I think. If you’ve ever worked with PVC, then you can imagine how sharp an edge can be.
The fluke (lobe) was severely severed, but only about 2/3 of the way through… so it was hanging on. The incision began from the leading edge of the fluke (lobe) and made it about 2/3 of the way to the trailing edge.
It was not a stable injury. It was a displaced partial amputation made worse with swimming. Vet Mike Walsh tried to suture it back on, but it didn’t take, began to show signs of infection and/or necrosis, and so the fluke was fully amputated later. The tissue eventually granulated and she survived it, but did die a tragic death later.
Regarding Shalest’s death, I have a number of memories of Shalest from a discussion between former SeaWorld trainers, which explain what happened. These trainers no longer support captivity, and Shalest deeply affected their thinking (see, KNOWING is important). It is hard to know whether Shalest’s death was connected to the stress of the injury, or the general stress of being a small dolphin in a confined pool. But every story is important, because it brings forth details that are unique to the experience of each animal. The aim is not to anthropomorphize, but to individualize.
From one former SeaWorld trainer:
My most painful Sea World memory was of the Atlantic Bottlenose dolphin Shalest, who died from, in my opinion, stress-induced malnutrition/starvation. Looking back it seems tragically ironic that a dolphin born and raised in captivity under the principles of behavior modification, learned them so well that the food SW trained her to eat no longer continued to be reinforcing for her. It was attention from these same people that she solicited and appeared to crave most prior to her death.
From Samantha Berg, another former SeaWorld trainer, in response:
I remember Shalest, especially during her last days looking like a skeleton with the ghost of a dolphin exterior. She literally starved to death. I can still see her in the back pool swallowing and regurgitating the same herring all day long. Before Shalest got sick, she was such a phenomenal animal. You could get in the water with her and hug her for hours and she would just hang out.
Dolphin anorexia is a good description. She started regurgitating her food and playing with it. It was more reinforcing for her to do that than eat it. The animal care staff tried force feeding her, but it didn’t do any good. She just kept eating and throwing up. Eventually starved herself to death.
Again, the point here is not to gratuitously dramatize, though this is a dramatic story. It is to dig deep into the reality of Shalest’s experience, so we can better understand, which is the key to critical thinking and judgement.
Feel free to share more stories or pictures in the Comments.
I hesitated to publish the picture because it is dramatic and open to mis-interpretation. But the more I thought about it, the more I felt that not publishing it also is a dis-service, and also dishonest. And that you can never know or understand more by NOT seeing something.
So below is the picture that got Elizabeth going on her article. It shows a team at an Asian marine park trying to save a dolphin’s life by amputating an infected dorsal. One one level it is hard to object to what they are doing, as brutal as the procedure might be for an animal that can’t handle general anesthetic. But the picture also shows the sort of lives and experience marine mammals at marine parks live, in contrast to the lives they live in their natural environment.
If this dolphin came from the Taiji drives, as seems likely from Elizabeth’s reporting, you can say that it is “lucky” to be alive, and you would be right in the sense that getting sold to a marine park is possibly better than being slaughtered in a cove (though who really knows which of those two fates a dolphin would choose it if could choose between those two fates). But that doesn’t take away from the truth of what the picture shows about the alien (to a marine mammal) world of marine mammal captivity (plus, it is the sale of dolphins to marine parks that underlies much of the economic incentive for the Taiji drives, so there is a bigger picture).
Finally, yes, the ocean can be a tough place, and dolphins no doubt get injured and die at sea. But this situation is a result of human choices and human culture. So I am publishing the picture so it can be seen by human eyes.
The basic story is that fishermen capture dolphins, use the meat to longline for sharks (to fin), and sell any surplus at local markets. It’s like a perfect storm of destruction. It’s the pictures, though, that really illustrate how sad this is.
Here’s Hilton, describing the scene:
In August of 2011, I headed to Indonesia to investigate. On the first morning I woke to the sounds of prayer at the local mosque, grabbed my camera and a notebook and headed down to Tanjung Luar, the largest fish market in Eastern Lombok. The smell was over powering. The crowd was a mix of tourists and locals. I watched as the crew of two Indonesian longliners, tied up alongside each other, started dumping large fish over the sides into the shallow waters to be dragged into shore. I quickly made a list of species being offloaded. Scalloped hammerheads, thresher, mako, blue, silky, bull, tiger and oceanic white-tips sharks, manta and mobula rays, spinner dolphins and pilot whales. All coming off the same two boats, and not a tuna in sight.
The pictures, and the fact that this sort of fishing is going on–both killing highly intelligent mammals, and contributing to the destruction of shark species–can easily inspire outrage and condemnation (as it should). But it is important to remember the underlying cause of such a destructive practice is poverty. It may be easy to judge, or to assume that we wouldn’t make the same choices these fishermen are making, but many are subsistence fishermen simply trying to feed their families (though I have only scorn and antipathy for industrial shark finning operations that are all about corporate profit).
So anyone who really cares about ending human exploitation of dolphins and sharks (and other species) has to face this inconvenient truth: these practices (along with so many other destructive environmental practices) will not stop until the world gets serious about addressing global poverty. That’s not easy to do, but it is something that rarely gets acknowledged in policy and political debates.
Poverty and environmental destruction and cruelty are intimately linked. So if you want to oppose what you see here, it is incumbent on you to open your mind to what can be done about the underlying problem.
It must be so hard to watch and bear witness to what happens in that Cove, and it is thanks only to the courage and persistence of Save Japan Dolphins and the other witnesses who spend day after day at the Cove that the rest of the world is not allowed to simply turn away and go back to playing XBox.
Here, for example, is SJD’s Heather Hill on what she saw today:
The boats slowly drove the dolphins towards the Cove, and divers lined the rocks, ready to intervene if and when the panic-prone dolphins entangled themselves in the nets or threw their bodies against the rocks in an attempt to flee. Because the pod was so large, the fishermen were unable to push them all into the killing Cove (out of the range of our eyes and cameras) at once, and for a while there were dolphins cordoned off in three different sections of the Cove. One lone dolphin swam between the outer nets while its family members were being slaughtered; watching, listening, and waiting. After those dolphins already under the tarps were either killed or otherwise restrained, the fishermen opened the inside nets so they could drive the remaining individuals to their death.
One ironic note: Check out the ad on the right that Google’s algorithm selected for me as I watched dolphins being stabbed and killed. I think the algorithm needs some tweaking
Dolphin Discovery is all over the Caribbean and uses wild-caught dolphins to stock their pools. When anyone buys a ticket to a dolphin show they are helping create the demand that sustains the slaughter in Taiji. Please think about that next time your child or a friend suggests going to a dolphin show.
And then do the one thing that can help end this barbarism: say “No.”
You have to admire California-based solo sailor Michael Reppy, now in his 60s. He wants two things in life: first, to set the singlehanded transpacific record from San Francisco to Tokyo; and second, to help stop the Japanese drive fisheries (made notorious by the film, “The Cove” ) that slaughter thousands of dolphins every year.
Lots of would-be record-setters link (sometime in the most casual of ways) their attempts to environmental causes, but Reppy has been singularly dogged in his efforts to both set the record AND call-out the Japanese on their brutal, annual dolphin drives. He’s about to set on out his fourth attempt on the record—set by Bay Area singlehander Peter Hogg at 34 days, 6 hours—on his 43-foot trimaran, Dolphin Spirit.
Hogg laid down that mark in 1992, besting a time set by the legendary Eric Tabarly in 1969. And Reppy has been trying to better it ever since.
Thirty days into the journey, as Reppy ripped along at 18 knots through squally weather 300 miles from Tokyo, he was anticipating a big press turnout to mark his imminent record. With a gale forecast, he wanted to make as many miles as he could before dropping his spinnaker. When he finally came on deck after a nap to drop it, he was a few minutes too late. As he stepped into the cockpit, the tri took off on a wave, stuck a bow in, and cartwheeled. Reppy dove back into the cabin and called for rescue. Eighteen months later, his tri turned up on the island of Midway. Bummer.
He made his second and third attempts in 2000 and 2001 in the classic Warren Luhrs Open 60 Thursday’s Child. Ironically, he lost a chunk of rudder to a whale on the first voyage and came up short thanks to light winds on the second. Now, he’s back with the speedy Dolphin Spirit, planning to set off in April. His hope is that, since the success of “The Cove,” the tide of sentiment in Japan is turning against the cruel drive fisheries. He’s again promoting Earth Island, this time their Save Japan Dolphins initiative.
Reppy wants that record. But he also wants the big press conference in Tokyo he was denied when he pitchpoled in 1997. He knows there’s only so much a foreigner can achieve in Japan, but there’s no questioning the sincerity with which he’s doing his part to stop the dolphin slaughter. “Japanese media: that’s the whole ballgame, because for years and years they would not report on it,” he tells me. “There isn’t much of an environmental movement in Japan, and that’s what we’ve been trying to help develop.”
Any sailor who’s seen the beauty and grace of dolphins playing in a bow wave, or marveled at their intelligence and, yes, humanity, has to be rooting for Reppy and the dolphins of Taiji. So I’ll be following this one with more than casual interest. You can too, and also learn a lot more about Reppy and his solo-sailing advocacy at the Dolphin Spirit website. And our friends over at Pressure Drop have also posted a nice video interview:
This YouTube video has been getting a lot of views, because it does what all good video does: it makes you sit up, take notice, and think.
We can’t know what that false killer whale (Pseudorca crassidens) is thinking, but it’s definitely not: “I like it in here, I think I’ll stay.”
During my reporting for The Killer In The Pool I heard stories of killer whales that had jumped out of the pool, particularly a SeaWorld orca called Kotar, who was moved from Orlando to San Antonio after he bit the penis of another male (what would Freud say?). Kotar eventually died after a pool gate he was playing with closed on him and crushed his head.
Does anyone know the facts about Kotar, or of other videos or stories about dolphins and killer whales jumping out of their pools?
The video story of the incident above continues (interesting to note the reaction of the other animals). You can bet the audience left that park wondering about many things.