A Guidebook for Dolphin Defenders
Dolphin Activism for Dummies
by Richard O’Barry
When you first see a dolphin show, it looks like a lot of fun. The dolphins are always smiling, and they’re also laughing in their own way – and so are we. The audience is applauding as these marvelous creatures – so intelligent, so bursting with energy – doing amazing tricks for us.
Could anything be better?
Well, yes. It could be better if it were true. The dolphin smiling and all of us laughing and having a rollicking good time, all this seems like it’s really happening. But look again. It’s actually show business. At first glance you think it’s real and I don’t blame you, because it’s magic, theater magic.
For many years I worked the show-biz side of things. I helped capture dolphins for the Miami Seaquarium and trained them, putting on a great show of dolphins leaping and jumping through hoops on command and acting the clown in amusing skits. I even trained the most famous of all dolphins, Flipper, who starred in his own TV series and feature films during the 1960s, some of which are still being seen around the world. It was a great job and a daily challenge, staying ahead of the scriptwriters and the several dolphins that played the role of Flipper.
Only toward the end of my dolphin-training career did I admit to myself that there’s something wrong about using dolphins for our amusement. They have wonderfully rich lives of their own until we yank them out of the sea, their lives as a species going back 60 million years. I worked for a time on the Miami Seaquarium Capture Boat and used to help abduct them, kicking and screaming all the way. We brought them ashore and dumped them into an alien fantasy world — and why? It was my job. If someone would pay me to do this, surely, I thought, it must be okay. I really thought what I was doing was acceptable. I even convinced myself that the dolphins we captured were lucky because they would be cared for by humans for the rest of their lives. And listen to the people laugh and clap their hands when the dolphins do flips in the air. Isn’t that worth something?
I could have stayed in the business of capturing and training dolphins and could have made a lot of money doing it. But when the Flipper show ended and I suddenly had lots of time to think about my life so far, I was sick to my stomach. I was appalled and disgusted by what I had been part of. I was also determined to stop it.
Oh, it would be difficult, I knew. Perhaps impossible. If it had taken me years to see dolphins as they actually are and what we were doing to them, how could I expect the public to understand? I was being paid to think that it was okay, of course. On the other hand, I knew what dolphins in the wild were really like. Most people who go to dolphin shows believe that it’s great family entertainment. How could I get anyone to realize that this is just a lie, an elaborate ruse masking our ruthless exploitation of these magnificent creatures?
Like any other business, the dolphin captivity industry is based on supply and demand. As long as there are people willing to buy tickets to watch dolphins perform tricks, dolphins will be captured from the wild and trained to perform for huge paying audiences. Therefore, the key to putting a stop to the exploitation of dolphins is to reach the consumers. I am sure that if the public knew what really goes on behind the glittering scene of the captive dolphin spectacle, most would revolt against it. In other words, rather than buying tickets to watch dolphins perform, they would be helping us free them.
Getting worldwide public opinion on our side, getting people to see what we see at a dolphin show, that’s our big goal. And we’re making some progress overall, winning in some parts of the world; losing in others. If people understand our message, they’ll join us. I’m sure of that. If they can realize that when we talk about “dolphin abuse,” we don’t necessarily mean that they’re being kicked or neglected. Being in captivity itself is abusive. For a wild dolphin swimming free, being captured and plunged into a tank that’s like a teacup, how could that not be abusive?
The other side, and why they hate us
Owners of dolphin shows and the people who work there have a huge advantage. For openers, many people like the shows. They’re amused by the silly dolphin antics. Or they love the spectacles of animal domination, and the more amazing the animal, the more they love it. Chances are they’ll never understand what we are trying to do. But a lot of others are borderline. They will listen to us and to their own heart.
The other side has lots of money, billions of dollars. As part of the establishment, they make money and pay taxes. They’re good citizens. They advertise, they support the chamber of commerce, and as far as the government is concerned, dolphin shows are just another taxable business.
But it’s an ugly business, and that’s our key to winning.
Since many people are amused by dolphins doing tricks, the key to our campaign is to show them that it’s not amusing, that in fact it’s disgusting. If we could convince even a third of the people who go to these shows that it’s actually exploitation of the most unforgivable kind, the shows would end tomorrow.
Why do they hate us? They hate us because if we succeed, they go down in flames.
Getting to know dolphins
One of the first steps in getting others to see the problem is to know dolphins in the wild. The most obvious and important difference is that wild dolphins don’t wear funny hats, for instance. Nor do they jump through hoops, dance on their tails, applaud themselves with their pectoral fins, or make squeaky sounds like Flipper the TV star.
In your study of dolphins you’ll find that the majority of dolphins held in captivity are Atlantic Bottlenose dolphins. (Tursiops truncatus) They live in temperate and tropical waters worldwide, weigh from 300 to 600 pounds and grow to more than eight feet in length. They live in groups called “pods,” made up of from several individuals to several hundred – males usually hanging out with males, females with females and their calves – and they swim up to 40 miles a day, navigating, socializing, mating, and foraging for schools of fish.
Whales (Cetacea) are divided into 13 families, which are composed of about 76 species. Four of those 13 families are baleen whales (Mysticeti), those that swim through the ocean sifting out plankton (like small crustaceans and krill) to eat. All the other families are Odontoceti, which means that they have teeth. They use these teeth not for chewing, incidentally, but for grasping. One of those families, the Delphinidae, is composed of 31 species, including the killer whale (Orca), common dolphin, porpoise, spinner dolphin and the bottlenose dolphin, (Tursiops truncatus), the one like Flipper.
But when we see them at a dolphin show, what do we see? I’ll tell you what I see. I see a dolphin eager to please and ready to do whatever the trainer wants him to. And why? Because he’s hungry. Yes, dolphins perform tricks because that’s when they’re fed. One of the first things a trainer learns about dolphins is that they do not perform immediately unless they’re hungry. This is why dolphins are fed during the show. You see the trainer blow a whistle and toss them a fish every time they do something right. And they know what they’re supposed to do because they’ve been trained to expect a fish when they get it right. In fact they often start the show themselves when they get hungry. The trainers call their training method “positive reward.” From the dolphins’ perspective, however, it’s food deprivation. If the dolphins get it wrong and the whistle is not blown, that means they won’t be getting any fish reward.
If you understand the life of captive dolphins, you also begin to see the dolphin show with all its clowning around in another way. It’s not clever anymore. It’s abusive. When we understand that the dolphins are doing this because it’s their only way of staying alive, we see it clearly for what it is: dominance. We’re making dolphins do silly things, they would never do in nature, because we’re amused by dominating helpless members of another species. The worst part is that it teaches children that it’s okay to mock and disrespect one of nature’s most fabulous of beings. The law permits this only because it’s supposed to be educational. What a joke! But the joke is on us. These pathetic dolphins in captivity, wearing funny hats and leaping through hoops, are in no way like dolphins are in the wild.
The saddest part is that we’ve allowed the entertainment industry not only to twist a beautiful species into a parody of itself but also allowed them to profit from it.
What happens to dolphins when the show is over and everybody is gone? Most of the dolphins do nothing at all. They languish in their tank or cage and wait for the next show, the next feeding.
If you feel the same way about dolphins that I do, then this booklet is for you. Either you want to stop a planned dolphinarium or try to shut down an existing one. Or you want to stop the capture and trade (import and export) in dolphins. Or maybe you simply want to help us spread the word about the plight of captive dolphins.
When launching a campaign it is a good idea to get in touch with animal protection organizations that already work on this issue.
Animal protection organizations are practically everywhere, but not all of them work on the dolphin captivity issue. Unfortunately, some groups simply post information about the dolphin captivity issue on their websites for fund-raising purposes. Do your homework and ask them exactly what they are doing on this issue. Log onto your computer and surf the web, call newspapers, check at city hall and the chamber of commerce for organizations that are already working on the kind of campaign you wish to conduct. If you find one, join them. If none of the organizations you contact work on the dolphin captivity issue, maybe you can get them interested in starting such a campaign.
In working for dolphins or any other cause, you’ll discover that you need to communicate with some government agencies, as well as people in the media, law enforcement officials and civic organizations. You’ll need to write to these people from time to time, they’ll get to know your name, you’ll make appointments to talk to them at their office and later, perhaps, you’ll get to know them well enough so that you can just drop by if you have a special problem or a question. You may get lucky; some of these people may be closet animal protection supporters.
If you have a special problem, something that needs immediate attention, consider calling in the media. Their job is reporting special problems.
And don’t forget civic clubs. If you like to speak publicly, every civic club in the world is looking for someone interesting to talk to them. If you do a good job at your first one, they’ll all want you. This is an excellent way to recruit more members to your cause.
Dealing with the law
The legislation concerning dolphin captivity is different in every country. You will need to research what the law says in the specific country you are dealing with. If you find it’s too complicated to do, contact an animal welfare organization in that country. They will be more than happy to help you find the information you are looking for. In fact, they probably already have the specific legislation on file and can send it to you in a matter of a few days.
In some cases the legislation regarding the keeping of cetaceans will support you in your efforts to stop a planned dolphinarium. But be prepared that in most cases it won’t.
Unless you can get your story out to the public, you will get nowhere in your campaign. You need the media for that. But don’t call it “publicity.” A reporter or journalist of any media is not interested in your publicity. Reporters are interested in news or a good story. The reporter comes to you because he or she needs facts for the story. So you must deal in facts. Don’t guess. Don’t offer your opinion, your suspicion, or your hope as fact. And if you don’t know the answer to a question, just say so. But if you know anything at all that the reporter needs to know, say that. Be helpful, and honest.
Don’t even think about manipulating the press. You don’t want to be manipulated, do you? Well, neither do reporters. And they know immediately when you try to manipulate them. Instead, think in terms of getting the information out to the public. That’s what the reporter is thinking. Don’t fool yourself about what the reporter should be doing. He/she is never looking for the truth. Two and two are four is true, but reporters never write about it. The reporter is looking for a good story. But only if it’s true. If you help him/her, the reporter will appreciate it by calling on you in the future.
Play it straight. And don’t be surprised if the media is not on your side or even fair. They usually listen to all sides of a controversy and sometimes they might favor the other side. Remember that most aquariums and amusement parks spend a fortune advertising in the local media, and newspapers and TV stations don’t want to alienate their client.
When you supply information to a reporter, have the background and supporting data of your story available. If you’re talking about the law regarding dolphins, for instance, acknowledge that the law doesn’t reflect our views about abuse and we’re working to change it. From our viewpoint, captivity is abusive in itself. But in a climate of abuse, captivity as a form of abuse seems to be invisible to many people. Our campaign is to get them to see what we see. We want them to realize that putting dolphins in captivity is an abuse of power. Dolphins didn’t volunteer to be clowns in our world. They were captured in a froth of violence and plunked into a business to amuse people, a world where they must play the fool just to stay alive. Some of these dolphins were born into this dead end job.
Until the law is changed, all we can legally do is inveigh against captivity and take note of more obvious kinds of abuse. If you were to witness a trainer kicking a dolphin, that’s clearly abusive. Don’t expect to see abuse like that, though. A trainer kicking a dolphin would be fired. And most trainers wouldn’t dream of kicking their dolphins.
It’s all about money
Back in 1938 when dolphin exploitation suddenly burst on the scene at Marine Studios in St. Augustine, Florida, USA, the public paid a few dollars each and sat in the stands to watch dolphins do their tricks. Now they’ve found something much more profitable to do with dolphins. Now you can “swim” with them. It’s not really swimming, of course. Customers take turns holding on to the dolphins’ dorsal fins and having the dolphin pull them around the tank.
My wife Helene and I monitored a swim program in the Caribbean during March of 2001. Customers entered the tank six at a time to encounter two waiting dolphins, three others on standby. The swim periods lasted less than 15 minutes each. Except for brief breaks so that the dolphins could perform in the show, the swim program we monitored was going full blast, loud techno music blaring, from 9 a.m. till after 8 p.m.
Is this abusive?
It’s also quite profitable, which explains why swim programs are springing up like mushrooms.
Doing the math, we have dolphins servicing six people every 15 minutes. That’s 24 people an hour. If this goes on for 11 hours, the dolphins work 264 pay periods in a single day. And at $65 per pay period, that’s $17,160.
But that’s not all. Three photos are taken of each person swimming with the dolphins. These cost $7 each. Assuming that each of the 264 swimmers buys one picture, that’s $1,848, bringing the grand total to $19,008 a day.
Even this was not enough for proprietors of the show. The next year they raised the price from $65 to $75.
Now we all want to make a profit. But please! Not like this.
Handling delicate questions
There are a number of questions you will be asked when announcing your opposition to dolphin captivity. In many cases a journalist who has first interviewed the “other side” will ask you questions like these:
Q: What about “special cases” like Make-a-Wish Kids? These are children dying of a disease like cancer, and their final wish is to swim with a dolphin. Don’t they benefit by swimming with dolphins?
A: They would benefit just as much by getting a puppy from the pound. There is no scientific evidence to support the claim that Dolphin-Assisted-Therapy works. Even if there were, it couldn’t possibly justify the animal cruelty that these programs are based upon.
Q: Kids from the inner city would never otherwise see a dolphin, would they?
A: The very same kids will never see a snow leopard.
Q: If dolphins weren’t on display, how would people learn to care about them or protect them?
A: Nonsense! Humpback whales are protected by people who have never seen them in captivity.
Q: What’s wrong with keeping a few dolphins in captivity? There are millions of them out there.
A: It’s abusive, that’s what’s wrong. There are millions of women and children out there, too, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay to abuse a few of them.
Since our value as an organization is based on the facts we gather, let’s consider how facts are gathered. Read books about dolphins and take notes. When you read newspapers and magazines, clip out items that relate to dolphins. This will help you learn about them. Develop a file system and date entries in your files. In collecting facts, collect complete facts, which includes exactly who did what to whom and when. Everything you learn about the subject can be put in the files and dated. From time to time, you might want to make sub-files and a key to them that will allow you to go directly to a particular item.
In your reading, you will run across the names of people who are quoted about dolphins. Collect their names and what they said in the stories. Later you can call them for verification and further information.
Gathering facts in the field about captive dolphins is sometimes quite challenging because you can’t be sure that the names dolphins have are correct. Little honky-tank dolphin road shows and even the largest, most prestigious of dolphinariums have been known to substitute one dolphin for another whenever it suited them. Get to know the dolphins individually. Check out their dorsal fins, for instance. Dorsal fins in ideal dolphins are always perfect. But the dorsal fins of real dolphins are often flawed. Note the dolphin’s general size, his eyes and skin condition. Many have nicks and scars.
Don’t be confused by rake marks. When dolphins play or fight with one another, their teeth leave temporary superficial scrape marks on the side of their fellow dolphins’ skin, the marks as if you had run your fingernails down their side. This is not necessarily abuse; it happens with dolphins in a tank, and in the wild. But for other signs you can get photos for verification if you need them. Take a video camera with you to record what you’re talking about.
Over the years we have worked with numerous campaigners, of which some belong to the category of people who, without knowing a whole lot about dolphins, have a strong sense that dolphins don’t belong in captivity. In order to help them be more effective in their attempt at educating the public about dolphin captivity, we have had to first educate the campaigners. Knowing what kinds of mistakes first-time campaigners most frequently make, the following is meant as a help to avoid some of these common pitfalls.
1. Knowing the dolphin species
When putting together a dolphin fact sheet for your supporters, the general public and the media, it’s important that the information you provide is factual. As mentioned earlier, there are about 76 species of dolphins and they are all different. Educate yourself on the specific characteristics of the particular dolphin species you are referring to. Is your campaign aimed at closing down a facility that keeps bottlenose dolphins? Or is your campaign directed at preventing the import of a Pacific white-sided dolphin or a beluga whale? Make sure that your fact sheet provides information on the specific species of dolphin you’re dealing with.
Just one example:
“Dolphins in the wild swim up to 100 miles a day.”
This statement doesn’t tell the reader which dolphin species we’re talking about. I happen to know that the statement comes from a leaflet that aims at providing information on the bottlenose dolphin. But bottlenose dolphins don’t swim up to 100 miles per day. This information applies to another dolphin species, the orca, also known as the killer whale.
A mistake like this is very unfortunate because it undermines your credibility. You don’t’ have to be a marine biologist to talk intelligently about dolphins, but you do need to know the difference between the basic characteristics of a bottlenose dolphin and a killer whale.
2. Knowing the dolphin issues
Another common pitfall is for a campaigner to be mislead by the dolphin captivity industry’s deliberate attempt at confusing the dolphin issues. An example of this is how dolphinariums use the tuna-dolphin issue to justify the display of dolphins. They say that fisherman would still be killing dolphins in their tuna nets if people could not see dolphins up-close and personal. “You only love what you know,” is their argument. But the dolphin species that get caught in tuna nets are the spinner dolphin and the spotted dolphins; not the bottlenose dolphins that are on display. Furthermore, you need to be aware of the following: Seven to ten million dolphin have been killed by the tuna industry in recent years. Environmentalists launched a boycott of canned tuna that lasted for several years. During this time, marine parks did nothing to educate the public to the tuna-dolphin issue. In fact, you could buy a tuna-fish sandwich at most dolphinariums! I suspect they did not want to disrupt the complacency of their paying guests who were there for casual amusement. It’s ironic, therefore, that the captive dolphin industry is now trying to take credit for solving the tuna-dolphin problem.
3. Using US regulation as a role model
Over the years, I have been contacted by many people who wanted to prevent a proposed dolphinarium from being established in their country. One of the first things they have asked me is, “Can’t we stop it by arguing that this new facility won’t live up to US standards and is therefore substandard?”
The answer is no. In the United States the government agency that sets the standards for the keeping of cetaceans in captivity, such as the required amount of space, is the US Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA-APHIS). According to these rules it is legal to confine a dolphin in an enclosure that measures no more than 30 by 30 feet, 6 feet deep. What kind of standard is this? Any captive dolphin facility can easily exceed it. The standards for keeping dolphins in captivity in the United States were made up by marine mammal scientists and veterinarians who were working for the dolphin captivity industry. These dolphin tanks and cages were not designed in the best interest of the animals. They were designed in the best interest of those who stood to make a profit from displaying captive dolphins. Don’t expect the government agencies of the United States to do the right thing when it comes to captive dolphins. The bottom line is: The system doesn’t work.
4. The “If we’re going to do it, let’s do it right” – pitfall
“What is the required amount of space a captive dolphin needs in order to be happy?” is another question we are often asked by first-time campaigners. They want to use this information to argue with the authorities that the size of the facility they are fighting is too small and therefore must be shut down or at least made bigger. But any tank or enclosure is too small for a dolphin. Dolphins are free-ranging marine mammals that would normally swim up to 40 miles per day. Our work is not about making the cage bigger. It’s about abolishing the cage. So the answer to the question is simple: The only habitat that meets a dolphin’s space requirements is – the open sea.
5. The statistics
There has been much debate about the longevity of captive dolphins compared with that of dolphins in the wild. Some animal welfare organizations publicize mortality statistics as if they were based on indisputable facts. For example, they will tell you that the average lifespan of captive bottlenose dolphins is about five years compared with 45 years in nature. This statement is highly misleading, first of all because it confuses average lifespan with maximum longevity: According to some researchers, 45 years is the maximum longevity of bottlenose dolphins in the wild, not the average lifespan (life expectancy). Secondly, nobody really knows the exact average lifespan of captive dolphins. In order to know this information one would need to have access to the records for every single dolphin that has been brought into captivity worldwide since 1938, either by the means of a capture or through captive breeding. One would have to know the exact time of capture or birth and the exact time of death. It is simply not possible to gather this information, as it is not made available to us by the dolphin captivity industry. What’s more, even if were factual that dolphins last only about five years in captivity, this doesn’t tell us anything about how old the dolphins were at their time of death. As you can see, it makes no sense to compare average lifespan and maximum life expectancy as seen in the statement above.
However, the biggest mistake in putting so much emphasis on captive dolphins’ average lifespan compared with that of dolphins in nature is the fact that it reduces this issue to being a question of how long a captive dolphin can be kept alive. It’s like saying that if the dolphin captivity industry were able to keep their dolphins alive for a certain amount of time, then there wouldn’t be a problem with capturing and confining these animals. But an animal’s life span cannot be used as a measurement for the animal’s well being. The dolphin captivity issue is not about quantity of life; it’s about quality of life, not about science, but ethics.
6. Captive born dolphins versus captured dolphins
“If the dolphinariums only used dolphins that were born in captivity, then there wouldn’t be a problem,” is another typical pitfall. We are aware that some captive dolphin facilities are trying to appear politically correct by displaying captive born dolphins. But we strongly oppose captive breeding. It is imperative to consider the ethics and educational value of breeding dolphins in captivity. Some dolphins have been confined within the same barren walls of a concrete tank all their lives. They think the roof is the sky and have never experienced the simplest elements of nature, such as the natural rhythms of the sea, the sunshine, and the rain. They will never swim in a straight line for as long as they desire; nor will they ever be able to use their speed, intelligence, sonar, and sense of cooperation to catch live fish. They are freaks that we have created for our own amusement, and they have no positive educational value.
7. Dolphin – Assisted – Therapy
Don’t accept the use of dolphins in so-called Dolphin-Assisted-Therapy (DAT.) DAT has become a lucrative business over the last years and presents a serious threat to the welfare of dolphins, in that it creates further violent captures of dolphins worldwide.
DAT takes advantage of desperate and vulnerable parents who pay large sums of money to give their ill or disabled children what the billion-dollar dolphin captivity industry advertises as a life-enhancing dolphin experience. But there is no scientific evidence to substantiate the claim that spending time in a tank or sea enclosure with dolphins has a healing effect on people. Even if there was, could this really justify the high price that dolphins pay for our desire to be close to them? We find that it is inherently hypocritical to capture and confine dolphins – thereby destroying the quality of their lives – in an attempt to enhance our own.
When considering whether or not using dolphins to heal people is acceptable, it is important to note the following:
Dolphins are free ranging, social, sonic, and highly intelligent marine mammals. The vastness and biological diversity of the open sea cannot be duplicated in a tank or an enclosure in the sea. Consequently, the complexity of a dolphin’s behavioral repertoire cannot be accommodated in captivity. Based on today’s knowledge of Cetaceans’ sophisticated physiology and highly developed emotional sense, one must conclude that confining dolphins and other whales to a small space inevitably causes stress in the animals. This negative effect of captivity is reinforced by the fact that dolphins used in Swim-With-The-Dolphins programs and DAT programs have to be trained by the means of food control to endure the constant pressure of being used as pets and “healers.”
It is hardly surprising that dolphins used in swim programs have demonstrated agitated and aggressive behaviors under the stressful conditions of confinement and forced interactions with people. These behaviors have resulted in injury to swimmers. A 300-400 pound frustrated animal can cause serious injury to a human being, and there are accounts of human injuries in the form of lacerations, tooth rakes, internal injuries, broken bones and shock.
The trick is to expose the people who need to be exposed as much as possible, without getting sued.
During interviews and in your printed material don’t let your enthusiasm exceed the facts. Neither should you assume that quoted material you’ve found in the media is correct. It would be correct to say that John Doe was quoted saying “Such and such” in a certain edition of a periodical, but not that he actually said it. If you need to know whether he actually said it or not, you should verify it with him directly. And even then, it would not necessarily survive cross-examination in a court of law unless you can prove it with a witness who would back you up.
Watch out for libel. But don’t be paralyzed by it. I’m not a lawyer, but I have a working theory about libelous statements in the United States: If you deal in facts and your motives are pure, don’t worry about it.
Libel is too complicated to examine here except in a cursory way. You should know, however, that libel is not merely a false statement. Nobody is perfect. Libel is a statement that is published (meaning circulated to the public) and injures somebody’s reputation. (Your reputation is what other people think of you.) What you write in a private letter is not libelous because it’s not published. You also cannot libel the dead or anyone with a bad reputation. And it’s very difficult to libel a public figure, the reason being that he put himself in the public eye and must take the risk of criticism.
As a practical matter, any statement that might injure anyone’s reputation should be checked and rechecked. If the statement is true and you can prove it, go ahead and use it if you need to. Bottom line: Truth and a lack of malice is an absolute defense to charges of libel, provided you can prove it and there was a good reason to publish it in the first place.
One further thing: libel is not easy to prove. In order for the person libeled to collect in a court of law, he must show (prove) that the statement led directly to his financial loss.
Try to enlist the help of a pro-bono lawyer. If you have the money, hire one that is interested in these issues.
Using the data
So when you’ve gathered the information, what do you do with it?
Sometimes we have so much material that strongly indicates mistreatment of dolphins, we can go directly to the police or prosecuting attorney. In either case you will be expected to cite the law or regulation you claim is being broken and who broke it, when and where.
If your information doesn’t support criminal charges, it may be strong enough for the media. Send a press release to all newspapers and TV stations in the area. They all have reporters interested in legitimate environmental subjects. Generally they’re leery of a story that could backfire into a lawsuit that would cost them money – even if they win it. So you can expect them to be skeptical at first. And if they suspect that your information is not completely accurate, they’ll show you the door.
Use your spell-checker. People who can spell correctly are taken more seriously.
Writing letters to the editor should always include your full name, address, and telephone number. Newspapers will most likely call you, before publishing your letter, they need to confirm that it was you who wrote the letter.
More than facts
We need facts, but the main thrust of our campaign is moral. We’re saying that keeping dolphins in captivity is wrong.
Our objective is to shut down captive dolphin facilities and stop any further captures and exploitation of dolphins. Ultimately, what we want to do is free captive dolphins; return them to the wild if possible. Not all captive dolphins can be successfully released back into the wild, of course. Some dolphins have been in captivity too long and sometimes they’ve forgotten even how to catch a life fish or eat one. Can we tell whether a captive dolphin can make it in the wild or not? Definitely.
We don’t do it by training them to be free dolphins, incidentally. That’s impossible. But we can give them a chance for rehabilitation by weaning them away from everything human beings have taught them and reacquainting them with the skills they depended on as dolphins in nature.
If they succeed, they’re candidates for freedom. We release them, monitor them till we’re sure they’re okay in the wild, and then go on to the next case. For those who are not candidates, we can try to transfer them to protective custody. Our coalition would like to establish a dolphin sanctuary for these particular dolphins.
Twelve simple things you can do
1. If you hear of a planned dolphin capture, alert the media or, if possible, videotape it yourself and then hand the footage over to the media. The last thing the dolphin captivity industry wants is for the public to see images of a violent dolphin capture. This is how we stopped the captures of dolphins in the United States where there is currently a voluntary moratorium on dolphin captures.
2. Contact your government officials and representatives. Ask them to implement greater protection for marine mammals and the sea in general. There is no point in saving the dolphin without saving its habitat.
3. Write to government officials and insist that existing captive dolphin facilities be instituted to work toward the rehabilitation and release of captive dolphins.
4. Boycott captive dolphin shows and encourage your friends to do the same. Buy or rent a video of dolphins in the wild with the money that you saved.
5. Speak out. A Letter to the Editor of your local newspaper will reach thousands of people.
6. Encourage others to become interested in the plight of captive dolphins and show them how they can help.
7. Write to government officials and ask them not to approve permits for the trade (import or export) of marine mammals.
8. Remember, the commercial exploitation of dolphins is based on supply and demand, just like any other product. If you don’t buy a ticket, you won’t be supporting this abuse. Tell your friends.
9. Produce a free public event. Bring in some dolphin experts who are opposed to dolphin captivity and give a free lecture to the community and invite the media. This is a great way to start a campaign. We would be happy to help you with this.
10. Challenge the local dolphinarium to a public debate. The debate could be held at a television station, a public library, hotel, civic center or just about anyplace in the community. We would be happy to help you with this also. We have participated in debates with the dolphin captivity industry all over the world.
11. Start a letter writing campaign to local government officials. There are several international organizations in the animal protection community that will be willing to write a letter of support for your anti-captivity campaign.
12. Distribute your message. Produce bumper stickers, one-page flyers that can be handed out to the public, posted at bulletin boards, laundromats, libraries, grocery stores, and other public places. We have even rented full size billboards that carried our anti-captivity message.
Protesting the abuse
If the media turns its back on you, consider going public with a demonstration. Because a protest involves a direct contact of emotional opposites, anything could happen during a demonstration. We try to script them to keep control of things. We tell police officials in advance what we’re going to do so that nobody will get bopped on the head.
But nobody really knows what will happen during a protest, and that’s one of the main reasons the media covers demonstrations. Though the media has turned us down in terms of a straight news or feature story, the main job of the media is still to report what people do. And that includes a staged event. It’s worth covering because something truly newsworthy might happen. And if they don’t cover the protest and their opposition does, they are caught off guard if something does happen. The main reason, though, is that in the back of their minds they know that real news usually begins from inside when disaffected whistle-blowers go public. And when the media refuse to listen to whistle-blowers, they do so at their peril.
Protesters are trying to alert the public to a legal or moral problem and a governmental cover up. They blow the whistle in protesting, and when the media covers it, the job is done.
Rules for protesting
1. Demonstrations and protests must be legal and peaceful. You represent your cause, so be courteous.
2. If you need a permit in order to protest, get one. You can call City Hall or the police department and ask if you need one. Always get names of people you talk to on the phone. With the permit, you will be told where you are allowed to demonstrate. Explain this to everyone in the demonstration. You will probably not be allowed to interfere with people attending the event or trying to buy a ticket.
3. If you have a lawyer, let him/her know what you’re doing.
4. Only one person should speak for the group. This avoids the appearance of conflict, which can destroy the effectiveness of the demonstration.
5. Hand out dodgers (printed only on one side) that briefly explain your position and give the group’s address and phone number. If someone tosses the dodger on the ground, pick it up and give it to someone else. If they tear it up, gather up the pieces and put them in the trash. Be pleasant at all times.
Protesting really works
“Eighty percent of success is showing up”
Looking back, we were successful in closing several captive dolphin facilities in the United States, some in Australia, Canada, the Middle East, Europe, Latin America, the Caribbean, and other places around the world.
There’s an important point here that needs to be mentioned: Almost all of these facilities were closed because caring people showed up to protest and demonstrate their concern. If protesting was not part of the campaign, these facilities would still be open for business today, and the suffering would continue.
I mention this because some animal protection organizations and individuals don’t want to participate in any kind of protest. Some won’t participate because they are following the policy of the conservative organization that they work for. Others seem to think that protesting is undignified or below them. Personally, I don’t like protesting either, it goes against my very nature. I don’t like bringing attention to myself. But it’s necessary and important, so I do it anyhow.
It’s important to understand that protesting really works. Many times it’s the only thing that works. For example, in the United States the dolphin captivity industry stopped capturing dolphins because of a small handful of protesters that were not afraid to disrupt the dolphin captures. Many of the captive dolphins in various European amusement parks – including a discothèque – were captured in the Gulf of Mexico near Pine Island, Florida. We started protesting these captures, even to the point of getting arrested, going to jail and then on a hunger strike to bring attention to the problem. This is called civil disobedience. It attracted the media who, for the first time, exposed that fact that the captivity industry in the United States was capturing Florida dolphins and selling them to deplorable facilities abroad. We called this campaign “Export Oranges, Not Dolphins.” We printed tee shirts and bumper stickers with our slogan. Eventually, the captivity industry backed off and announced that they were observing a “voluntary moratorium” on all dolphin captures. The capture of dolphins in the United States was finally over. Why did this happen? The answer is simple: the media finally exposed the dolphin captivity industry. And the media only showed up because they were attracted by the protesters. The daily news is like show business, and the media is always looking for a good story. This is especially true with TV news. They want moving pictures, action and conflict. To them, these are elements of a good story. And we give it to them in a non-violent, peaceful manner.
Most people who visit dolphinariums never ask the right questions. They ask things like “what’s the dolphin’s name,” “how much do they eat,” or something trivial like that. The questions that they should be asking are: “How did the dolphin get here, and how long is he going to be staying here?” Questions like these are not so easy to answer, and these questions are discouraged by the dolphinarium. The dolphinarium will have you believe that God put the dolphins there, or they came out of the sky. They don’t want the visitors to know that the dolphins they are watching were actually captured. When confronted with the fact that the dolphin was captured, they will often say that this was a “humane capture.” But the concept of a humane capture is an oxymoron: There is simply no such thing as a humane dolphin capture. All dolphin captures are violent and cruel.
When this kind of violent and cruel injustice is absolute, one must oppose it absolutely. And that means showing up to protest, in a non-violent, peaceful manner. The bottom line is: Direct action works.
A measure of our success
Click here to see a list of Captive Dolphin Facilities that have been Closed or Never Opened.
These success stories were accomplished by people like you taking action and stopping all support of dolphin shows and all swim-with-dolphin facilities.