What the non-profit Hugh Parkey Foundation for Marine Awareness & Education needs is a win-win solution. One that gives them revenue to operate their program and that does not alienate nature lovers who view Belize as a “Natural Destination.”
Fellow Forum members : This will be long, but please do bear with me for a brief re-cap and a few comments on this issue. I will digress momentarily to elephants before returning to dolphins.
Caryn (Caryn Self-Sullivan) wrote : I am not in a position to debate the PROs and CONs of having a captive dolphin facility in Belize. That decision is up to the Belizeans. I am acting in a science advisory position…"I strongly believe that the decision to approve or deny a captive dolphin facility in Belize should be made by Belizeans based on the most currently available social, ecological, economic, scientific, and educational data available"… peer-reviewed scientific literature…
The dolphin husbandry experts would be 3 staff members from RIMS… Other experts, i.e., dolphin scientists, familiar with the RIMS facility include Dr. Kathleen Dudzinski, who is currently the Principal Investigator for one of the dolphin research projects hosted at RIMS.
Caryn has stated that she is being paid as a consultant, but she says has tried to portray all sides of the dolphin to the foundation.
A moment about myself : I first came to Belize in 1983. I have visited Belize some 40-50 times since then. I have owned 30 acres of rural property in Southern Belize since 1989. I have no commercial interests in tourism or in Belize, but have been an avid promoter of Belize in particular and conservation in general. I have an extensive non-commercial website ( www.belizehank.com
) that I believe contributes positively to Belize ideals. In that site, I suggest that those attempting to “direct” Belize should do so by example, not by preaching.
I am not a scientist by training, but have been deeply involved in scientific activities. From 1998-2000, I was a volunteer at the Audubon Center for Research of Endangered Species, doing anesthesia monitoring during prolonged reproductive procedures. While I was there, the facility produced the first ever successful interspecies embryo transfer from a frozen embryo, with a domestic cat giving birth to an African wildcat.
I recently returned from 3 years in Indonesia, where my veterinary partner and I conducted our own Sumatran Elephant Healthcare and Conservation Project. Together we have also created the largest information resource center in the world for elephant healthcare, a website that I built and maintain (www.elephantcare.org
The dolphin issue - with a short elephant digression first:
Before beginning our Sumatran elephant project, we first reviewed the scientific literature. Sumatra began capturing “problem” elephants in the mid-1980s as a means of reducing human-elephant conflict. Among the first 500 elephants captured, the peer-reviewed scientific literature indicated that only 2 elephants died from capture-related activities. Until our Sumatran Report came out this year, the Indonesian’s still claimed a very low mortality rate among captured elephants.
To make a long story short, my research shows that at least 85 percent of elephants captured in one district are dead within 3 years and that the average age of elephants at capture may be as low as 6 years of age - hardly “problem” elephants.
So, yes, I am a skeptic when it comes to accepting “science”, and I believe we would all be wise to consider a little more skepticism.
If you stop to think about it, there are many potential problems with “science”.
The first problem is that much “science” is deliberately NOT published. The tobacco companies knew about nicotine’s addictive effects, and not only withheld these facts, but also contributed to the distribution of contradictory information. Today, we learn that powerful U.S. drug companies intentionally did NOT publish information disclosing risks of anti-depressant drugs.
Bias and lack of objectivity: the scientists involved often fail to consider their own bias when utilizing (or better - not utilizing) the scientific method. And further, as a group of peers, they cannot see the forest for the trees that they work within. Naturally, they cannot recognize the lack of objectivity they have when their grants, their consultancy fees, and their livelihood is based on a certain perspective.
It is very easy to start with a preconceived belief and filter one's observations so as to support that belief. Do you really expect to see peer-reviewed scientific literature from zoos and aquariums that show the average age of death of all confined animals? Do you really expect their surveys of “educational value” to be un-biased?
We tend to rely heavily on authorities in our culture, especially if the authority is considered to be highly intelligent. Caryn has generously listed the dolphin authorities she has relied on for information and that will be advising the foundation. The problem there is that they are all related to the source of the dolphins. Hardly an objective source.
The problem : Many people, myself included, believe sincerely that the real problem with swim-with-the-dolphin programs and their ilk is that it is unethical. Dolphins, chimps, and elephants share our intelligence and family or pod bonding. This issue has nothing to do with science and everything to do with what should be fair behavior.
No argument or peer-reviewed scientific literature will ever compell us to believe otherwise. Therefore, if you continue with the dolphin project as your money raiser, you may alienate as many people as you educate. After all, when the young child asks,”is it OK if I keep wild pets,” what will you say - do as I say, not as I do? Are you sending the wrong message?
The solution : What you need is a good grant-writer, not captive dolphins. You have taken the right step by becoming a non-profit. I ask you to take the rational alternative of getting support from the very people who will oppose you if you use captive dolphins instead. A good grant writer can get you the funds you need to carry out your educational programs and those programs will not be sending a mixed message. We know, because we raised almost $150,000 U.S. for our elephant project ( www.elephantcare.org
). You could do the same.
Please do your part to keep Belize as a “Natural Destination.”