Marine parks exploit dolphins for our entertainment.
Doug Cartlidge, has spoken out against the methods used to manipulate dolphins into performing tricks at some marine parks. Dolphins who exhibit ‘correct’ behaviours are rewarded with scraps of fish, reinforcing these behaviours. Some trainers also use isolation techniques and ignore dolphins in order to punish ‘incorrect’ behaviours. Doug believes that for highly social animals such as dolphins, this deprivation is akin to psychological torture.
At Dolphin Marine Magic in Coffs Harbour, an elderly dolphin named Bucky, in remission from cancer, is still performing circus-style shows. During the show dolphins toss balls to each other, wave at the audience, and walk on their tails – activities that play no part in the rehabilitation or conservation of marine species that the park claims to promote.
Ric O’Barry, former Flipper trainer and dolphin expert, argues many of the behaviours captive dolphins are trained to perform, such as clapping and leaping through hoops, are “unnatural”, and would not occur in nature. Another former dolphin trainer, Doug Cartlidge, has spoken out against the methods used to manipulate dolphins into performing tricks. Dolphins who exhibit ‘correct’ behaviours are rewarded with scraps of fish, reinforcing these behaviours. Trainers use isolation techniques and ignore dolphins in order to punish ‘incorrect’ behaviours. For highly social animals such as dolphins, this deprivation is akin to psychological torture.
ABC3 has jumped on board the exploitation bandwagon and created a children’s television show called Blue Zoo, which is filmed at Dolphin Marine Magic. While the Blue Zoo series claims conservation is at its core, the main “mission” of the show is to teach eight children to train dolphins and seals how to perform unnatural, learnt behaviours. While the show’s attempts to promote conservation of marine life are admirable, the message is warped in the delivery. There is an inherit conflict in using exploited dolphins to sell a message of rehabilitation. Especially when the show is filmed at a park that has an active captive breeding program, bringing whole new generations of non-endangered dolphins into captivity in order to supply the park with new performers.
Perhaps as a reaction to criticism the network has received in response to the Blue Zoo series, earlier this week ABC2 showed the documentary Blackfish. The award-winning documentary details the tragic death of a trainer at Sea World, and the physical and psychological trauma suffered by captive Orcas in the marine park’s care. While it is fantastic to see the ABC promoting this important message, it is confusing that they would use the network to promote two distinctly discordant ideals. The messages of Blackfish and Blue Zoo are in complete contradiction to each other. The first makes the argument that it is wrong to train dolphins and small whales to perform for human entertainment, and that captivity is detrimental to their physical and mental health. The latter, Blue Zoo, suggests dolphin performances and captivity are perfectly acceptable, and a great opportunity for members of the public to interact with traditionally wild animals.
Unfortunately, ABC3 is not alone in promoting this message. Scientific research and the opinions of dolphin experts has not stopped other television shows such as The Today Show Australia from promoting dolphin shows and filming live from Sea World. In recently choosing to televise from this location, the channel 9 network is also implicitly condoning the misuse of animals for entertainment.
Harry Morgan, a 10 year old dolphin conservationist, wrote to The Today Show, urging them to reconsider their recent actions.
“I was upset and disappointed to hear that you are going to be filming at SeaWorld this week. By filming at Sea World you are encouraging people to go there and promoting an unnatural life in captivity for all the animals”
Harry put it better than most adults would when he wrote “we don’t need to see [dolphins] in captivity to love them.”
(You can read more from Harry on his excellent blog, called Ocean Blues)
The tides have turned. Networks such as ABC3 and Channel 9 need to be conscious of public opinion and ethical concerns, and stop promoting the exploitation of animals for entertainment purposes.