India Considers Banning Captive Dolphin Entertainment
By Laura Bridgeman
The Indian Minister of Environment and Forests, Jayanthi Natarajan, is currently considering a nationwide ban on dolphin and whale, collectively known as cetaceans, captivity. Other governing bodies in India have already assumed anti-captivity stances, reflecting a growing understanding of the unnecessary suffering visited upon cetaceans as a result of captivity and pointing towards India’s established tradition of compassion towards animals.
The decision to ban cetacean captivity would reflect and reinforce India’s lauded cultural tradition of nonviolence and their advanced ethical considerations of animals. Says Ric O’Barry, Director of Earth Island Institute’s Dolphin Project: “India sets the global standard when it comes to compassion. The world is now looking to Shrimati Jayanthi Natarajan to guide the way towards stronger dolphin and animal welfare standards.”
The ban is being considered in light of several captive facility proposals that are currently under review. India does not house any such facilities, which include places like dolphinariums, aquariums and others that retain captive cetaceans. If approved, the proposed facilities within the states of Kerala and Maharastra would form the initial intrusion of the captivity industry into India. Details of these proposals and others like them have been investigated by the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organizations (FIAPO), a collective of animal protection organizations that has been campaigning against the captivity industry.
Several recent decisions by various governing bodies indicate that the nation is leaning towards preventing captivity-related cruelty towards cetaceans. In December 2011, the Wildlife Division of the Ministry of Environment and Forests condemned the Maharastra proposal, citing violations to the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 and Recognition of Zoo Rules, 2009.
With encouragement from FIAPO and other organizations, in January 2013 the Animal Welfare Board of India issued an advisory to all state governments against granting permissions for captive facilities and announced their decision “not to register (performing dolphins) in the future – making any attempt to import dolphins for the purpose of display and performance a violation of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act”. The advisory also states that the capture and transport of dolphins is also in violation of these rules, and addresses the mis-education that is perpetuated by these facilities.
Just last month the Central Zoo Authority (CZA) indicated, in response to a letter sent by the Humane Society International India, that it “does not encourage the establishment of dolphinariums” and indicates that approval for any such facilities must be obtained through the CZA and members of the Supreme Court.
Each of these anti-captivity stances is backed by a growing body of science that indicates not only that cetaceans suffer in captivity, but also that it is ethically indefensible to confine sentient, cognitively complex beings such that cetaceans are. Argues Thomas I. White, Ph. D at Loyola Marymount University, cetaceans “share traits once believed to be unique to humans: self-awareness, abstract thought, the ability to solve problems by planning ahead, understanding… syntax, and the formation of cultural communities.” Their significant capacity to suffer should afford them the right not be held captive for any reason.
“Mahatma Ghandi said it best: that a nation can be judged by the way it treats its animals,” O’Barry points out. “India is already a role model for the rest of the world. I hope that Minister Natarajan will make the ethical choice and ban dolphin captivity for good.”
The Minister’s decision is expected within the coming weeks.