John's Letter to the Maui News, 08/26/01
The Maui News
Known by scientists and enthusiasts for years, yet not fully comprehended
by mainstream society, cetaceans (dolphins and whales) are highly intelligent
beings, with larger brains and perhaps a more complex language than
human beings. It is in this spirit that we applaud Council Member Jo
Anne Johnson's statement that "Cetaceans are clearly deserving
of legal recognition and protection in the county code." (The Maui
News, 8/22/01 Bill would ban exhibiting of dolphins and whales")
However, we do not agree that her suggested legislation, as described
by your article, is a good idea. It is in fact exactly the wrong kind
of legislation we'd like to see, as it further restricts human-cetacean
interaction; something that is urgently needed today. Certainly, the
spirit of such a bill grows from a prevalent conservationist viewpoint
that oceanariums are part of the enemy when it comes to saving dolphins
and whales. They are seen as capitalist, exploitive endeavors that are
imprisoning cetaceans. Thus some people want to close or inhibit them.
While the hearts of those with this viewpoint are absolutely in the
right place, the fact is that thousands of dolphins are still being
killed every single day in the wild--a daily death total larger than
the grand total of captive dolphins for the entirety of recorded history.
These deaths occur at the hands of humans--active deaths by those in
the fishing industry still using speedboats, nets, and bombs, and passive
deaths resulting from general pollution and habitat disruption (not
to mention LFAS!) Even before the Marine Mammal Protection Act was stripped
of most of its teeth by a conservative US Congress in the last few years,
tuna fishing interests were still able to usurp most of the controls
by a variety of means including death threats to government observers
unless they recorded "acceptable" dolphin kill totals.
To save cetaceans it is painfully clear that we must save the humans,
change their minds--on a grand scale. Oceanariums are one of the few
practical ways that we can carry out this change. Books and videos are
no substitute for the experience of direct human dolphin interaction.
Humans and dolphins being together in close proximity is in fact "the
point" of having an oceanarium. We need millions of humans to become
educated about cetaceans and understand how special they are. Those
who have encountered dolphins know how they were changed by them and
know what I'm talking about. Furthermore, millions of people meeting
dolphins is not possible in the wild, in fact it would be a disaster
for the dolphins, through additional habitat destruction and disruption.
The forces against the cetaceans are very powerful, and incomprehensibly
wealthy. Conservationist efforts, and cetacean academic research is
horribly under-funded. And just ask Sea Life Park on Oahu how much it
costs to maintain a facility that specializes in corrosive salt water.
Many of the people working for conservation, research, and yes, oceanariums
are there on labors of love. Oceanariums aren't the big money capitalists
they are often made out to be.
If divided, conservationists, oceanariums, scientists, government, and
other thinking people concerned about cetacea, have no chance against
the true enemies--who are plenty happy that we stay divided. Legislation
regarding cetacea should focus rather on creating strict standards for
the care, research, and interaction of captive dolphins. But please
don't limit the public's access--educating them is the most important
Dr. John C. Lilly