Early last week, Dolphin Marine Magic in Coffs Harbour announced the death of their youngest bottlenose dolphin, Ji-Ling. What caused Ji-Ling to fall ill is still unknown, and post-mortem results are yet to be made public.
Ji-Ling’s death is a sad reminder that dolphins do not belong in captivity. Studies show mortality rates of captive dolphins are significantly higher than those in the wild – a disturbing result when traditional risks such as predators are absent and the animals are meant to be under close veterinary supervision.
It is a sad reality; no captive facility can meet the complex social and psychological needs of dolphins.
Oftentimes the conditions are so poor, babies don’t even make it through birth. Stress and psychological dysfunction caused by captivity has the potential to complicate a healthy dolphin’s pregnancy, causing abnormal fetal development.
All dolphins in captivity are prevented from expressing natural behaviours, including maternal skills. In the wild, the relationship between mother and infant is strong and prolonged, enduring for at least twelve months before any decrease in attachment. In a captive environment, the needs of the facility come first. Weaning is often controlled to suit the needs of the facility as opposed to the needs of the infant, because there is limited space or the offspring may be disruptive to the social group.
Breaking natural bonds causes infants to be stripped of the opportunity to learn nursing skills. Inevitably, that infant in turn becomes less or completely unable to nurse their own offspring, increasing the chance of infant mortality. The mother-infant bond also serves a social function within dolphin groups. However, in an artificial social environment this function is lost, and aggression from other stressed dolphins has also lead to infant deaths.
Infant dolphins in captivity also face the same risks as captive adult dolphins. They live on an extremely limited diet of frozen fish, and lose their natural foraging behaviours. It is common practice for facilities to feed dolphins antibiotics and nutrients to compensate for this limited diet, however health complications are unavoidable. Further, facilities such as Dolphin Marine Magic offer ‘interactive experiences’ with direct human-dolphin contact, despite the risk of disease transmission.
While Dolphin Marine Magic has not released Ji-Ling’s cause of death, evidence of the traumatic effects of captivity to infant dolphins in captivity is clear.
Please, take a stand for baby dolphins stuck in the terrible cycle of captive cruelty by by signing our petition to phase out dolphin captivity in Australia.