It is amazing to me that the United States allows people who do not understand the fundamental nature of dolphins to be their caretakers. But that is exactly what is happening right this minute at the world’s largest aquarium. The organization that is entrusted with the lives of “its” eleven dolphins doesn’t see the difference between them and dogs. Or horses.
Now, if you have dogs and horses, you already know that even those two species shouldn’t be lumped. And those two species have been living under the care of humans for over 10,000 years. But let’s get to what the Senior Vice-President of Husbandry (I dare ya not to say “Ew!” when you read the definition of husbandry in the context of the Aquarium’s dolphins. Hey! I didn’t write it!) and Chief Animal Officer, Billy Hurley, at the Georgia Aquarium actually said (listen up beginning at 18 seconds):
I look at people playing with their dogs in the park and see the dogs jumping really high in the air to catch a Frisbee and say, ‘That dog is having a lot of fun.’ That’s exactly what you would see in the training of our dolphins; our trainers are playing with them every day.
So, Mr. Hurley thinks that a wild creature living in captivity is having fun. Sayin’.
As is the case with most corporations, they make assertions to sell a product, or rather, to sell an idea which will imprint something on your brain that will then inform your decision to buy that product again and again. So, when the world’s largest aquarium says, with casual authority, that the dolphins could be dogs or horses, it doesn’t really matter, they are counting on that idea – that image of your wagging lap dog or your favorite jumper who likes you but hates your brother (grin) – creating a warm and fuzzy in your brain somewhere. It tells you that dolphins-in-an-aquarium is natural, just like your dog curled up beside you on the sofa while you drink egg nog and listen to premature Christmas carols. Are they ever really premature?
But here are some facts:
- Dolphins are wild. They are not now, nor have they ever been, considered a domesticated animal.
- Dogs were domesticated or domesticated themselves because, even then, they reaaaaaaally liked our table scraps, as long as as over 30,000 years ago.
- The life span of your lap dog (depending on size and other factors) can easily be over 15 years. Most large breeds do not live this long, some often not making it to 10.
- The life span of your dog’s wild cousin, the wolf, living in the wild is rarely longer than ten years.
- The life span of your dog’s wild cousin, the wolf, living in captivity can be even longer than your similarly large dog’s, at 20 years.
- The average life span of a domesticated horse is 20 to 30 years.
- The average life span of a wild mustang is 15 to 20 years.
- The life span of dolphins in captivity is generally significantly less than 10 years with an average of 4 years.
- The life span of dolphins in the wild is commonly 30 to 50 years.
Let’s recap that: Dogs always liked table scraps, so they may have sought us out, and live longer with us than in the wild. Horses, same story, except it seems we don’t know much about how or when we domesticated horses. Dolphins are not “domesticated” animals; they are merely wild animals held in captivity, like a lion or an elephant. And how do dolphins fare in the wild-to-captivity transition? Not well. Not well at all. They live longer in the wild. Plain and simple. Ergo, the comparison to dogs and horses is misplaced, Mr. Georgia Aquarium Man.
So, if the Georgia Aquarium almost succeeded in creating that lap dog-dolphin connection in your brain, I’m trusting that you now can begin to see that the comparison is grounded in marketing more than fact. Until the Georgia Aquarium appreciates that a comparison of dolphins to dogs or horses is inappropriate, their ownership of these wild creatures is, likewise, inappropriate.
But to borrow, and modify, an old country expression, that dolphin can’t hunt. Because you won’t let him.
One last thought: while David Kimmel, Georgia Aquarium President and Chief Operating Officer (they don’t get any bigger than that, well, except for Bernie Marcus, CEO and Chairman of the Board) and the rest of us “go about [our] lives,” the Atlanta 11 remain captive in a set of tanks that are morbidly small compared to their natural range and removed from the natural rhythms of the ocean to which the dolphin has been connected for 50 million years.
In an ethical society, these are beings with an inherent right to go about their lives and not be considered someone’s “actor” in an extravaganza, or someone else’s amusement, or even curiosity, or a human-named ambassador for the ocean.
Sign the Pledge: Say No! to the Dolphin Show.
Note to self: Blog for another day is the point that Mr. Hurley also doesn’t see the difference between the dolphins and “other mammals.” Hey, PETA!! I think Mr. Hurley agrees with you! Sounds like you may have a hostile witness.