In the great debate of Pro-Captivity versus Anti-captivity, it is difficult to gain clarity. Many humans who have already chosen a side can be harsh and overwhelming, without giving you a chance to even ask a question. Facts! Facts! Facts!
At the first sign you might be on the other side, they will jump down your throat and give you more and more facts until you shut down and just agree with them to avoid any further confrontation. It is hard to make a decision on your own without hearing both sides and many people won't even shine light on "the other side".
The argument in support of captivity is this: we can study these animals in captivity which will help us to protect them in the wild. We can repopulate species and help them from becoming extinct, and of course, we can rescue injured wild animals and provide them with the best medical care away from predators.
Humans who use this logic in support of captivity often suffer from lack of education on the other side. We need to start applying these theories to all animals, including large whales. If it doesn't make sense for a large whale, it's difficult to justify these theories for any other animals.
We don't have any large whales in captivity. Large whales need an amount of space it seems we are all in agreement cannot be duplicated by a captive environment. If a large whale gets injured, nature either takes care of it, or a brave diver will perform an "outpatient procedure" of sorts and detangle it or help the whale in any way possible. These animals are never brought into captivity for a medical procedure.
This concept can also be applied to the theory of studying these animals. Yes, we can study them in captivity. We can study them exhibiting unnatural behaviors in unnatural settings and therefore get unnatural research results OR we can study them in the wild where they are exhibiting natural behaviors with complex social structures in natural settings. Studying animals in the wild results in more exact and more accurate information about these species. We have never studied a humpback whale in captivity, but we know so much about them because of our studies in the wild.
We can repopulate a species in captivity when its environment is diminishing. What good do these species do for our planet if they are trapped in a tank or a cage? The reason these species are so important to our planet is because everyone plays a big part in our ecosystem, and our ecosystems are connected.
We need these animals in the wild. Creating them in captivity is not fixing anything. We need to fix the issues that their environments are facing so they can repopulate naturally, in the wild. Without ice caps, it doesn't matter how many polar bears we have in captivity. They are not contributing to their environments and their ecosystems where they are needed. Once we lose our large whales, they are gone. We cannot step in and repopulate them. We need to focus on the health of the oceans if we want to keep them here.
Captivity industries are very tricky because they convince people that what they are doing is good for wildlife. Once you have the facts, it is difficult to take the stories they give you and accept them. Captivity is actually hurting wildlife more than it is helping, which becomes evident with education about the topic.
So many animals die each year during their captures from stress alone. If they survive the capture itself, often living in such a different environment than what they're used to can be stressful enough to cause death as well.
In Japan, hundreds of dolphins are slaughtered each year. The fishermen who slaughter these animals could not afford to take their boats out to capture them if it were not for the funding from the captivity industry.
A lot of these captivity industries have perfected their sob stories throughout the years and they can become very convincing. There is a facility in the Bahamas where you can Swim with dolphins and they put a lot of money into advertising that these dolphins were rescued from Hurricane Katrina and they needed somewhere to go, so this facility generously took them in. They even made a sappy commercial about the story with sad, inspirational music to make it seem like they really care.
I love a good sob story as much as the next girl, but when you look at what they're not telling you, that's when it becomes a real tear jerker. Here is what they often leave out: 6 dolphins were separated from the other dolphins in anticipation of the storm and moved to hotel swimming pools (with chlorine and other pool chemicals), leaving 11 dolphins behind presuming they would be deceased upon their return to the aquarium after the storm. It is also very sad to learn that 8 dolphins died in this new paradise within a 6 year timeframe, including one of the dolphins who was rescued from Hurricane Katrina.
They also leave out facts such as this: they have a total of 44 dolphins at their rescue facility however they only focus on the 17 they rescued from Hurricane Katrina. They have purchased 8 dolphins that were wild caught since 2000 despite having a breeding program where they have had 16 dolphins born (who survived) since 2007. The more I dig, the more it becomes apparent that a good sob story can't justify the avarice for wealth that these dolphins provide for their owners.
The dolphin trainers who interact with the public are also convincing. They are convincing because they really do care. A lot. They don't get paid very well. They are there because they love those animals, and they are put at the forefront for a reason: so the money makers at the top are not faking a performance to the public about how much they care for these animals. They care about money, which is evident when they remove animals from their families because they got a good offer.
Most species are very social and complex enough to experience some degree of suffering when separated from their family groups. Trainers wrack their brains trying to come up with "mental stimulation" for the animals so they don't become bored and act out.
Other facilities have gone as far as making movies to connect you with their side of the story. Based on a true story means they pick and choose which facts they present and can make up the happy ending as well as change some details they prefer to hide, but there's some true stuff mixed in.
The truth is, captivity is not a healthy choice for our wildlife or their ecosystems. It does more harm than good. Captivity industries have perfected the art of marketing their sob stories. We need to think of captivity in terms of large whales. Other animals deserve the same amount of respect we are forced to show large whales. Just because they are smaller does not mean they deserve less respect from humans.
The Dolphin Project is an organization dedicated to educating people about these issues and they are very good at presenting both sides. Please visit their website for more information.