No Dolphinariums in India
Preemptive move follows proposals for captive dolphin facilities in several Indian states
By Laura Bridgeman
International Marine Mammal Project
Earth Island Institute
While dolphin captivity is largely being phased out in countries across the globe, spurred by a growing understanding of who dolphins are — in some places the battle is still raging between the captivity industry and informed individuals. Thanks to organizations like the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organizations (FIAPO), however, reason is winning out — in India at least.
Currently there is no dolphin captivity anywhere within the South Asian nation’s vast borders. However, a few international businesses, with an eye to the lucrative successes of places like SeaWorld in the United States, are trying to change that. Numerous proposals for captive dolphin facilities in various Indian states like Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Kochi, were discovered in 2011.
In response to these findings, FIAPO, along with Earth Island Institute’s Dolphin Project, the Humane Society International, and a coalition of others animal rights’ groups acted quickly. They presented evidence to the Animal Welfare Board of India, which this week released an advisory to all state governments against granting permissions to dolphinariums and other captive dolphin facilities.
The Animal Welfare Board, a statutory body under the Indian Ministry of Environment and Forests, reiterated in their advisory the requirements of pre facto registration of any performing dolphins and announced their decision “not to register any 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.” It goes on to state that the capture and transport of dolphins are also in violation of these rules, and further discusses the mis-education perpetuated by these facilities.
A copy of the Animal Welfare Board statement can be found here.
According to the Indian business magazine, Business Line, “India’s only brush with dolphins in captivity was in the late 1990’s in Chennai’s Dolphin City exhibit, where four dolphins were imported from Bulgaria and died within a few months due to lack of care and suitable infrastructure.”
Dolphin Project director and former dolphin trainer Ric O’Barry is thrilled with the Animal Welfare Board’s advisory. “The only education provided by captive facilities is bad education,” he said. “The fact that India is providing such forceful resistance to this industry entering their nation is very encouraging — they are way ahead of the game in terms of dolphin protection.”
“We need more groups like FIAPO, who provide the backbone of any dolphin protection efforts in other countries,” O’Barry said. “These local grassroots groups know the issues, the politics, and the pitfalls. And they are passionate and dedicated. The Dolphin Project Team and I are happy to help fight dolphinariums, but we cannot do it without such fine local support.”
It is important to remember that the question behind all dolphin captivity debates is whether they should be considered property, or accorded basic rights — among them, the right not to be confined or removed from the ocean. As philosopher Immanuel Kant once wrote, “everything has either a price or a dignity” — in other words, everything is either a ‘who’ or a ‘what’. Should dolphins be considered a ‘what’ — a money-making machine, easily replaced by another trainable animal of the same or similar species — or a ‘who’, a unique individual with all the characteristics that we ascribe to ourselves which renders each of us humans above price and infuses us with dignity?
While some may find the question outrageous, a quick investigation of contemporary science raises significant questions about how we treat these beings in the sea. For example, scientists claim that dolphins use what are called ‘signature whistles’ which function the same way that names do for humans. This can be taken as an indication of self-awareness, and the awareness of other intelligent, aware minds. After all, you cannot have a name if you don’t know who you are, and if you don’t understand your relations to others. This, together with a growing number of other compelling research and observations, suggests that dolphins satisfy the criteria needed for better treatment at our hands.
Thanks to the ongoing efforts of the animal rights organizations and impassioned and informed individuals the world over, dolphins are being increasingly seen for what they truly are — emotive, intelligent, self-aware beings. Let’s begin to treat them accordingly. Please do not support captivity in any way.
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Photo of Taiji Dolphin Image by David Rinehart.