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What marine-mammal parks don’t want you to know

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Dolphins are dying to entertain us. That’s the message of a devastating new documentary, The Cove, which sheds light on a dirty secret of the marine-park industry.

Every year between September and March, more than 2,000 dolphins are slaughtered in the small fishing village of Taiji, Japan, where The Cove was secretly filmed. Most of the dolphins are butchered and sold for meat. A dead dolphin is worth about $600.

But a few live dolphins—about two dozen each year—are sold to aquariums, performing-dolphin shows and swim-with-the-dolphins programs in Mexico, China, the Philippines and other countries. It’s these lucrative sales that keep the dolphin slaughter going. A single live dolphin can fetch more than $150,000.

During a typical slaughter—or “drive fishery,” as it is called—boats chase pods of dolphins while crew members clang metal poles together underwater, creating a cacophonous wall of sound that disorients the animals. Some dolphins are pursued for hours. Photojournalist Boyd Harnell, who observed the Taiji slaughter in October and November 2006, says, “It was like a military operation. … The pursuit was relentless.”

Calves who are unable to keep up and become separated from their mothers are left to die of starvation or to be eaten by sharks. The rest of the dolphins are herded into a hidden cove, and the mouth of the cove is blocked with nets to prevent the exhausted animals from escaping.

There, the dolphins are stabbed with spears or have their throats slashed with long knives. Video footage of past killings shows dolphins thrashing in their own blood for many agonizing minutes. By the end of the slaughter, the entire cove is red with blood.

According to a report released by the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, dolphins captured during drive hunts have ended up in aquariums all over the world. Even countries that no longer allow the importation of dolphins caught during the gruesome slaughter may be displaying animals purchased before the ban or moved through other countries to disguise their origin.

These dolphins fare little better than their slaughtered cousins. In the open sea, dolphins swim some 40 miles a day. In captivity, these intelligent, sensitive animals are confined to shallow tanks measured in gallons. Dolphins communicate with one another through whistles, yelps and squeaks. In tanks, their vocalizations become a garble of meaningless reverberations. Most aquariums keep Maalox and Mylanta on hand to treat the animals’ stress-related ulcers.

Louie Psihoyos, director of The Cove, says he was compelled to tell this story because he realized that “if nobody gets active, then nothing would get resolved. I felt it was time to stand up.”

The rest of us can stand up too, and say, “Enough is enough.” As long as the sale of a handful of live dolphins funds the deaths of all the rest, the marine-park industry must share the blame for this carnage. If you don’t want to support dolphin killings, stay away from dolphin shows and swim-with-the-dolphins programs, both here and abroad. No fleeting moment of entertainment is worth the price that the animals must pay.

Lisa Wathne is the senior captive exotic animal specialist for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510;


Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

August 28, 2009 at 8:21 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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