In light of animal welfare, WWF-Pakistan strongly opposes the import and display of cetaceans for ent and pursuing this is against the mandate of the Ministry itself. Globally there is a huge concern against performing cetaceans not only because this is counterproductive to conservation but has serious animal welfare implications too. International community including IUCN/Cetacean Specialist Group, WWF, Whales and Dolphin Conservation are just a few organizations united to oppose this. Governments are already banning captive cetacean, for example Canada and India have recently banned cetaceans in captivity and Pakistan needs to follow such global practices.
Here are a few facts on keeping dolphins in captivity and their display in Dolphin Show:
- In dolphinarium, the animals have high mortality, and at best, their life expectancy is halved. Therefore, for the most part, marine parks must replenish their supply of dolphins by taking them from the wild. In addition to hurting or killing the dolphins during the capture, these kidnappings have terrible effects on the pods of wild dolphins. Dolphins are hyper-social animals, and their entire lives can be spent mourning for the loss of a single member. Even though some programs use captive-born animals but the fact is, whether born in captivity or pulled from the ocean, all dolphins share the same physiological and psychological needs.
- In dolphinariums, reproduction is difficult.
- Captivity is exceptionally unsuitable with the intrinsic needs of a dolphin. In the ocean, they chase their prey for hundreds of kilometers a day. In dolphinariums, they have no choice but to eat dead fish and swim in endless circles around their tank. These conditions lead to their ultimate demise; they become crazy, engage in incest and self-mutilation, and behave completely against their nature.
- Dolphins can swim over 40 miles a day, they engage in mating, foraging and play behavior with their pod members and they use their echolocation to explore their diverse ocean environment. In contrast, captive dolphins are forced to swim in artificial habitats where they act unnatural, and in some cases as they would if they were in pain. Captive dolphins also face exposure to human infection and bacteria, chemicals such as chlorine, and suffer from stress-related illnesses.
- Captive dolphins spend up to 80 per cent of their time at the surface of the water seeking scraps of food and attention. As oppose to this, wild dolphins spend 80 per cent of their time below the surface of the water playing, hunting and exploring.
- Swimming in circles or constantly peering through the fences (stereotypical behavior) or floating listlessly on the surface of the water indicate that the animal is bored and psychologically stressed. Wild dolphins rarely lie still and with the entire ocean at their disposal, they would have no need to swim in circles. All of the above are unnatural behaviors consistently exhibited by the captive dolphins. Dolphins act this way because they have been trained to do so using "positive reinforcements", a politically correct term used by the captivity industry for food deprivation. They wave to the audience and kiss the trainer because they are hungry, not because they desire human interaction. Sadly, they often float motionless in their tanks between shows because they are bored or lonely.
- Seeing captured dolphins that are sick, stressed, and forced to learn acrobatic tricks does not give the public a true education on the nature of these animals. The employees of dolphinariums pretend that the dolphins love taking pictures and constant human interaction, but these are wild animals. Their purpose is not to entertain us, and they have a right to their own freedom, just like we do.
- Some facilities even drug cetaceans to reduce the stress level.
WWF strongly feels that it is our responsibility to bring this matter to the attention of the relevant global community. There are sufficient opportunities for the public to see dolphins in the wild off shore of Pakistan and in the Indus River and that experience is much more rewarding and should be encouraged.