"The happiness of the bee and the dolphin is to exist. For man it is to know that and to wonder at it."
~Jacques Yves Cousteau~
Bottlenose dolphins and 37 other species of these highly intelligent mammals face potential extinction. Many dolphins — including pink dolphins, black dolphins, Amazon River dolphins, and Yangtze River dolphins — are critically or seriously endangered. For instance, only 17 Yangtze River dolphins are known to exist.
Every year, humans kill tens of thousands of bottlenose dolphins or damage their habitats. Any detrimental impact to their environment can greatly jeopardize their survival.
Perhaps the greatest threat to bottlenose dolphins is contamination of their habitat: oceans, seas, and rivers. Pesticides, heavy metals, plastics, and other industrial and agricultural pollutants that do not break down in the environment or that remain in the waterways for decades are dramatically reducing dolphin populations, as all dolphins build up unusually high levels of contaminants. In addition, river and marine dolphins frequently die when they collide with boats, while many dolphins also succumb after swallowing debris, including nets, balls, and plastics.
A fishing technique called purse-seining, in which huge nylon nets up to one mile long are used to catch yellowfin tuna, causes the death of about 20,000 dolphins per year, as the dolphins and tuna often swim together and the dolphins are crushed or drown when the nets are brought in.
The use of drift nets (banned in 1993 but still used illegally) and gill nets (still legal) kills more bottlenose dolphins each year than any other fishing method. Dolphins are also hunted for food, oil, and other uses. In Chile, for example, the endangered black dolphin is hunted to provide bait for king crab, and Turkish fishermen kill dolphins for oil and chicken feed. Japan is believed to be the largest consumer of dolphin meat.
In a small cove hidden from view from the twisting coast road the sea lapped red with their blood. The 40 dolphins that had been driven from their migrating route 10 miles out to sea and corralled in the tiny bay were gone. They'd been speared and bludgeoned to death hours earlier, their bodies towed back to Taijie port where they were cut into pieces. The Japanese fisherman toiled behind tarpaulin and hid their work from our cameras. They are sensitive to any intrusion into their annual dolphin hunt and unleashed their fury on the dozen Save The Japan Dolphin campaigners who'd gathered at the shore to protest against this latest slaughter. Shouting verbal abuse, they threatened and intimidated the activists. What came next took them completely by surprise. Half a dozen surfers - among them actress Hayden Panatierre - sprinted down the shingle beach and paddled out on their boards through the bloody water to the last remaining pod of dolphins trapped behind nets awaiting slaughter. They were intercepted by Japanese fishermen in a small boat, who used the propeller of the vessel to prevent the surfers reaching the dolphins. Several of the surfers were struck by a boat hook in an ugly and potentially life-threatening confrontation.
Every year more than 2,000 dolphins are killed at Taijai among the 23,000 mammals slaughtered in a hunt that lasts six months. The dolphins are intercepted along the migration route and driven into a cove by fishermen banging metal rods to frighten and confuse them. Fear is said to affect the quality and taste of the meat - so they are left hanging up by the neck overnight before being butchered the next morning. Ric O'Barry, a former US Navy SEAL, now heads Save The Japan Dolphins. He's been protesting against the hunt for the past five years. "It's hard to believe that this is taking place in this time and age. It's so brutal and cruel, you wonder why the world is not doing something," he said. Many Japanese fishermen believe dolphins should be treated like any other fish. The tradition of the hunt goes back several centuries and the worldwide condemnation of the killings is seen by many in Japan as an attack on their culture.
Dolphins in Captivity
Dolphins have evolved over millions of years, adapting perfectly to life in the ocean. They are intelligent, social and self-aware, exhibiting evidence of a highly developed emotional sense. Here are just a few of the issues with captivity:
Captures of dolphins are traumatic and stressful and can result in injury and death of dolphins. The number of dolphins that die during capture operations or shortly thereafter are never revealed in dolphinariums or swim-with-dolphins programs. Some facilities even claim their dolphins were "rescued" from the ocean and cannot be released. This claim is almost invariably false.
Training of dolphins is often deliberately misrepresented by the captive dolphin industry to make it look as if dolphins perform because they like it. This isn't the case. They are performing because they have been deprived of food.
Most captive dolphins are confined in minuscule tanks containing chemically treated artificial seawater. Dolphins in a tank are severely restricted in using their highly developed sonar, which is one of the most damaging aspects of captivity. It is much like forcing a person to live in a hall of mirrors for the rest of their life - their image always bouncing back with no clear direction in sight.
53% of those dolphins who survive the violent capture die within 90 days. The average life span of a dolphin in the wild is 45 years; yet half of all captured dolphins die within their first two years of captivity. The survivors last an average of only 5 years in captivity. Every seven years, half of all dolphins in captivity die from capture shock, pneumonia, intestinal disease, ulcers, chlorine poisoning, and other stress-related illnesses. To the captive dolphin industry, these facts are accepted as routine operating expenses.
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