Adult-less Activism: Kids Vs. Captivity

Here’s another one. Must be the theme of the day.

An Update On Albino Dolphin “Angel,” From Taiji Whale Museum

The Taiji Whale Museum (TWM) has a blog, and they recently posted a brief update on the albino dolphin they took from the Taiji drive hunt.

Via Taiji Whale Museum

With translation help from Google Translate and my bilingual friend Atsuko Horiguchi, here’s what TWM reports:

–“Angel,” as she has been named by Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project (which also recently posted a report), is still in the side pool.

–She was hesitant about eating when she first arrived from the transport (which was no doubt very stressful), but TWM is managing to hand feed her now.

Via Taiji Whale Museum.

–TWM is currently feeding her 7 kilograms of fish a day, over multiple feedings.

Via Taiji Whale Museum

–Recently, Angel appears to be interacting more with the other dolphin(s).

Via Taiji Whale Museum

–There were no major problems indicated in her blood test, and bit by bit she is swimming a little more actively, which leads the blog author to theorize that she is starting to get used to her “new environment.”

–TWM is still holding its breath regarding Angel, and will continue to keep a close eye on her.

The rest of the world will keep tracking her, too. In the meantime, if you haven’t seen it, over at The Dodo I broke down the revenue generated by the capture and sale of dolphins from the Taiji hunt.

UPDATE: Here’s a video of Angel being hand-fed.

Taiji Whale Museum On The Albino Dolphin Calf

Photo Credit: Satoshi Komiyama
Photo Credit: Satoshi Komiyama

During my reporting last week on the fate and status of the albino calf (dubbed “Angel”) that was taken captive and shipped to the Taiji Whale Museum, I asked a local Japanese contact if she would relay a list of questions to the Whale Museum for me. Intrepid person that she is, she managed to reach Assistant Director Tetsuya Kirihata. Somewhat to my surprise he provided pretty detailed responses (which were translated by my extremely helpful contact).

For the record (and without comment), I am posting the Whale Museum’s responses here, as I haven’t seen any detailed updates on the calf, and its fate, from the Whale Museum itself.

Q: What is the status of the albino calf?

Kirihata: She’s kept in a spare pool next to the main dolphin show pool with another bottlenose dolphin. At first there were two other bottlenose dolphins in the same pool, but those were more active and would snatch the food she couldn’t catch. Therefore they were moved to another tank.

The reason why she cannot catch the food she is fed is not because she is sick, but probably due to the change of environment. When she manages to be fed, she continues to be fed. She eats the same amount as the other dolphins.

Q: How is she doing?

Kirihata: Compared to other bottlenose dolphins she doesn’t interact with other dolphins as much. It’ll be better if she becomes a little friendlier. During the day her eyes are closed or slightly open and at night they’re open.

She can see [note: observers have wondered about her sight, as most photos, like the one above, show her with her eyes closed] and has no hearing problems. She responds to the splashing sound of the fish hitting on the surface of the water.

Q: Does the Whale Museum plan to keep the calf or sell it to another facility?

Kirihata: We plan to keep her long term.

Q: Is there any possibility of giving her away or selling her?

Kirihata: Not for the moment, but it might happen if another aquarium or a research facility could provide a better or more beneficial environment for her.

Q: How are you able to care for such a young albino calf?

Kirihata: We do not necessarily give her extra care because she is albino. However, as she is still a young calf we do feed her more frequently than other adult dolphins.

We are still observing and examining if she shows any difference from other individual dolphins. The more we know about her the better conditions we can provide for her.

Q: Is there a possibility you will transfer her from the current pool to another pool within the Taiji Whale Museum?

Kirihata: She is only temporarily kept in the spare pool.  Depending on the situations as well as her condition, we will consider transferring her to another pool within the Taiji Whale Museum.

Since albino dolphins are rarely seen in the nature and often do not survive long, we intend to do our best to take care of her and learn as much as possible from this unique albino dolphin.

Also, thanks to the determined efforts of Karla Sanjur, who was on the ground in Taiji for Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project, we have video footage of the young albino:

Angel in the Taiji Whale Museum from Dolphin Project on Vimeo.

It is important to note that while the world’s attention has been preoccupied with the experience and fate of the albino calf, her life is no more important than the life of any other dolphin that gets driven into the Taiji capture and slaughter process. It’s just that she is easy to identify and is therefore easy for the world (and the media) to connect with. It shouldn’t be that way, and it would be nice if everyone cared as much about ALL the dolphins as they do about the albino calf. But if people are willing to pay more attention to what happens to dolphins off Taiji because Angel exists, then her experience is important and has additional meaning.

Obviously, Angel did not ask to become the poster-dolphin for the Taiji drive hunt, and would rather still be a wild dolphin, swimming with her mother and pod. But that is the role the human world has given her.

Why Don’t Dolphins Fight Back?

Screen Shot 2013-08-23 at 10.09.42 AM

This has always been one of the most puzzling questions related to dolphin drive hunts, like Taiji, and the wild orca captures of the 1960s, 70s, and 80s (that are featured in Blackfish). Dolphins (and orcas are large dolphins) do not attack humans–even though they easily could–that are slaughtering them or taking their calves. It is hard to imagine almost any other species, reacting with the same passiveness or pacifism. Imagine trying to kill or take the cubs from a bear or a lion.

I’ve occasionally asked this question of dolphin experts like Lori Marino, but there is no obvious or satisfactory answer. Here, Laura Bridgman takes a shot and digs into the science that might suggest some answers to this profoundly complex question:

Our brains share many structural similarities with dolphins. For example, we both have a limbic system, which is responsible for handling emotional information. One difference between us, however, is that the dolphins’ limbic system is much larger than ours and, says scientist Denise Herzing, it “may be stretched out over more of the brain,” indicating that “the dolphin brain may have more of a ‘global connection’ to [emotional] information”. This could mean that dolphins are more emotional than humans, and that emotions could figure more prominently throughout their thought processes.

While it might be tempting to think that increased emotions would lead to greater aggression when being backed into a corner, another compelling feature of the dolphin brain appears to account for this notion. Sterling Bunnell, in The Evolution of Cetacean Intelligence points out that the cerebral cortex, responsible for logical thought and reasoning in both humans and dolphins alike, is controlled by the emotional activity of the limbic system. This process is facilitated by what are called ‘neocortical association neurons’.

Bunnell observed that, in human studies, the ratio of these neurons to limbic-system brain stem neurons “is necessary for such qualities as …emotional self-control” and that a decreased ratio is associated with “impulsiveness, emotional instability, irritability, loss of humor”. Bunnell points out that dolphins possess a higher neocortical-limbic ratio than the average human, suggesting that their control over their own emotions is greater than what we experience.

It could be that dolphins, while being more emotional, are more emotionally stable than we are, and are therefore able to better control themselves in stressful situations. This could explain their apparent control over the impulse to lash out at the humans who are so callously ending their lives.

This is an interesting hypothesis, but it makes me wonder what the evolutionary advantage or benefit of controlling emotions might be when experiencing an existential threat. In other words, in these situations it would be to the dolphins advantage NOT to control emotion and remain passive.

Whatever the answer, I suspect that if and when we do come to understand why dolphins behave with such pacificism when under attack by humans the answer will humble us.

(Yet!) One More Round On The Taiji Cruelty Report

Following the recent release of a paper on the inhumanity of the Taiji dolphin drive hunt (previous here, here, here, and here!), Lori Marino of Emory University voiced strong concerns about the language and approach of the paper, most prominently here.

Lori is as passionate, dedicated, and smart as they come when it comes to advocating for the rights of nonhumans. And she bravely raised completely legitimate points (though I personally did not agree completely with them). But she has reconsidered the sharpness and tone of her response, and has just released an open statement to the report authors:

Note to Self: It’s Not About Us

Open Statement to the authors of the Butterworth et al.(2013) paper: A Veterinary and Behavioral Analysis of Dolphin Killing Methods Currently Used in the “Drive Hunt” in Taiji, Japan

In response to the outpouring of strong reactions to this paper, both negative and positive, I need to say that my own criticisms of the paper reflect a very deep commitment to a particular stance on how we should oppose dolphin exploitation and abuse. They were not meant as a personal attack on the motivations of the authors, and I apologize and take full responsibility for any hurt the tone of my reaction and my comments have caused.

We are all frustrated over the ongoing abuses of dolphins and other animals. And we all have strong opinions about how to bring an end to those abuses. My own view is that a strong rights-based stance is the only one that will lead to real change, and that when we give the impression that we’re endorsing more “humane” ways of killing nonhuman animals, we have stepped over a “line in the sand” with regard to being respectful to the lives of the animals we are setting out to protect.

So I have very real concerns that a paper of this kind can backfire in terms of our goal, despite the good intentions.

More to the point, there is a respectful discussion to be had about these issues, and my reactions to this paper should have been more considerate and constructive.

I hope, in the future, to be able to reach out to my colleagues and friends as we all work to find ways to combat the abuses all around us – abuses that clearly leave deep marks on all of us.

Thank you,


I personally have no problem with sharp debates over this issue, or any issue. But it is important that debates not undermine the basic collegiality of all who care about dolphin issues, or undermine their ability to work together toward protecting dolphins. So I think this is a classy move on Lori’s part and I hope it succeeds in soothing any hurt feelings or ill will.

Another Round On The Taiji Cruelty Report

..courtesy of Professor Tom White, author of In Defense Of Dolphins, who gets Andrew Revkin of the New York Times to look at the Taiji slaughter from a nonhuman rights point of view:

After I wrote over the weekend about new research on the killing methodemployed in the dolphin roundups undertaken in Taiji, Japan, a fascinating comment on the rights of “nonhuman persons” was posted by Thomas I. White, who is the Conrad N. Hilton Professor in Business Ethics at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles…[snip]

…An issue that quickly comes to mind in considering such questions is where one draws the line in determining how we treat the animals we come across in the wild or rely on — from horses and dogs and cats to the cattle, poultry, pigs and other creatures we grow in order to consume. [11:07 a.m. | Insert | Make sure to look back at Don McNeil’s 2008 piece, “When Human Rights Extend to Nonhumans,” for more.]

Here’s the comment White made, which got Revkin interested in exploring this further:

One of the most important features of science is that major discoveries regularly raise important ethical questions. This is especially true with research about cetaceans, because the discoveries of marine mammal scientists over the last 50 years have made it clear that whales and dolphins share traits once believed to be unique to humans: self-awareness, abstract thought, the ability to solve problems by planning ahead, understanding such linguistically sophisticated concepts as syntax, and the formation of cultural communities. The scientific evidence is so strong for the intellectual and emotional sophistication of dolphins that there simply is no question that they are ‘nonhuman persons’ who deserve respect as individuals.

Anyone who doubts this either is unfamiliar with the data or doesn’t understand the ethical significance of it. Both the killing and captivity of dolphins are ethically indefensible. This is not an emotional claim. It is based on hard science, and distinguished scientists like Lori Marino, Denise Herzing and Hal Whitehead recognize this. It’s important to recognize that facts that we now consider obvious–the Earth moves around the Sun, matter consists of invisible subatomic particles, men and women are equal, to name just three–were all considered ridiculous. Science moves forward by being open to the idea that radical ideas–in this instance, that dolphins ‘count’ as individuals and should be neither killed nor held captive–might just be true.

For a brief explanation of this perspective, see my “Primer on Nonhuman Personhood, Cetacean Rights and ‘Flourishing.’

It’s always refreshing to see such a clear declaration of the moral and scientific case for nonhuman rights. Whatever you might think of the Taiji report, it has generated a lot of worthwhile attention and discussion to the issues of cruelty in the drive hunt, and dolphin rights.

To truly grasp where White and others in this field are coming from, here is a story I did about Denise Herzing and The Wild Dolphin Project. And here is a video about her work with dolphins.

A Deep Dive Behind The New Report On Taiji Cruelty

Courtney Vail, one of the authors of this newly published paper detailing the extreme nature of the killing methods used in the Taiji dolphin drives, explains in more detail how off the charts the killing methods really are:

But what hasn’t changed is the desire of the fishermen to keep the activities in the cove hidden from public view.  If culture and tradition, why such secrecy and shame? Albert Schweitzer, in a call to unveil the cruel activities in the name of tradition everywhere, stated “The thinking (person) must oppose all cruel customs, no matter how deeply rooted in tradition and surrounded by a halo. When we have a choice, we must avoid bringing torment and injury into the life of another.” What is deplorable is the disparity between how dolphins and other animals are treated, even within Japan.   The current techniques employed in the drive hunts violate even current animal welfare regulations within Japan where domesticated animals are afforded protection under their equivalent of the Animal Welfare Act. These guidelines intended to minimize pain, suffering, fear, and “agony” are outlined for species such as horses, cattle, sheep, pigs, dogs, and other animals under human care or management.  Dolphins and whales are not protected by this law, nor are they afforded protection under the wildlife protection and hunting laws. Instead, dolphins and whales fall under the jurisdiction of the Fisheries Agency under the Department of Agriculture, which affords them little protection.  This is in sharp contrast to the protection for dolphins and whales in legislation in other parts of the world where the slaughter of whales and dolphin is strictly prohibited and even their harassment incurs penalties.

Even Japan’s stranding guidelines, issued by the very same agency (Japan Fisheries Agency) responsible for issuing quotas for the dolphin hunts across Japan, cite the necessity of involving a veterinarian in the humane euthanasia or slaughter of a stranded dolphin, and only under extreme circumstances where the individual animal is not likely to survive.  Here, the stranding manual suggests that the spinal incision method, similar to killing method in the drive hunts (without the utilization of the wooden plug), ‘gives psychological damage to observers’ and that spectators should be eliminated from the site, and drugs used instead to “execute” small cetaceans such as dolphins.  In the drive hunts, dozens are killed at a time, dragged to the shoreline by their tailstocks after an exhausting round up at sea.  Under many commercial slaughter regulations, and even compassionate euthanasia standards, it is required that animals should not be in close proximity when killed to avoid the distress associated with the sight, sounds, and smells of slaughter. For example, in the US and UK, the regulations and guidelines governing the humane treatment and slaughter of animals prohibit the killing of an animal in the presence of other animals. From a scientific, humane, and ethical perspective, the treatment of dolphins in these drive hunts sharply contradict current animal welfare standards employed in most modern and technologically advanced societies.

There has been some hard pushback on the paper, because it could be interpreted to be arguing that if the Taiji fishermen simply used accepted livestock slaughter practices then the drive hunts would be okay. While I think the pushback makes a legitimate criticism of the report, there is a benefit to detailing how completely abhorrent–and completely distinct from the slaughter of ANY animal– the Taiji killing methods are. Yes, every discussion about the Taiji dolphin drive should make crystal clear that it should end, without qualification, and that the entire concept of herding and killing dolphins is inhumane and immoral, period. But to the extent that the report shocks people with a deeper understanding of the unusual and extreme cruelty involved, I think it helps build revulsion and opposition to the very idea of the Taiji dolphin drives, regardless of whether the fishermen ever tried to adopt more accepted livestock slaughter practices. That is important.

Is The Taiji Dolphin Slaughter Cruel?

Not that there was much doubt, but a scientific paper categorizes and defines the level of extreme cruelty. The DotEarth blog digs in:

In a new peer-reviewed study, scientists assess the killing method employed by the dolphin hunters of Taiji, Japan, by watching video recorded surreptitiously in 2011 by a German dolphin-protection group, AtlanticBlue. The still image at right is from the video, which can be seen here (but be forewarned; this is not suitable for children — or many adults, for that matter).

Here’s the researchers’ not-so-surprising prime conclusion:

This killing method does not conform to the recognized requirement for “immediate insensibility” [some background is here] and would not be tolerated or permitted in any regulated slaughterhouse process in the developed world.

Here’s the abstract from the paper:

A Veterinary and Behavioral Analysis of Dolphin Killing Methods Currently Used in the ‘Drive Hunt’ in Taiji, Japan

Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, Volume 16Issue 2, 2013 (DOI: 10.1080/10888705.2013.768925)

Andrew ButterworthPhilippa BrakesCourtney S. Vail & Diana Reiss

Annually in Japanese waters, small cetaceans are killed in “drive hunts” with quotas set by the government of Japan. The Taiji Fishing Cooperative in Japan has published the details of a new killing method that involves cutting (transecting) the spinal cord and purports to reduce time to death. The method involves the repeated insertion of a metal rod followed by the plugging of the wound to prevent blood loss into the water. To date, a paucity of data exists regarding these methods utilized in the drive hunts. Our veterinary and behavioral analysis of video documentation of this method indicates that it does not immediately lead to death and that the time to death data provided in the description of the method, based on termination of breathing and movement, is not supported by the available video data. The method employed causes damage to the vertebral blood vessels and the vascular rete from insertion of the rod that will lead to significant hemorrhage, but this alone would not produce a rapid death in a large mammal of this type. The method induces paraplegia (paralysis of the body) and death through trauma and gradual blood loss. This killing method does not conform to the recognized requirement for “immediate insensibility” and would not be tolerated or permitted in any regulated slaughterhouse process in the developed world.

DotEarth also puts a few questions to co-author Diana Reiss, and includes a bunch of other useful links on the topics of Taiji, dolphins and intelligence.

Read the whole thing, but this exchange is particularly important, I think:

Q. One of the standard replies from Japan on this issue (whether with whales or dolphins) is that we, for example, cherish bison but eat bison burgers. Is there a distinction?

A. You cannot compare bison to dolphins in the cognitive domain. However, bison are not killed in this inhumane manner. Nor are lab rats. In cases in which animals are domesticated for food, most modern countries are striving for better animal welfare practices that minimize pain and suffering during the killing process with the goal to render an animal unconscious quickly before it is killed. This is not the case in the dolphin drive hunts. These are not domesticated animals; they are wild dolphins that are captured within their social groups, mother and young, and slaughtered using a technique that actually prolongs death, pain and suffering. The herding procedures themselves are inhumane and may include forced submersion as the dolphins are dragged by their tails to shore to be killed.

This is not to say that dolphins should be killed. They should not.

This is probably the best answer Reiss could give to the contradiction of supporting animal rights and welfare for certain species, but eating meat produced by practices that are also cruel and inhumane. And I agree that the dolphin slaughter should be stopped quite apart from livestock slaughter.

But it is not really a satisfactory or convincing answer. There is a moral contradiction in eating meat while expressing outrage at the abuse and cruelty involved in the slaughter of other species. You can try to defend one species but not another by creating different categories of animals based on intelligence. But while cows and pigs might not be as intelligent as dolphins, they are sentient beings. They know fear. They know loss. To die is painful and they resist that fate as ardently as any species, no matter how intelligent. In the end, the only position which truly avoids this moral contradiction is to oppose animal slaughter and cruelty for all species.

Update: Lori Marino of Emory University and the Kimmela Center for Animal Advocacy, who has a long and complex history of disagreement on principle with Reiss, pushes back, hard, on another moral contradiction:

So what kind of killing WOULD be acceptable? It is absolutely offensive that anyone who works in the dolphin captivity industry would feel they have anything worthwhile to say about the Taiji dolphin drives. This is not about dolphin welfare any more than murdering humans is. This is about dolphin rights. But those in the captivity industry will continue to milk the welfare issue because it provides them a way to appear to be concerned about Taiji while still supporting the industry that drives the Taiji slaughters.

This video, which was used in the study (Warning: GRAPHIC) is horrific. But I could show you (and have) any number of videos of cows and pigs being slaughtered that you will find equally revolting and objectionable:

William Hogarth On The Four Stages Of Animal Cruelty

There’s a fantastic post over on Our Hen House, about the graphic work of Hogarth relating cruelty to animals to the human condition:

Specifically, Hogarth used visual imagery to underscore his belief that cruelty to animals would lead to other forms of social ills. In other words, Hogarth did not see the mistreatment of animals as a distinct issue but, rather, understood it to be part of a larger pattern of social problems. Hogarth’s series, entitled The Four Stages of Cruelty, was released in February 1751 and was comprised of four separate prints, each furthering the narrative of a fictional character named Tom Nero. Of this series, Hogarth noted that he created these images “in hopes of preventing in some degree that cruel treatment of poor Animals which makes the streets of London more disagreeable to the human mind…the very describing of which gives pain.”

You can imagine what Hogarth might think of a factory farm, the Taiji slaughter, or the ivory trade. But these days he’d probably tackle it on Vimeo.

His series of drawings on the four stages of animal cruelty are still worth looking at, though, because they make a powerful point that I think it is critical to understand: cruelty to animals (and cruelty to the environment, for that matter), is not an isolated problem. Instead, it is just one consequence of a chronic human failure, which is a lack of wisdom or enlightenment. So addressing these problems is not simply a matter of trying to end animal cruelty, but trying in the first place to cultivate a completely different understanding about the human role on earth, and human relationships with other species–one that moves away from profit and exploitation, and toward compassion and stewardship. Do that, and lots pf problems are open to solution.

Let’s take a look (click images for full resolution, and Wikipedia has more detail on the scenes):

From Our Hen HouseIn the first image (appropriately titled “The First Stage of Cruelty”), we are introduced to Tom Nero as a young boy. He is on a London street with several other children, most of whom are engaged in some form of cruelty: a pair of cats are suspended from a lamppost, a stray dog has an object tied to his tail, a bird is being blinded by a hot object inserted in her eye. Tom Nero, Hogarth’s protagonist, is in the center of the composition torturing a dog by sticking an arrow in the animal’s anus while another friend pulls harshly on a rope tied around the dog’s neck. While this scene of unchecked cruelty is bad enough, the artist hints at worse to come through the inclusion of a compositional device foreshadowing Tom Nero’s mounting violence: a young man sketches Tom Nero’s eventual demise on the brick wall that the children cluster around.

Our Hen House:

In “The Second Stage of Cruelty,” Tom is no longer a child, and in this print he is shown beating a horse who has collapsed on the street from exhaustion and Continue reading “William Hogarth On The Four Stages Of Animal Cruelty”

Seeing Is Important: Taiji “Dawn To Death”

Via the ever-vigilant Elizabeth Batt comes this 28-minute video which captures the full tragedy of what is happening in Taiji’s killing cove.

Elizabeth has the backstory here. The video is as painful to watch as you might expect. But that’s why it is important that people see it.

What is happening there is almost beyond imagining, and certainly beyond understanding.

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