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  • Cherrie Ann


My research into the Dolphins of Atlantis revealed more reasons for me to further despise the cruel capture and enslaving of marine animals, such as killer whales and dolphins, who's intelligence is abused for human entertainment and lining the pockets of shareholders.

For decades, mammal captivity has been one of the most profitable industries in the tourism sector. Millions of people travelling around the world to various locations, pay to watch these spectacular, intelligent creatures become clowns as they're literally trained to jump through hoops, splash on command and ... be artificially inseminated.

Seaworld San Diego: Orca Show (Photo Credit by NeONBRAND on Unsplash)

With the 1993 release of movies such as Free Willy and the campaign to release Keiko, the male orca who worked the role of Willy, the culture and acceptance regarding mammal circus acts went through a sea change, so the industry began to disguise their business by promoting themselves as "educational centers".

The trade came under further scrutiny for the distressing capture of young, wild mammals so they've taken to breeding their supply (often inbreeding) and changed their marketing to "educational, conservation and breeding centres".

On the 24th February 2010, one such captured male orca named Tilikum came to fame when he killed a senior animal trainer Dawn Brancheau at Orlando Seaworld. Dawn was the third fatality associated with this orca and the third death associated with the Seaworld parks.

Only 2 months earlier on the 24th December 2009, Keto (a ten year old male whale on loan for a "breeding program" from Seaword Orlando) killed Alexis Martinez in the Orca Ocean Loro Parque's, Canary Islands. There is an in depth story about it by Tim Zimmerman called Blood in the Water.

Dawn's death sparked an investigation by Gabriela Cowperthwaite who believed there was more to the story of Dawn's death than Seaworld stated, prompting the release of the 2013 American documentary Blackfish also co-written by Tim Zimmerman.

This impassioned, controversial documentary depicts the life of Tilikum from his early capture as a 2 year old calf who was separated from his family under distressing circumstances and then kept isolated, suspended in nothing more than a concrete holding cell for almost a year before being sold on to a park.

On going research and reports such as the 5th 2019 Edition of the Case Against Marine Mammals in Captivity documents that the physical, emotional and psychological toll of capturing and keeping these creatures in confined spaces, whilst wasting their lives away in unnatural circumstances, goes against everything that their biology has designed them to be.

All of this combined with having to be made compliant through tranquilizers, constitutes as animal cruelty, likened to produce the same type of psychological effects as those that happen to humans held in isolation whilst incarcerated.

After much debate, in October 2018 the California Coastal Commission banned the breeding of orcas in captivity, a decision that SeaWorld initially challenged then later bowed to after mounting criticism about the treatment of marine mammals, including dolphins, in captivity.

With so much publicity and outcry about the treatment of mammals in captivity, it came as a surprise to me to find out that a growing number of US tourists are heading to resort destinations in Mexico and the Caribbean for a swim-with-dolphin experience without researching what their ticket is truly supporting.

Most tourists can now step off the cruise ship, only experiencing the resort style sea pens that people interact with the dolphins in, and not any other aspects of the dolphins true lifestyle.

Tourists don't stop to think about the dolphins being forced to unnaturally interact with people and perform the same routines, day after day after day.

Or for the most part, that these same dolphins are housed in pools so shallow that they're sun burnt. So full of chlorine that they go blind and so small that they support less than 1% of their natural swimming territory.

To put a few things into perspective, I reached out to my friends at the Dolphin Discovery Centre for some information about the common bottlenose dolphin.

The average adult measures in about 2.5 meters to 3.5 meters in length. In the wild, dolphins will dive to a depth of nearly 250 metres however, dolphins held in captivity are confined to a white concrete box with maybe 3 metres of heavily chlorinated water to float in (not swim in ... float).

Even sadder still, these beautiful, self aware creatures are being bred into this role. It has been reported by former trainers that they've witnessed mother dolphins drown their newborns by pushing them underwater instead of to the surface.

It is suspected that the newborns are killed to spare them the same life of misery.

It is certainly not reasonable to justify that these creatures have overcome millions of years of evolution and specific adaptation to life in the seas to instead "happily" live the rest of their lives or their whole lives floating in chlorinated swimming pools, fed frozen fish (if they're lucky) for our amusement.

The great news is as more insiders speak out against the parks, the more we see evidence of this cruelty.

In early March this year, Canada passed the Bill S-203, working from the presumption that placing these beautiful creatures into the kinds of pens that they have been kept in is inherently cruel.

The act now makes capturing any mammal from the wild, breeding a new generation or importing sperm, tissues, or embryos a criminal offence.

As cool as some of these experiences may look on Instagram, how anyone derives pleasure from seeing an animal that is supposed to have an enormous territory confined down to a tiny, inhumane glass cage, is beyond me.

Instead, I have chosen to support experiences that allow these mezmerising mammals, such as dolphins, to interact with us on their own terms whilst still free in their natural habitat where they belong, making it a far more rewarding and memorable experience.

As consumers, we have the power to change the world and there are fun, Instaworthy options available.

Take for example the Rockingham Wild Encounters; Swim with Dolphin experience which I did for my 40th birthday (and to my surprise everyone on board sang me Happy Birthday).

The adventure began at the Rockingham jetty by boarding the boat which takes us out to locate the dolphins.

Once the dolphins are spotted by the skipper it's go time! We slide off the deck into the water in small tethered groups, led by a guide who's using an aqua scooter to tow our group right among the dolphins.

We then floated face down with our snorkel and mask to watch the dolphin show below.

You can't believe how envious I was of the guide who was able to play with the dolphins.

It was exhilarating to see how big these creatures are when I was in the water with them and to be around the dolphins who seemed as curious about us as we were about them.

They don’t perform tricks. They're not fed. We simply all spend a few minutes enjoying each other’s company!

Our interaction with the dolphins was then followed by a light lunch whilst we were docked in an unfamiliar bay and a play with the aquascooter.

If speed and whales are your thing then get your heart pumping with an ocean encounter experience with West Coast Jet; Whale Watching Cruise.

This is super fun! Departing Fremantle in the jet boat "Okiedokie" the skipper put the pedal to the metal, turned the tunes up and we zoomed out to open waters. They don't call is a jet boat for nothing!

Westcoast Jetboat, Okiedokie

It didn't take long before we were sitting in the boat with 360 degree views of these massive migrating humpback whales.

What about being right among the dolphins at Bunbury Dolphin Discovery Centre? Paul and I went on a lovely Spring Eco-Cruise for my birthday.

Dolphin Discovery Centre: Relaxing on a dolphin eco-tour

Mama and baby Bottlenose Dolphins

Or stand on the shore, do a Facebook live whilst watching these same dolphins (mother Cracker and baby Anzac (born April 2018) come to you for a sticky beak.

And note, none of these dolphins are encouraged by food to interact with people. It's all on their own terms.

There are so many options for us to interact with mammals on their own terms without paying for their continued cruelty.

My bucket list of adventures is swimming with the humpback whales that migrate through Tonga or Swim with whale sharks in Exmouth.

Question: Have you ever seen whales or dolphins in their natural habitat?