Another forwarded letter on dolphin jailing:
> Toni Frohoff, Ph.D.
> 321 High School Rd. NE, PMB 374
> Bainbridge Island, WA 98110 USA
> Ph: 206-780-2532/FAX: 206-780-5162
> Ms. Birgit Winning
> Director, Oceanic Society Expeditions
> Fort Mason Center, Bldg. E, Room 230
> San Francisco, CA 94123
> September 22, 2004
> RE: Impacts of Dolphin Captivity in Belize
> Dear Ms. Winning,
> I am an independent marine mammal biologist writing to provide you with what
> I hope will be helpful information regarding the impacts of capture of dolphins for captive facilities and "swim-with-the-dolphin programs" in
> Belize. I have been studying dolphins for approximately 20 years. I conducted the first study of captive "swim-with-the-dolphin" programs and supervised the first research conducted on "petting/feeding" programs subsequently. I have been asked to inspect, and make recommendations
> about, captive marine mammal facilities by various government and non-government agencies around the world. Consequently, I have
> to the revision and implementation of legislation protecting captive and
> free-ranging marine mammals in several countries.
> Even if dolphins are obtained from other captive facilities rather than
> capturing them from the wild directly, Belize would still be contributing
> the capture of other dolphins, most likely from environmentally sensitive
> regions. As I will describe below, Belize would therefore be held
> accountable for contributing to - and supporting - an ecologically harmful
> and inhumane market for these animals and degrading the marine ecosystem
> other countries as well as its own. Most facilities do not have any, or
> only biased and unscientific, evidence of environmental non-detriment of
> dolphin captures. This makes such captures contradictory to sound
> management and conservation practices (please see below). Belize would be
> still be considered responsible for the ecological ramifications of
> contributing to an ecologically irresponsible market. This would be
> contradictory to it's current and highly regarded reputation as a country
> offering ecologically sensitive ecotourism and other sustainable
> environmental practices.
> Below, I summarize some of the ecological impacts of capturing or
> captive dolphins, captive dolphin welfare and survivorship, the extreme
> dangers that swimming with dolphins poses to humans, and the questionable
> quality of education that people receive in these programs.
> Ecological Impacts of Captive Dolphins
> 1) Pollution:
> Dr. Thomas Goreau (2004), President of the Global Coral Reef Alliance, has
> conducted research that reveals the tremendous impact of dolphin
> on coral reefs. In Cozumel, Mexico, he concluded that "The bad news is
> if you go a few miles down to the coast to the dolphin attractions, a
> kilometer of reef has been overgrown by algae. It seems incredible that
> around 20 dolphins can be polluting more coral reef than thousands of
> ship passengers a day, but that is what we see. All the wild dolphins in
> Caribbean are now under threat of capture for tourist attractions, largely
> driven by the expansion of the cruise ship business. This is a serious
> threat to coral reefs near these proposed attractions as well as to the
> dolphin populations."
> 2) Dolphin Populations:
> Capturing dolphins from the wild can do far more than harm the individuals
> captured - it can threaten populations, many of which are already
> In fact, this is why concerns about captive marine mammals have not only
> been expressed by animal welfare advocates but also by conservationists
> population biologists. The capture of even a few animals can result in
> death or injury of many more dolphins, since the capture activities
> intensive harassment of a group or groups. In addition, it negatively
> impacts already depleted dolphin populations by removing breeding (or
> otherwise important) members from the group.
> Before any captures are permitted, wildlife managers at a minimum should
> first acquire adequate information on the targeted population. It appears
> that there has been insufficient research conducted in Belize waters and
> surrounding areas to determine that the removal of individual dolphins
> not have a negative impact on the ecosystem. Even if Belize were to
> purchase dolphins captured from other regions, unless those regions were
> able to demonstrate a negligible impact of the captures on their local
> dolphin populations, Belize would still be responsible for the capture and
> increased market demand for the dolphins from these poorly managed areas.
> The National Marine Fisheries Service in the United States acknowledges
> "The animals removed from the wild for permanent maintenance in captivity
> often represent only a proportion of the total take ['take' being defined
> under U.S. law as killing, injuring, or harassing] during a live capture
> operation" (NMFS 1989, p. 33). The capture of numerous orcas from the
> Southern population of resident orcas in the Pacific Northwest U.S. in the
> 1960's and 1970's, from which the population is still recovering is one
> dramatic and well-documented example of this (Wiles 2004).
> The New Scientist journal recently reported that the research of Drs. Davi
> Lusseau and Mark Newman University of Aberdeen, UK, and the University of
> Michigan, Ann Arbor, respectively, determined that ."Just a few genial
> dolphins keep dolphin societies together, and if they disappear, the
> cohesion of the pod collapses. That means that capturing wild animals,
> taking killer whales for displays in marine parks, for instance, could
> unforeseen consequences for their companions left behind. These results
> suggest that animal communities could be very vulnerable to the loss of a
> few key individuals." (Buchanon 2004).
> As the IUCN/SSC Cetacean Specialist Group's 2002-2010 Conservation Action
> Plan for the World's Cetaceans states, "Removal of live cetaceans from the
> wild, for captive display and/or research, is equivalent to incidental or
> deliberate killing, as the animals brought into captivity (or killed
> capture operations) are no longer available to help maintain their natural
> populations." "Live-capture activities involving bottlenose dolphins .
> taken place in various countries during recent years without adequate
> assessment of the wild populations and with little or no public disclosure
> of the numbers taken" (Reeves et al. 2003). The Plan also states "As a
> general principle, dolphins should not be captured or removed from a wild
> population unless that specific population has been assessed and it has
> determined that a certain amount of culling can be allowed without
> the population's long-term viability or compromising its role in the
> ecosystem. Such an assessment, including delineation of stock boundaries,
> abundance, reproductive potential, mortality, and status (trend) cannot be
> achieved quickly or inexpensively, and the results should be reviewed by
> independent group of scientists before any captures are made. Responsible
> operators (at both the capturing end and the receiving end) must show a
> willingness to invest substantial resources in assuring that proposed
> removals are ecologically sustainable" (Reeves et al. 2003, p. 17).
> Interactive programs are especially problematic in this regard because
> female dolphins are typically preferred for these programs (females are
> typically less aggressive and sexual towards humans than male dolphins).
> Many studies of wildlife populations (e.g., Oldfield 1988) have
> that removal of females can produce seriously harmful consequences to
> populations over the long term.
> 3) Other Ecosystem Affects:
> Furthermore, removal of dolphins from the wild can be harmful to the
> ecosystem and result in unknown ecological ramifications, especially when
> little is known about the populations, such as is the case for much of
> Belize and the Wider Caribbean region (Ward et al. 2001). Dolphins, as
> top-level predators, play an important and beneficial role in the health
> fish populations, the value of which we are only beginning to understand.
> Dolphin predation on fish species which are predators of other types of
> may likely play an important role in the health of fisheries.
> It is clearly debatable whether empirical evidence demonstrates that
> dolphins can be "successfully" held in captivity. In fact, Rose (2004;
> has stated, "In short, the preponderance of hard evidence should lead to
> conclusion that captivity and its related practices are ethically and
> scientifically unjustified". And a recent paper in "Nature" assessed the
> well-being of 35 species of wide-ranging terrestrial carnivores and
> determined that "the keeping of naturally wide-ranging large carnivores
> should be either fundamentally improved or phased out" (Clubb and Mason
> 2003, p. 473). Since most marine mammals share the traits that the
> used to determine inclusion of species in this study, these
> could reasonably be applied to marine mammals as well.
> (1) Dolphin Welfare and Survivorship in Captivity:
> Capture from the wild and transport are inarguable stressful and dangerous
> for dolphins. Physiological indications of stress associated with capture
> and captivity include elevated adrenocortical hormones (St. Aubin and
> 1988; Thompson and Geraci 1986). And Small and DeMaster (1995a) found
> mortality rates of captured bottlenose dolphins shoot up six-fold
> immediately after capture (and did not drop down to the base captive
> mortality rate for up to 35-45 days).
> Two of the most recent and well-respected studies (Small and DeMaster
> and Woodley et al. 1997) determined that survivorship rates in bottlenose
> dolphins through the mid-1990s remained persistently lower than in
> free-ranging animals (although the differences were no longer
> significant). Although this indicates that dolphin husbandry has improved
> over the years, it has not done so to the extent that dolphins live longer
> in captivity. This is notable, considering that one would expect that
> captive dolphins would live longer because of access to veterinary care,
> consistent food availability, and protection from natural predators and
> other threats faced in the wild (Rose 2004). Further, most of the
> facilities examined in these analyses were in North America where captive
> standards have generally been better and regulations stricter than in
> countries. And new facilities with less experienced staff are generally
> regarded as having reduced husbandry success with their dolphins as
> to facilities with more experienced staff.
> Consequently, the data indicate that the stress of captivity is a
> significant reason why cetaceans don't live as long or longer than their
> wild counterparts. As discussed in detail in various publications (e.g.,
> Mayer 1998; Frohoff 1993, 2004; St. Aubin and Dierauf 2001; Sweeney 1990;
> Curry 1999), capture and captivity has often been related to physiological
> and mental stress in cetaceans that has often been associated with
> behavioral abnormalities, illness, diminished immunological response, and
> The severe lack of environmental control in sea pens can often make them
> wholly inadequate and poorly suited for the maintenance of dolphins. For
> example, recent hurricanes in the Carribean have had serious consequences
> for captive dolphins, some of which have died violent and prolonged deaths
> (such as in La Paz, Mexico). Also, water temperature cannot be controlled
> in these pens in which dolphins may be forced to remain in shallow water
> with excessive exposure to the sun - resulting in unnaturally and
> dangerously high water temperatures from which the dolphins can die.
> quality also cannot be controlled in these pens. Captive dolphins can be
> forced to remain in more stagnant, shallow water adjacent to human
> that may contain considerably higher concentrations of marine contaminants
> than they would encounter in the wild. Such exposure to marine pollution
> can certainly lead to illness and death.
> Unnatural exposure to loud sounds - airborne and underwater - can also
> result in stress and even mortality in dolphins. The sensitive hearing of
> dolphins is well documented and numerous studies have documented the
> effects that anthropogenic sound can have on them. Sound travels quickly
> through water and both airborne (i.e., aircraft) and underwater (i.e.,
> craft) sounds can become amplified in water by reflecting off the shallow
> ocean floor. When dolphins cannot remove themselves from prolonged or
> sounds, physiological stress and damage can result.
> (2) Research on "Swim-with-the-Dolphin" Programs:
> Only three studies of captive swim programs have been published and one
> study of petting/feeding pools has been conducted and all three studies
> indicate that these programs are not humane for dolphins and can be
> dangerous for people. My study, which was conducted at one facility in
> United States, found that captive dolphins directed behaviors towards
> swimmers that were related to stress and aggression (Frohoff 1993; Frohoff
> and Packard 1995). A second study conducted at four facilities in the
> United States observed similar high risk behaviors and found that captive
> dolphins frequently behaved submissively to swimmers even when the
> were small in stature, minimally mobile, and did not behave aggressively
> (Samuels and Spradlin 1995). These studies both observed obvious
> stress-related behaviors in dolphins that were related to potentially
> long-term negative physiological effects. We also note that these studies
> were carried out in U.S. facilities which are often considered to be
> superior to those found elsewhere in the world.
> Recently, a study on captive swim programs in New Zealand observed that
> dolphins spent significantly more time in a "refuge" area where human
> swimmers were prohibited during swim programs than during times in which
> there were no swimmers in the enclosure (Kyngdon et al. 2002). This
> indicates that the dolphins may have been actively avoiding swimmers.
> Consequently, all of the studies conducted of these programs observed
> various stress-related behaviors indicating that these programs may have
> both short- and long-term negative effects on the participating dolphins.
> Research on petting/feeding programs also determined that the welfare of
> dolphins - as well as humans - is seriously compromised in these programs
> (Frohoff 2003; Maas 1999). As a result, the authors of this study
> recommended that all interactive programs involving public feeding and
> touching captive marine mammals be prohibited. They noted that Italian
> government standards prohibit the feeding and swimming (any physical
> contact) with captive dolphins by the public, and the Brazilian standards
> prohibit the feeding of captive dolphins by the public as well.
> (3) Dangers to Humans:
> There have been many highly publicized human injuries - and even deaths -
> incurred through swimming with dolphins. Marine mammals are wild animals
> and unpredictable, even when well trained. There is also a very real
> potential for disease transmission to humans. Thus, interacting with
> captive dolphins poses a true danger to humans.
> Even trainers with extensive experience with the dolphins with whom they
> have worked have been seriously injured (Norris 1967; Defran and Pryor
> 1980). In the most serious documented case, a free-ranging bottlenose
> dolphin in Brazil killed one man and hospitalized another who were
> with the animal (Santos 1997). There have been two recent incidents in
> which people, one of them, the animals' trainer, were killed as a result
> being in the water with captive orcas (also members of the dolphin
> And it is certainly not uncommon for members of the public to become
> from swimming with captive dolphins or even interacting with them at the
> poolside (NMFS 1990; Frohoff 1993; Frohoff and Peterson 2003; Maas et al.
> 1999; Samuels and Spradlin 1995). The actual number of injuries suffered
> people interacting with captive marine mammals is not known since their
> occurrence is often not reported. However, existing reports include
> incidences of broken bones, internal injuries, and serious wounds
> hospitalization. In addition to the 18 or so injuries serious enough to
> documented by the National Marine Fisheries Service in U.S.
> swim-with-the-dolphin programs within a five year period, I personally
> witnessed many more injuries than those reported during this time.
> Even when people interact with dolphins from outside of the pool, they can
> often become injured. In a recent report (WDCS and HSUS 2003), Biting the
> Hand that Feeds: The Case Against Dolphin Petting Pools, it was written
> "...[M]edia reports and historic government records reveal a range of
> serious injuries caused to visitors by captive dolphins in interactive
> programs, including cuts, bruises, broken bones, bites and rakes. Because
> the sheer size of dolphins and their concentration in petting pools,
> movements and occasionally aggressive competition for food can put
> at risk of physical harm."
> Disease transmission is also a serious concern, since dolphins carry
> diseases that can be transmitted to humans (and conversely, as well) (Buck
> and Schroeder 1990; Geraci and Ridgeway 1991; NMFS 1990; Mazet et al.
> (4) Education or Benefits?
> Since it is not uncommon for captive dolphins to exhibit aggressive and
> sexual behaviors towards people, people interacting with them (especially
> children) can have very negative experiences. Additionally, visitors have
> also expressed that viewing - or having contact with - marine mammals in
> captivity is sometimes a disturbing experience for them because of their
> concerns for the animals living in confined and unnatural conditions
> Kellert 1991; 1999).
> Providing the public with opportunities to touch or feed marine mammals
> also result in harassment and dangerous behavior towards wild dolphin
> populations. As Trevor Spradlin of the National Marine Fisheries Service
> points out, "There is growing concern that feeding pools, swim programs,
> other types of interactive experiences with marine mammals in captive
> display facilities may perpetuate the problem of the public feeding and
> harassment of marine mammals in the wild .. " (Frohoff 2003, p. 67).
> With regard to dolphin-assisted therapy, there does not appear to be any
> peer-reviewed research demonstrating that interaction with dolphins is any
> more therapeutic than interaction with domestic animals. Dolphin-assisted
> therapy is highly controversial in the scientific community. Perhaps it
> only more lucrative and glamorous than therapy involving domestic animals.
> Given the risks to human and dolphin participants, many researchers
> the justifiability of dolphin-assisted therapy and have written critiques
> claims made about these programs (e.g., Marino and Lilienfeld 1998;
> and Rowan 1991). Dr. Betsy Smith, a founder of dolphin-assisted therapy,
> said, "People would never throw their child in with a strange dog, but
> they'll throw them in with a strange dolphin. What you are looking at are
> vulnerable people and vulnerable dolphins" (Smith 2003). Ironically, she
> has chosen to discontinue therapy using dolphins and now only works with
> teaches about domestic animals.
> Because of the above data, as well as U.S. public concernof demonstration
> expressed by the public, there has not been a capture of dolphins from
> waters for public display since approximately 19891993. The governments
> several countries have already denied applicants permits to capture
> from the wild for public display. The public response to captures of wild
> dolphins has often resulted in tremendous controversy and international
> media coverage; examples in the United States include well-respected
> such as the NBC Nightly News, 20/20, Time Magazine, and the covers of the
> New York Times, and the the Washington Post.
> In conclusion, if dolphins are obtained from other captive facilities
> than capturing them from the wild directly, Belize would still be held
> responsible for contributing to and supporting ecologically harmful and
> inhumane practices - by degrading the environment of other countries, as
> well as it's own.
> Belize has an opportunity to continue to become increasingly recognized as
> progressive country with respect to environmentally responsible ecotourism
> and sustainable environmental practices. Rather than irreversibly
> its own natural resources (or that of other countries' waters), Belize has
> great potential to enhance them further while still allowing the public to
> appreciate them. As stated by Ward et al. (2001), "The marine mammal
> of the [Caribbean] region is diverse and has significant ecological,
> economic, aesthetic and amenity value to the countries of the Wider
> Caribbean. It is vital that these populations and their habitat are
> sustainable protection."
> I hope that this information may contribute to the recognition that
> capturing additional dolphins from the wild will not only be harmful to
> dolphins captured, but also to the wild population from which they would
> taken - and to the marine ecosystem as a whole.
> Toni Frohoff, Ph.D.
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