April Moments

Maybe, just maybe, telling the story is just as important as the story itself

Why I’m glad my childhood dream job didn’t work out

When I was a little girl, my dream job was to be a marine biologist.

Being from Ohio, my parents took my brother and me to the Aurora, Ohio, SeaWorld, which closed in 2001, a few times. I absolutely loved seeing the dolphins and whales. These visits gave me the idea that I would major in marine biology and possibly become a dolphin trainer.

As I grew older, I realized that being a biologist of any kind meant I had to be good at biology, which is a science! Um, not my strongest subject. Obviously, I went the creative route, studying writing and music in college.

About a year ago, I was channel surfing and found on television a documentary called “The Cove.” Winner of the 2009 Oscar for Best Documentary, the film follows “an elite team of activists, filmmakers and freedivers” on a mission to uncover a dark and deadly secret lurking in a hidden Japanese cove, according to the movie’s website.

Everyone who loves dolphins should see this movie. I am not what one would call an animal activist, but this movie changed my perspective on animals, especially marine mammals who are subjected to a miserable life of captivity.

Thanks to “The Cove,” the “dark and deadly secret” that happens in Taiji, Japan, is exposed. Beginning on Sept. 1 each year, a group of Japanese fishermen set out on their boats and bang hammers on steel rods that they place in the ocean, confusing dolphins and other migrating cetaceans (porpoises and pilot whales, for example) with a wall of sound. These fishermen lure entire pods of dolphins into a hidden cove, drop a net into the water and hold the animals there overnight. The next morning, dolphin “trainers” from all over the world are allowed to inspect the previous day’s crop and purchase ones they feel are suitable for amusement parks, aquariums, zoos and swim-with-dolphin programs. They are usually looking for young, female bottlenose dolphins, like those used on “Flipper,” the 1960s television series that is largely responsible for the popularity of the captive dolphin industry.

Interestingly enough, Ric O’Barry, who served as the dolphin trainer for “Flipper,” is one of the most, if not the most, outspoken activists against dolphin captivity. His work with the “Flipper” dolphins and at the Miami Seaquarium proved to him that dolphins in captivity are stressed, depressed, underfed and confused. O’Barry’s life’s work is now dedicated to keeping dolphins out of captivity.

So, what does this have to do with Taiji, Japan? Well, what do you think happens to the dolphins that are not chosen for a doomed life of captivity? Wouldn’t the logical answer be to set them free? Unfortunately, that is not the case. The dolphins left in the cove are killed. The water turns blood red as the dolphins’ blowholes are punctured with a barbaric harpoon. They suffer for several minutes before they are eventually drowned by the fishermen, who tie the dolphins’ fins to the side of their boats. They are taken to the nearby slaughterhouse and later sold for their meat. “The Cove” captures all the horrific footage. If you don’t believe me, just watch the movie. Incidentally, it does a much better job of explaining the tie between the dolphin slaughters and the captive dolphin industry.

My point, and the point O’Barry frequently makes, is that the captive dolphin industry is directly tied to the dolphin slaughters in Japan. A live dolphin is worth more than a dead one, so that’s why the fishermen allow them to be sold and imprisoned in tanks for the rest of their lives.

I chose to post this blog on Sept. 1 because, as I mentioned above, today is the first official day of the Taiji dolphin hunt. The hunting season continues until spring. Thousands upon thousands of dolphins die every year during this time.

If you think I’m a kooky environmentalist and don’t care, OK, you probably already stopped reading. But, if you are wondering what you can do, read on. The simplest way you can help is to never, EVER patronize any place or program that houses captive dolphins. That’s right, no SeaWorld (don’t even get me started on whose idea it was to put orcas, the foremost predator in the ocean, into a tank!), no Discovery Cove (owned by SeaWorld), no aquariums, parks or zoos that profit from captive dolphins. Don’t be fooled, folks; the captive marine mammal industry is worth billions!

While my memories of going to SeaWorld as a child used to be fond ones, thinking about the dolphin and Shamu shows now gives me the heebie-jeebies. I’ve watched a couple clips of the orcas on YouTube, and just seeing those poor mammoth animals swimming in that relatively small tank freaks me out.

If you are interested in more proactive ways of trying to stop the dolphin slaughters, you can write to various Japanese governmental offices. Unfortunately, the annual dolphin hunts in Taiji are allowed by Japanese law. Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, a group of activists that vows to save all kinds of marine life, lists the entities and contact information on its website.

For some odd reason, God has given this girl, who is not particularly enthused by most animals, a special affinity for dolphins and whales, some of the smartest animals on Earth. Thanks to that, my Elliot will never visit any park, aquarium or zoo that profits from captive dolphins or whales; well, at least not as long as I’m paying for him. It is my hope that someday we can see these beautiful creatures in the wild, swimming hundreds of miles in the vast ocean they deserve.

If you would like to learn more about ocean preservation and the reasons to keep dolphins and whales out of captivity, please the websites of the Oceanic Preservation Society, Dolphin Project or Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

Originally published on ovparent.com.

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