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Dolphins in tanks: Cruel confinement

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Removing dolphins from their natural habitat and communities to display them as attractions at theme parks and resort hotels is a reprehensible practice that has brought a great deal of trauma and tragedy to hundreds of these intelligent animals. It's time for a permanent ban on cruel dolphin displays.


By Jennifer O'Connor

Scientists at Emory University recently determined that the cognitive capacity of dolphins is second only to that of humans and that the brain cortex of dolphins has the same complicated folds associated with human intelligence. A prominent ethicist believes that dolphins should be given the same moral standing as humans. We know that dolphins have distinct personalities, can recognize themselves in mirrors and can think about the future.

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Yet dolphins are still captured from the wild to be put on display in aquariums, held captive in theme parks and used in "swim-with" programs. This must stop.

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In their rightful ocean home, dolphins inhabit vast, fascinating and complex worlds. They establish close, cooperative and long-standing relationships. They live in large, intricate social groups, swim together in family pods and can cover up to 100 miles a day. Dolphins communicate with each other through whistles and body language, and when they are injured or dying, other dolphins will come to their aid, supporting them at the water's surface so that they can breathe. However, in tanks, their worlds are reduced to gallons instead of fathoms.

Aquariums and marine theme parks don't view dolphins and other sea animals as unique individuals with specific needs and preferences; animals are considered interchangeable and replaceable. SeaWorld, which "owns" most of the captive bottlenose dolphins and orcas in the U.S., routinely "replaces" animals who die prematurely. For example, SeaWorld has used more than 50 orcas named Shamu.

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One thing that the profitable marine entertainment industry doesn't want the public to know is that buying a ticket to a marine theme park helps support the slaughter of dolphins in the wild. Every year, thousands of dolphins are killed in bloody "drive fisheries" in Japan. While most end up as meat in Japanese supermarkets, each year, approximately two dozen captured dolphins are sold to marine parks and "swim-with" programs around the world. The considerable profit from those sales perpetuates the slaughter.

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People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), with 6.5 million members and supporters, is the largest animal rights organization in the world. PETA focuses its attention on the four areas in which the largest numbers of animals suffer the (more...)

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