Like elephants with tourists on their backs in Thailand and tigers jumping through fire in European circuses. So many animal species are condemned to a life in captivity and suffering only for the entertainment of people. The case of captive cetaceans is no different.
The documentary Blackfish once again stirred up the debate about the conditions for animals in marine mammal parks. There are so many ways to engage with dolphins, orcas, whales and other marine mammals that do not entail poor and stressful conditions, which also have proven to be life-shortening. Conservation projects exist around the world, where animals thrive in their natural habitats with little interference from people.
One project is our Ocean Research and Marine Conservation Programme in South Africa. It is an initiative based on education, research and conservation of the many species found in Plettenberg Bay including bottlenose and humpback dolphins, common dolphins, orcas, humpback and southern right whales, and great white sharks. Since 2001, their volunteer programme has assisted in creating and increasing awareness about conservation initiatives and issues.
The daily work does not only take place on sea. Equally as important efforts are made on land. Supporting local initiatives to educate children and youngsters from the communities about conservation via educational programmes are among them. These educational programmes include local theatre, school lessons and sea excursions, which illustrates that education about marine animals and their conservation can be conducted without taking them out of their natural habitat.
Another project is our Dolphin and Whale Research Project in the Ligurian Sea. This Cetacean Sanctuary is situated in an approximately 84,000 km² marine protected area in the Mediterranean between France and Italy. It is home to no less than 11 different cetacean species including orcas, fin whales and several types of dolphins. One project takes in volunteers to be involved in field activities collecting cetacean data for further analysis. This information is important for the understanding of animal behaviour, but also plays an important role in keeping track on how vulnerable these species are to extinction in the Mediterranean.
Similar projects that protect many mammal species can be found in among others Costa Rica, Fiji, Greece and Croatia. Thus the examples are many, and you can seize your chance to engage with these animals and partake on their conservation in their own beautiful habitats around the world.
In all, wild animals should remain wild. Period! There is also hope for retired cetaceans that would not immediately be able to function in the wild. It has already been discussed that captive orcas and dolphins should be retired and rehabilitated in marine sanctuaries of large netted-off bays or coves in their natural habitat. The degree of interaction with the public would be minimal, and a visitor’s centre could offer education and real time remote viewing of the animals. In cases with dolphins and whales, it could be possible to engage with live watching from boats; yet only if considered responsible and non-stressing for the animals.
Eventually, these animals will be able to return to the wild if they wish to do so, and there will not be any more captive cetaceans within a couple of decades. This once again stresses that there is a solution for marine animals that have been bred in captivity, which does not entail inhumane conditions that stresses or in any other way interfere with the well-being of these animals.
In the end, if one already has to pay handsomely to experience these beautiful animals, who would not prefer to experience and learn about them while in their natural habitat, rather than watching them jump and spin in circles in a pool?
Not only do we have these amazing projects and ways of approaching the protection of many cetacean species. We also have WhaleFest! In Brighton on 14-15 March 2015, the biggest event of its kind will take place in the name of whale and dolphin protection. Sign up now and volunteer to take part in this amazing event – or come along to get inspired and learn from the many organisations and people that fight for the survival and well-being of these amazing animals, and support a good cause!
By Charlotte Laursen, WorkingAbroad team