Ocean World: To go or not to go?

in Adventure Travel / Dominican Republic
dolphins jumping ocean world

Photo: The dolphins at Ocean World look happy, but is it an illusion?


Having traveled for over a decade, I’ve always felt that traveling was more like an occupation requiring dedication than some frivolous form of escapism. Though I’m sure my parents didn’t exactly see it that way as I boarded a plane to Russia, citing my “fear of cubicles” as reason enough to flee the U.S.

I learned quickly that traveling is hard work and comes with responsibilities. The responsibility to respect different cultures; to try to speak the language of the country I’m in; to be open to lifestyles different from my own; to eat foods I wouldn’t normally eat out of respect for my hosts; to have empathy for those who struggle to get by; and to consider the practices of other cultures, even those I initially recoil from, and decide how to react to them.

When I lived in Qatar, a conservative Muslim country, I got used to wearing long, loose clothing, even in 120-degree weather, and I had to remember never to extend my hand to a man when introducing myself, which took some getting used to. But there were some things I chose not to get used to. Like slavery and camel racing. And so I made the decision not to attend the local camel races so as not to support a sport that depended on child slaves to exist. And after I left in 2004, I felt validated when the government banned the use of child jockeys in camel racing.

When I lived in Seville, Spain, bullfighting was very much alive and popular, boasting Ernest Hemingway’s love for the sport as validation, as well as the fact that it was a tradition. Yet I couldn’t bring myself to attend a bullfight because, to me, it was blood-thirsty, cruel and pointless. And I didn’t understand how Spaniards could call it a “fight,” considering the bull never had a chance at winning.

What was interesting, though, was how my students in Spain reacted to the news in 2005 that the British government had banned fox-hunting in England, a sport which involved people on horseback unleashing trained dogs on foxes, tearing them apart from limb to limb when caught. My Spanish students all agreed that fox-hunting was barbaric, cruel and unnecessary and, of course, it should be banned.

“But what about bullfighting?” I asked.

“Bullfighting? What do you mean?!” they asked. “That’s an art. It’s Spanish tradition!”

“But some could see it as barbaric, cruel and unnecessary,” I said.

“No, no, no, that is different,” they protested.

And I protested in return, challenging their viewpoint and asking my students to examine their own “traditions” with a bit more objectivity. This was a difficult exercise, as it turned out. As it is for many people, including myself, regardless of where they’re from. But through that conversation and many more like it, I began to see that one culture’s tradition is sometimes another culture’s cruel and unusual punishment.

So, when a reader respectfully wrote to me about the moral controversy surrounding animals in captivity and parks like Ocean World in the D.R., after seeing photos of me swimming with dolphins, sharks, stingrays and sea lions, I immediately felt guilty. Had I just unwittingly committed an irresponsible travel misstep?

ocean world dolphins controversy dominican republic

Admittedly, I am in heaven hugging this dolphin.

It had never occurred to me that by taking my nephews to Ocean World, I might be supporting an environmentally harmful cause. In fact, as an animal lover, I was ecstatic to have the rare opportunity to touch and swim with these incredible creatures. But as it turns out, ignorance really is bliss.

So now that I was no longer ignorant, I felt a responsibility to educate myself by consulting the internet, debating with my family, posing questions to a marine biologist, and renting the documentary “The Cove,” which has motivated animal rights organizations to advocate for dolphins and campaign against marine parks.

And the purpose of all this research has been to help me pin down my convictions about marine parks like Ocean World and make sense of the controversy surrounding dolphins and other wild animals in captivity.

If you haven’t seen “The Cove,” it is a film by Ric O’Barry, the dolphin trainer on the 1964 TV series “Flipper,” who had a drastic change of heart regarding captivity after a dolphin died in Ric’s arms from what he claims was a suicide wrought from despair at living in captivity. The film, which won an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature in 2010, criticizes the practice of dolphin culling in the Japanese fishing village of Taiji, where most of the world’s captive dolphins come from, and where about 23,000 dolphins are slaughtered each year for meat, as well as to protect the fish stock from dolphin consumption.

In a word, the film is heart-breaking. I can’t deny the emotions I felt while watching dolphins being netted and speared to death.

But, by the time I sat down to watch “The Cove,” I had already read a lot about the centuries-old dolphin-hunting tradition in Japan and countries like the Solomons Islands, Faroe Islands and Peru, as well as the issues with dolphins in captivity. So my inner cheerleader was rooting for the film to offer a solid argument for why I should never visit a marine park again, or support animals in captivity in any way.

Except, instead of filling me with conviction, I came away from the film with more questions than answers, including:

How is the slaughter of 23,000 dolphins a year in Japan more wrong than the 34 million cows slaughtered in the U.S. every year?

What is the criteria for animals we can’t kill for food vs. animals we can kill for food? Is it cuteness? Intelligence? Our sentimentality? Who decides this criteria?

If the dolphin population is increasing in Japan, despite the hunts, doesn’t that make them a sustainable source of food?

The 12 dolphins at Ocean World came from Taiji, Japan, and were spared from the dolphin hunt. Should I not be happy that someone paid good money to spare these dolphins’ lives?

I don’t have the answers to these questions. And though watching the one-sided tale of Taiji’s fishing industry unfold on film was educational, it was equally educational to read some of the negative reviews of the film on Amazon.com. Many of the reviewers asked similar questions to the ones I formed while watching “The Cove,” and some of them offered perspectives from within the Japanese culture, which the film failed to address.

“I think killing animals for meat could be cruel if killing dolphins is cruel,” wrote one Japanese reviewer. “And [the film] didn’t mention the history of dolphin and whale hunting in Japan. In the 19th century, Western whale hunters used to kill whales to get its oil just for fuel for the lamp, and they threw whale meats and bones into sea while Japanese hunted them for food.”

And one American reviewer, Nathan, wrote, “It’s funny how animals with cute personalities get more respect then ones without charm, say cows or chickens. Take a look at Food Inc. and see how we treat animals in this country and around the world. The small Japanese town that has been doing this is a fishing village, they don’t kill for sport. Leave them be.”

So, there it is. After all that research, my self-imposed obligation to be a responsible traveler has brought me here, to this troubled intersection of contradicting viewpoints, leaving me desperate to have a cheat sheet of rules that overrides all sentimentality and offers a universal morality.

But, alas, I am still unclear on whether I think it is wrong for parks like Ocean World to have dolphins and marine animals in captivity. Personally, I was blown away by the experience of interacting with the animals at Ocean World, and I could see from the ecstatic looks on my nephews’ faces, that they were too. And I know those particular dolphins were spared their lives in Taiji because a wealthy man who loves animals paid a lot of money to bring those dolphins to the Dominican Republic.

Does that make the owner of Ocean World a bad person? And I wonder, do zoos and marine parks have no educational value?

I do my best to be a responsible traveler, which requires me to tread carefully and learn from my mistakes as I move between cultures and around language barriers, all the while remembering that my viewpoint is just one viewpoint, which is not necessarily universal.

But in this particular case, I am struggling to work out what my viewpoint is.

I just know that, reflecting on my experience at Ocean World, I don’t regret having gone with my nephews to experience first-hand the power of these amazing creatures. And I have no doubt that some of the little kids who visit these parks are inspired by their love for these animals to grow up and become marine biologists who contribute to the protection of our natural world.

I guess the question is, is that justification enough?

royal dolphin swim ocean world dominican republic

At Ocean World with sister-in-law Carina and nephews, Xander and Henry.

0 Comments... Be the first to comment
  • Greg April 30, 2013, 2:31 am

    Similar puzzlement around Canada’s seal hunt. For centuries seals were a source of food and income from the pelts for natives and Newfoundland’s fisherman. The pictures of cute little white pups with big brown eyes encouraged the seal huggers in Europe and the USA to basically wipe out the industry. Oh goody, now we can feel better. In the meantime as the seal population exploded the east coast cod fishery was wiped out. Harp seals take A bite, one bite out of a cod. They go for the “throat” of the cod and spit the rest out. Sure there are other factors like water temperature but science cannot ignore the eating machines called seals. In the meantime indigenous peoples are punished. Newfie fishermen who relied on the seal incomes in the winter now rely on unemployment insurance or welfare. Way to go Sir Paul McCartney. Don;t see you putting on any charity concerts for the Newfies.

    • Tasha April 30, 2013, 12:21 pm

      That’s really interesting. I have to admit, I am a sucker for those cute pups with big brown eyes myself. But I don’t know enough about the seals of Newfoundland to comment on it… but, hey, thanks for torturing me with more moral dilemmas to spiral me into a bottomless vortex of internet research 🙂 LOL. (Don’t worry, I do it to myself anyway)
      Thanks for reading…and commenting!

    • Julie May 2, 2013, 11:08 am

      Good comment! I’d like to clarify a point though – the food web is just that, an intricate web. Explaining the ecology of a marine system is never as simple as species A ate species B, therefore species B has collapsed because of species A. One important predator that was left out of your argument is Homo sapiens. Humans are well-documented as the primary cause of the collapse of cod (this paper is one of many quantifying this statement: http://ram.biology.dal.ca/~myers/papers/Papers-1991-1995/biological_collapse.pdf). Cold-temperatures played a minor role in the collapse of cod compared to the role of human-induced fishing mortality. You are correct that seals have played a role, but it may not be the role you expected. In this paper (http://bowenlab.biology.dal.ca/data/Trzcinski%20Grey%20seal%20pred%20Ecol%20Appl%202006.pdf) scientists found that humans caused the cod populations to collapse, but the cod populations are struggling to rebound and increased seal populations are playing a role in that struggle. The scientists found that the seals cause about 20% of the natural mortality of cod. Prior to humans, the food web worked much better! Cod populations were large and healthy. Cod ate urchins, allowing kelp to grow and other fish populations to flourish. If a seal ate a cod and discarded much of the body, it didn’t matter because the web was robust to this type of predation (brown bears do the same thing with salmon by the way). But the web is torn up now, thanks to us, and it isn’t easy to repair. Although commercial cod fisheries have been tightly managed or closed completely for years now, cod have not rebounded because of this tattered web. Remember that seal predation only explains 20% of natural mortality in cod. So there are other factors that are contributing to their natural mortality. One intriguing hypothesis is that when humans removed most of the cod from the ecosystem other fish populations grew (think dogfish, haddock, pollock – but these fisheries all have problems now too) and filled in the niche of cod. This in turn prevented cod from jumping back and filling in their old spot because it had been taken over by other fish species.
      Whew. Hope that makes sense! I work as a fisheries biologist, so this is my bread and butter. =) FYI – this is a great book to read if you are interested in the history of the cod fishery: Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World.

      • Tasha May 2, 2013, 12:19 pm

        And with that, my dear friends, I introduce Julie, my “marine biologist friend,” mentioned in this post. She’s way smarter and more informed than all of us…and she keeps me on my toes with her research. Nice one, Julie!

  • Joe Chin April 30, 2013, 3:24 am

    I also saw “The Cove” and like you I had plenty of questions as well. Well meaning westerners have done a lot to undermine japanese culture and since they get most of their sustenance from the sea sustainable fishing is equally important to them. Whale meat was already going out of fashion in Japan and the japanese agreed to sign the treaty to stop, if the US would grant them access to some of their fishing grounds. They agreed, we agreed, and then at the last minute we reneged on that last bit. Now whaling has taken nationalistic importance (similar to how the US will never agree to using the metric system).

    A major difference between how we treat our animals and how the fishermen in Taiji treat their dolphins is we massage the cow into the pen (the confined space makes them at ease, oddly enough) and then bolt is fired into the back of their heads. Putting the cow down painlessly. Those dolphins are rounded up and drowned; quite a slow, painful process. It would be more humane if the fishermen devised a better way to acquire their meet. How exactly, I can’t say.

    • Tasha April 30, 2013, 12:41 pm

      I agree…A lot of great work has been done by activists in the U.S. to make farms and slaughterhouses for cows and chickens a lot more humane, to ensure these animals can at least live a good life before being killed for food. As I understand it, not all livestock slaughter in the U.S. has been humane, but it is increasingly so now with the exposure of inhumane practices through documentaries. And, note, it didn’t happen because a group of people from a foreign country came in and demanded that all slaughterhouses in the country be shut down because their country didn’t believe one should eat cows and chickens.

      Exposure is good – it keeps the public informed and forces us to have a conscience. And the documentarists of “The Cove” could have had a much more powerful message if they’d focused their argument on practical change and offered a perspective that respected Japanese culture and practices at the same time.

      As it stands, it seems that a film like this would do more harm than good by barging into a foreign society, wielding American ideals, and ignoring the cultural perspective of the society they’re criticizing. If the goal of “The Cove” was to win an Oscar with maximum punch and alienate the very country that could help O’Barry accomplish his mission, the film was very successful. If his goal was to influence the Japanese people and government in a way that would make them want to negotiate a change in their practices, it would seem to me that he failed miserably, and possibly put back any hope of Japan discussing change for at least a decade, if not longer.

  • More Joy Everywhere April 30, 2013, 5:26 am

    I love this post. Thought-provoking.

    • Tasha April 30, 2013, 12:42 pm

      Thanks, Jane!

  • Prosecco & Pampers April 30, 2013, 6:27 am

    An excellent essay, Tasha. I’m just as undecided as you about the experience of Ocean World, or zoo parks in general. On the one hand, they are animals in forced captivity for my own amusement. On the other hand, they are educational learning tools for my son to see pieces of the world first-hand.

    • Tasha April 30, 2013, 12:47 pm

      It’s a tough one, and it took me a long time to research and write about. I kept flip-flopping between the arguments on sites like the WSPA’s, and looking at historical perspectives of dolphin and whale hunting, and remembering the joy we all felt being in contact with the dolphins… I am still seriously torn. I don’t regret going, but any future opportunities that arise for visiting zoos and parks will be accompanied by obsessive internet research before making a decision to go or not go. I’m no longer naive. And I can imagine you thinking how incredible it would be to see little Per Christian’s face when interacting with animals like this… I get it. Not easy.

  • Paul Barrett April 30, 2013, 7:38 am

    I totally agree with your last paragraph.
    Nice writing. Maybe you are already working on it but you should be writing for cruising world!!

    • Tasha April 30, 2013, 12:50 pm

      Thanks, Paul.
      Believe it or not, I am working on it! I’ll keep you posted if it ever comes to anything 🙂

  • Fred Facker April 30, 2013, 9:53 am

    The dolphins in the photos from Ocean World seem perfectly happy to spend their days dancing with tourists and eating free fish to me …

    • Tasha April 30, 2013, 12:53 pm

      Hi Fred,
      I know what you mean…but I also sympathize that life in a water tank when you’re used to having the whole open ocean can’t be an improvement. But the question for me is, is it terrible? Does it do more harm than good? Is it at all forgivable in certain circumstances to keep these animals in captivity? I just don’t know…

  • Mid-Life Cruising! April 30, 2013, 2:07 pm

    Haven’t seen “The Cove”, but if the dolphins are killed for food and there’s still a robust population than it doesn’t seem so cruel. However, based on a comment from another reader that I saw above … I hate to think they drown the dolphin! There’s got to be a better way.

    I have never and will never attend a bullfight. When I realized what goes on during one of those I started to cry … so cruel! A slow death, and it’s not even for food.

    I don’t know much about dolphin captivity in these tourist parks, so I really don’t know what to think either. There are so many animals in captivity around the world in zoos and marine parks … I imagine some are treated better than others. I do believe they have feelings, and I think too many folks tend to be blind to that in place of seeing the money …

    • Tasha April 30, 2013, 4:36 pm

      Yeah, I’m with you. I also believe animals have feelings…and interacting with these creatures made it clear dolphins have feelings and seem to seek out connections with other animals (and people). It’s a hard one for working out where the moral center is…

    • Bob baker (visiting Normans Cay) where daughter lives) April 30, 2013, 8:26 pm

      The dead bulls are taken to the local shelter for food for the
      Needy and hungry people in the local towns.

      • Tasha May 1, 2013, 11:34 am

        Interesting. Just did a little reading on it…sounds like the dead bull is taken to a butchers to be sold, usually, and served in restaurants. They say no part of the bull is wasted…it’s all cooked. Maybe in poorer towns they have a policy of bringing food to the needy.

  • Bob baker (visiting Normans Cay) where daughter lives) April 30, 2013, 8:23 pm

    I now know why you are a teacher. The opinion you have is very
    Honorable and really thought thru. I agree you should have taken your nephews to the park. It was fun and educational .
    Relax and enjoy the rest of your trip !!

    • Tasha May 1, 2013, 11:35 am

      Thanks, Bob! Looking forward to the rest of the D.R.!

  • ParadiseParrot May 1, 2013, 3:57 am

    Well here is my 2 cents on killing cetaceans for food.. Don’t. BEcause they are cute? no but because they are self aware sentient beings. It’s Solent Green.
    Deer are cuter than humpback whales but deer don’t use abstract thought.They are herding animals i.e. food for the top of the food chain which is us for the time being.
    Chickens are almost total instinct and clams and Lobsters have no brain at all. The dividing line is obvious to me. These are not aboriginal practices required as in the Yupik and Inupiat but simply cheap food to feed poor school children and the meat has very high levels of toxins. Bequi natives are killing whales also but are just a japanese shill. There are no natives in Bequi. Japan is looking to the future when we finish over fishing. Its all about the coming War for food that is coming. Excelerated by the Bush corn to fuel corporate welfare program which has increased food cost tremendously.

    • Tasha May 1, 2013, 11:40 am

      You had me at “No…because they are self aware sentient beings.” Then you lost me after that.
      What’s your take on animals in captivity?

      • ParadiseParrot May 1, 2013, 3:05 pm

        You have to take a biblical approach to this. Old Wisdom is often the best wisdom.
        God gives Dominion and Stewardship over all other animals so it says.
        Stewardship doesn’t mean we get to go out on the Great Plains and kill 50 million bison in 5 years. Dominion means I get to raise some pigs and raise my community above the 30 person hunter gatherer limit and create community.
        Am thrilled over Zoo’s taking wild animals and locking them up? No but on the other hand Zoo’s spread education and empathy for the animals in the wild.Life is grey not black and white. Take the path that does the least damage to your soul.

        Each layer of the cycle of life is different. Lions kill to eat So do we. So in killing a chicken for Sunday dinner you not only feed yourself but fulfill the destiny of a captive chicken. If not for your need to eat him that rooster would never have been at all.

        Deer Cow Lamb Elk Emu Pig Chicken etc etc etc..I’ve eaten them all.
        They where farmed for that purpose. They where not wild (except for the ones I hunted personally)

        I have never seen a Whale ranch. You?

        I have hunted White Tailed deer with a bow. Killed and eaten them.
        Respect was given to the animal. His purpose was fulfilled and I helped in reducing there numbers to a sustainable number ensuring healthy future generations.
        But when I see whales killed with exploding harpoons and hauled onto factory ships by japanese workers with RESEARCH on the side I get physically ill.

        I don’t know if I have explained my logic and rhetoric in this little space but i tried.

        • Tasha May 1, 2013, 4:58 pm

          “Take the path that does the least damage to your soul.” I like that.

          Bear with me while I try to work through your argument, since I’m interested in pinning down some possibilities for criteria I questioned in my post… I have a few questions:

          1) By this logic, are you saying that if I decided to breed dogs or cats in large quantities for consumption, this would be okay in your mind, since they were farmed for that purpose?
          2) Without leaping to whales, there are large game fish in the sea which are not farmed but are hunted for consumption in large quantities. Like tuna and swordfish, for example. Are you against fishing and eating these species because they, like whales and dolphins, were not raised on a fish farm for consumption?

          I’m not trying to pull apart your argument so much as clarify the parameters of it…it’s an interesting aspect you brought up, this idea of animals fulfilling a destiny. But is that destiny universal, across cultures? I’ve eaten horse meat in Siberia. It’s a sacred meat in the Buryat culture. As it is in Mongolia. But there is a furor in Europe right now about the consumption of horse meat. Clearly not everyone believes the same animals are destined to be food.

          Food for thought (pun intended).

          • ParadiseParrot May 2, 2013, 3:04 am

            1) Correct. Dogs are farmed in Korea for food. A very specific breed btw.
            I have no problem with this. Dog meat is not my cup of tea.but they exist for the purpose.

            2)Large game fish are still fish don’t personify them.Size of brain relative to body mass is a better measure of abstract thought. Tuna are not pondering the reason for there own experience. When you catch and kill a fish he is not crying about what will happen to his/her children.

            P.S. It is my belief that whale and dolphin are as intelligent as people as there brain size vs body weight is similar. To me the practice of eating them is cannibalism.

  • Julie May 2, 2013, 11:49 am

    Well – you know I was bound to comment on a few things! =) But first of all – what a wonderful, well-written post. Spending time traveling teaches respect for different cultures and I truly appreciate that you are sensitive to this when considering the Japanese and their interactions with dolphins.

    Two comments based on two of your questions –

    “How is the slaughter of 23,000 dolphins a year in Japan more wrong than the 34 million cows slaughtered in the U.S. every year?”
    I know we discussed this via email, but I thought I’d post my opinion here too. The difference in these two animals is very clear to me – one is a wild animal and one is domestic. In order to harvest wild animals sustainably, one needs to have a good idea of the size of the population, the rate of reproduction and growth, the rate of natural mortality, and the proposed rates of exploitation (i.e. fishing). Obtaining some of these population parameters can be wildly difficult for any marine animals that are only seen at the surface now and then, if at all (see some of the problems with fisheries here – http://www.pnas.org/content/108/20/8317.full). Once you manage to get these parameters, you can attempt to fish that population wisely (and humans, in my opinion, don’t tend to do a good job at this but there are some rare success stories). Cattle are domestic animals – we have no concerns about driving their population to extinction and we certainly don’t have to bother with developing population models to derive sustainable harvest rates of cattle because they are all over the place! So to me is isn’t a question of who is right or wrong – it is a question of sustainability. Can you slaughter 23,000 dolphins and maintain healthy dolphin populations? That brings me to your next question…

    “If the dolphin population is increasing in Japan, despite the hunts, doesn’t that make them a sustainable source of food?”
    I turn to experts and their publications to find answers to my scientific questions. I am not a marine mammalogist, but because I am a marine scientist I can read and mostly understand the scientific literature on marine mammals. I took the time to search the scientific literature for papers on dolphin population estimates off Japan. I could not find anything from Japan, although I did find several papers on dolphin populations off Florida and England. In other words, in the scientific literature, I could find no published record proving or disproving your statement that “dolphin populations are increasing” in Japan. I’d love to know where that statement came from – did they cite a scientific journal or are they just qualitatively saying the populations appear to be increasing? I found one paper (http://www.aseanbiodiversity.info/abstract/51011416.pdf) from Japan stating that one particular dolphin population exists in an area year-round. That would be a very easy population to overfish for various reasons I won’t go into. But I suspect that the dolphins involved in The Cove are from more transient populations. The more a species moves around the harder it becomes to estimate population size and thus, the harder to determine sustainable harvest rates. So while I respect the Japanese culture and their deeply embedded love for fishing, as our human population continues to grow we also need to respect other populations of animals and wisely exploit them rather than fishing in the dark with little to no knowledge of their population dynamics. I would support a harvest of dolphins if it could be done sustainably, but the science appears to be seriously lacking and thus, a dolphin harvest seems unwise and unsustainable at this current time.

    (For the record – most scientific literature is written in English, even if the authors are from Japan, Italy, America, Mexico, etc. )

    • Tasha May 3, 2013, 4:11 pm

      Really good points, Julie. That’s why you’re my marine biologist expert… do you charge for these consultations?! 🙂

      Good question about whether the dolphin population actually is increasing… I read that somewhere and now can’t remember the source. When I went back out to find where I got that from, I started to doubt the merits of that statement. I have no idea if the population actually is increasing. I know the population isn’t endangered. That’s all I know.

      I totally get your message about sustainability. It makes total sense. Thanks so much for your educational bits of info. Who the hell am I to tackle issues of environmental preservation? I’m just a little blogger…so I’m incredibly grateful for the opinions of experts like you.



  • ParadiseParrot May 4, 2013, 5:48 am

    Sustainable Dolphin hunting? Really? How about sustainable ivory harvesting?

    • Tasha May 7, 2013, 12:34 pm

      That analogy would work better if the Japanese fisherman were hunting dolphin just for their teeth and discarding the rest of the body.

      • ParadiseParrot May 7, 2013, 4:55 pm

        Not at all Dolphins have one baby at a time with a long gestation and rearing time similar to elephants and people. Currently bluefin tuna and swordfish in the atlantic are at 15% of normal biomass. Is this sustainable? No of course not. Are you saying mankind has the wherewithall to manage a dolphin fishery in a sustainable way? Your an educated person so Of course your not. Whole areas of ocean on Asia are for all practical purposes are dead. Many areas killed for the sake of a few dollars in an envelope from a real estate developer to a politician. Japan has a huge population density and a need for protein. They cannot grow enough food for there citizens. Fishing provides a cheaper source than imported beef or pork. Economics dictates that they will kill the last tuna and whale for cheap protein. And to your first issue? What do they do with sharks?..Kill them for the fins.

        • Tasha May 7, 2013, 5:07 pm

          Fair argument. I definitely would not be happy to eat a dolphin, let alone watch one get slaughtered. The same way I feel uncomfortable with the idea of eating rabbit, considering how much I love rabbits. I have no idea whether dolphin fishing could be sustainable, but if it could be, I would not be one to stand in the way of it regardless how I feel about dolphins. I’ve visited countries where horse meat is consumed and highly valued, though Western cultures are horrified by the idea. I know nothing of the sustainability of consuming horses, but I understand that my own personal reactions to eating certain animals come from my affection for them. I can’t expect all cultures to have that same affection. Sustainability and endangerment is certainly a reasonable argument for protecting certain species. I guess I think personal, non-universal affection is not. If dolphins fall under the category of an unsustainable food source and could be at risk of being endangered, I would absolutely be 100% against their slaughter, regardless of the culture surrounding it. So far, though, my marine biologist consultant (ahem, ahem, Julie) hasn’t found any research to say that dolphins are or aren’t a sustainable food source. But I’m with you in “guessing” that they’re not. Again, though, what do I know?

          • ParadiseParrot May 8, 2013, 10:01 am

            Southern Right Whales are at 10% of there biomass. Percentage of biomass is clearly the number that has the biggest impact on whether a species is sustainable.
            I understand that you think of rabbits as pets but they are clearly food. My house is in densely populated Pinellas County in Florida and many rabbits are seen in my yard in the early morning. They are thriving despite the urban setting. Many places raise them farm them for food. Not as much as chickens in the U.S. Deer and Cattle are farmed also and horses are herding animals. Herding animals are clearly “food”. That being said horses are not wild animals and not an good food source. Wolves are clearly not food as they are at the top of the food chain.The bluefin tuna and swordfish industries should have clearly been suspended by now to allow recovery.Another issue is toxins.Eating dolphin on a regular basis would kill you and the japanese government warns against eating them too often despite the fact they use dolphin meat to feed the poor school children. Raping the seas of the world and using the excuse of sustainability is clearly not going to work out. It’s all about cheap protein. It’s about money.Science is only used to uphold profits not for any real management models. Hopefully the rapid increase in costs to fish will reduce pressure and allow the oceans to heal somewhat.

  • Amjad February 20, 2014, 1:41 am

    Hope i am not too late for this post.
    If people are hunting/killing fish/animals/dolphins for a living, then i do not have a problem in that. But if it is a large scale industry i expect them to be resposible and do it in a sustainable way. And NEVER EVER hunt for fun/sport.
    And these ocean parks and zoos, i am very much against them. But i like those “national park” things that you see in Africa where animals are protected. In Zoos and ocean parks they iteract the animals and force them to alter their behaviour. For eg you will see a dancing dolphin, a jumping/rolling sea lion etc etc. Yes kids will love this, and i would also love to play with a dolphin. But..
    I am from Maldives, and here also we have dolphins in the ocean. We go on trips to watch them. I feel the urge to jump into the water to swim with them. But i know its not their natural thing to be that “close” to us. For us the general guidance is that “just observe them in the wild” we are not allowed to touch the dolphins, Manta Rays, eels, corels etc etc.

    • Tasha February 20, 2014, 8:31 am

      Hi Amjad,
      Thanks for commenting! I agree with what you say. And after this post was written, I had the opportunity to visit a number of parks in South Africa, where animals were protected but lived on wild tracts of land where they were free to roam. Good on you for not jumping in and swimming with the dolphins in the Maldives – I have to admit, I would be tempted! From what I know about dolphins, they appear to enjoy interacting with humans. When we sailed across the Atlantic and the Southern Ocean, we were always being visited by dolphins who jumped and played alongside the boat. I got the impression they were happy to interact with us, and probably would have been if we’d gone swimming with them (which we didn’t do because we were racing – no time for swimming!).

  • john February 27, 2014, 9:28 am

    Hi Tasha

    When you get a chance, you must watch Blackfish about the killer whale Tilikum (which is in fact an oceanic dolphin) that lives in SeaWorld. It’s really though provoking.

    • Tasha March 1, 2014, 5:20 am

      I will! That sounds interesting!

  • jo Birch May 26, 2016, 4:28 am

    Wow. Swimming with captive dolphins. And up until now I was happily catching up on your blog.

    Places like this keep the Taiji fishermen in business . A dolphin for a ‘show’ fetches big bucks and folks like you are keeping them in business. The meat industry in Taiji is a sideline; it is a guise for the hunts to continue while the ‘fishermen ‘ capture the ones destined for the abusement parks. Hardly anyone in Japan eats dolphin meat any more. They have to label it as something else to get folks to buy it. It is full of mercury for a start….

    And your comment about the slaughter being to protect the fish stock from being eaten by the dolphins…? Really? Do you actually believe that? Wow…. !!, Who do you think should be in the food chain here? Maybe, just maybe, the lack of fish is a result of the massive amount of human overfishing which fuels the greed for human consumption?

    You also say that a captive dolphin has been ‘spared’ from the hunt. A dolphin sold for a show is not ‘spared’ from the hunt. They are ripped from their families and taken to live in a small chlorinated bathtub , and fed on dead fish. The babies are often dumped back at sea ( too small to eat, too small to sell) with no chance of survival on their own. They would be better off dead than condemned to the life they have been forced into.

    These dolphin show’s and ‘swim with the dolphin’ programs are not educational. They are licence for the parks to print money. What exactly did you learn ? Do you know that humans can pass on disease to these creatures by touching them? And vice versa? Dolphins are highly intelligent creatures who live in close knit family groups . They are supposed to swim freely, not be trapped in a chlorinated tank to jump through hoops for dead fish. Why do you think there is so much back lash against Seaworld and their orcas? Folks are finally realising that keeping these hugely intelligent cetaceans in tiny bathtubs purely for human amusement is cruel .

    • Tasha May 26, 2016, 4:03 pm

      Hey! Thanks for finding the blog…that is certainly an old post you’ve dug up here. I agree with absolutely everything you say here. I certainly would never advocate for animals in captivity, and certainly not sea animals. I would also be lying if I didn’t admit that I thoroughly enjoyed getting close to the animals we met in Ocean World. The park was something our nephews wanted to go to, and we went in a moment before I thought about the concept or knew anything about the world of captive animals and its consequences. Part of this post was my process of thought as I went through educating myself on how harmful it is to keep animals in captivity. I like to ask questions, so I looked at a lot of information and started to write down the questions I couldn’t get clear, universal answers to. In the process, I watched the film “The Cove” and I was left with more questions than answers. I later, long after this post, watched the film “Blackfish” and was blown away by the info, research and balanced stories told in that documentary. It is the thing that has convinced me never to visit a marine park again.

      My “comment about the slaughter being to protect the fish stock from being eaten by dolphins” was not something I hold as an opinion — it was relaying what the Japanese have stated is the reason for the dolphin slaughters. Who knows if it’s actually true — I asked that question as well. But if it is true, it did make me question the standards for which animals are okay to kill and eat, and which animals are not. Because it’s interesting to me that standards for animal slaughter are not universal worldwide or throughout history. For example, in Mongolia horses are killed and commonly eaten, whereas in Europe there was a huge uproar when it was exposed that horsemeat was being consumed by animals and humans. There are populations who believe eating horsemeat is perfectly acceptable, and there are populations who believe it is wrong. Who gets to decide who is right?

      In parts of India, cows are sacred and never to be killed or consumed. In the United States, we slaughter cows by the millions and eat them happily (and voraciously) without even a second thought. Who’s to say whose standards are right?

      That is the question that intrigued me when it came to looking at the subject of killing and eating dolphins or whales. I personally do not want to see dolphins or whales die and I would not eat a dolphin or whale. I enjoy watching them swim in my bow wake too much. But I happily catch and kill large fish for food. And I come from a culture that believes it is wrong to eat dolphins or whales.

      What I don’t believe is wrong is to question why that is so, whether it is universal (turns out, it’s not) and who gets to decide who is right or wrong on the subject of which animals we’re allowed to kill and eat?

      You’re obviously very passionate about this subject. Maybe you can offer me an opinion on this topic.

  • Dreaming O'Sailing June 2, 2016, 7:43 am

    Wow! This blog (and discussions) continues to blow me away! Great adventures, great sailing experiences, great sharing on experiencing and respecting other cultural “norms”, and great debate on moral dilemmas. I too struggled with these questions about visiting marine parks, especially with a young daughter who is fascinated with marine life. Is it right for me to deny my daughter the experiences I had as a child that played a big part in influencing my love of marine life? Tough question as a parent (just one of many 🙂

    Much like the journey you went through Tasha, I decided I could not support these parks. I’m taking the path of educating my daughter on the reasons why I came to that conclusion (in due course, she’s 4!) but encouraging her to explore and challenge these questions herself. Once again, great blog.

    • Tasha June 5, 2016, 2:30 pm

      Yeah, the world has come a long way in this regard since I wrote this post a few years ago. I am like you in that I can not support these parks, and I fully support your stance to educate your daughter on why captivity is so harmful. If/when we have children, I will also do the same :-). Thanks for reading!

  • James Jackson June 21, 2017, 9:29 pm

    I was searching and happy to find your comments about Ocean World. I’m going to DR for a vacation soon and part of the resort fees get us a day pass.

    I’ve never really loved the idea of zoos or marine parks, but at the same time I don’t hate them. Often times they do real good work in the areas of conservation, education, and research… yet I don’t really like going to see animals in cages, no matter how nicely maintained.

    In addition to all the really good questions you ponder above, I’m totally driving myself crazy thinking about the fact that these dolphins were saved from death at the hands of some of my ancestors, only to be taken away from their family and serve involuntarily in what amounts to a minstrel show as some of my other ancestors were… AND then add the fact that dolphins are intelligent enough that some of them might truly be happy to be performers and meet new people every day, and others might dislike that process entirely…

    For me, I’m just going to stay away from visiting these places, but I don’t begrudge them existing or getting money… I just hope on balance the good they do is more than the harm.

  • Chantal Briere August 24, 2017, 8:01 pm

    Hi Tasha, you must have missed the part about the capture of dolphins for the aquariums and “swim with dolphins” amusement parks in “The Cove”. It is extremely stressful and families are separated. http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-singer-sosnowski-dolphin-hunt-capture-20160831-snap-story.html

    Quite frankly any entertainment with animals involved is OUT.

  • Marcin from Poland April 3, 2019, 8:46 am

    Hi Tasha,

    First of all you probably never swam with a “Taiji dolphin”. Ocean World in Dominican Republic ordered 12 dolphins from Taiji in 2006 but never took delivery after Ric O’Barry wrote an open letter to the country’s president Fernandez. The president denied permit to import these dolphins and Ocean World lost quite a lot of money (source: https://news.yahoo.com/map-shows-where-dolphins-captured-cove-2013-were-201837142.html)

    As for “highly intelligent animals in captivity” argument, do you realize pigs are as smart as a 3-year old kid? Some sources claim pigs are as smart as dolphins and elephants, some put them at number 4 in the animal kingdom behind chimps, dolphins and elephants. And still we eat pork and keep pigs confined on a small surface for their entire lifetime while their wild cousins have the entire forest to roam.

    As for “separating families” argument, do you realize dairy cows are usually separated forever from their calves within 24 hours from giving birth? So if you drink milk…

    As for “small tank vs. entire ocean” argument. Wild animals do not travel many miles daily for fun of traveling or to keep fit. They do so to get food. In hunters-gatherers times humans were also traveling many miles daily to get food and needed vast hunting territories simply to support their tribe. Now that we can order a pizza delivery to our doorstep many humans are confined to small apartments and offices and still enjoy their lives.

    As for “forcing animals to unnatural behavior like performing tricks” argument. Are you opposed to horse-riding too? Or to training dogs? Dolphins in marine parks at least don’t have bits in their mouths like horses. Or a leash, collar and muzzle as dogs have. And at least we do not genetically modify dolphins like we do for centuries with dogs and horses, creating breeds with features of our choice (sometimes features that cause discomfort or shorten the lives of these animals, as in case of some breeds of dogs).

    So if you eat pork, drink cow’s milk, ride a horse or have a dog, you can go to a marine park with a clear conscience because you already gathered so much bad karma abusing animals that a swim with a captive dolphin will not make it any worse 😉

    P.S. “Blackfish” documentary was biased, you will easily find sources on the web that explain it.
    P.S.2 Check this out: https://www.bostonglobe.com/news/nation/2014/07/03/some-seaworld-mammals-survive-longer-captivity/JWxo6cwSRpmVXfEW9RRrxK/story.html

  • Marcin from Poland April 3, 2019, 9:47 am

    One more comment. You wrote: “I’ve visited countries where horse meat is consumed and highly valued, though Western cultures are horrified by the idea.” Not all Western cultures. In Poland horse meat is not so popular but many Polish horses end their lives in Italian slaughterhouses after quite a long journey on trucks in despicable conditions. And Italy is the craddle of the Western civilization, isn’t it? I sponsor a charity that buys out old horses from farmers to save them from this fate but the export still takes place.
    See more on horse meat in Italian cuisine: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horse_meat#Italy

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