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Surfing a Wholphin

April 2012

Surfing a Wholphin
Hix, 11 Apr 2012
    • Hix
      April 2012
    • Hix
      While the animal was not hurt, and probably enjoys the entichment of the activity, I don't like the message this sends to the public.
    • DavidBrown
      How do you feel about dolphin shows in general? Do you think that keeping marine mammals in captivity has meaningful conservation value in terms of helping people appreciate these animals and their conservation needs?
    • Hix
      Those are tricky questions, not to mention controversial. And I know a lot of people are very passionate with their views.

      Because of their intelligence cetaceans need to be kept occupied/enriched - both mentally and behaviourally - something which was lacking at many facilioties in years gone by. Things have changed substantially in the last 30 years or so, with a much better understanding (or realisation) of their captive needs.

      Removing them from the wild specifically for captivity is hard to justify these days, and I don't know how frequently this still occurs (if at all). I'm sure some injured animals are removed from the wild for rehab purposes. And breeding takes place in captivity too - the animal on the photo above was bred at this park many years ago.

      To answer your two questions: How do I feel about dolphin shows in general? The shows are an integral part of the animals daily routine, as is the contact with the trainers. What many people don't realise is that outside to the two or three shows a day, animals are often trained in new behaviours or new routines at other times of the day too, and I imagine the experience of learning what the keeper wants is more mentally stimulating that performing a routine you are familiar with. But the shows are an important part of their day. I've seen dolphins having a rest day in holding pools going through routines at the same time as the show animals, presumable because they enjoy it. They weren't getting rewarded for it. In fact, they couldn't see the visual cues from the trainer, but they performed the behaviours at the same time as the animals in the show (I guess they were using audio cues - either the dialogue from the trainer, or maybe communication with the show animals).

      Does keeping marine mammals in captivity have real value in educating the public, particularly with regard to conservation? That depends on a number of things.

      Most people like dolphins and I've met some people who are completely besotted by them. Seeing them perform, and meeting a dolphin for a photo opportunity, engender an appreciation for them (especially the latter). However, the show I saw at Sea Life Park involved a lot of hula hoop twirling, dancing, fancy synchonised leaping and flips - nothing that they would really do in the wild. But it should be noted that what they would normally do in the wild is usually done underwater and wouldn't be very entertaining in a show. The way shows are presented they are at least entertaining. But I think there's a disjunct with the conservation message.

      You can tell people about the garbage/pollution that contributes to their decline, and the fishing industry, and japanese dolphin harvest, but without graphic images of the death and destruction a lot of people won't think too much more about it. And as most people go to these places for a fun time with their kids, seeing graphic images or hearing an in-your-face conservation hardsell is not what they wanted.

      Most places I've been to have some sort of subtle conservation message in their shows, often just a few words at the end of the show (I'm not just talking cetaceans now). At this point I can't think of any better way for them to push the message.

      In the last few years I've only seen a couple of places with dolphins, and those places (like the various Seaworlds) seem more focussed on commercially viable entertainment, with some money spent on conservation and research. I know there are a lot of bad zoos through out the world, I'm just hoping the enormous expense of maintaining dolphins means that there aren't any cheap bad dolphinaria in the world.

      Just my opinions.

      Hope that answers your questions David.
    • DavidBrown
      Thanks for your very thoughtful answers Hix. The role of training as a former of mental enrichment for captive cetaceans had not occurred to me. It would be nice if that aspect of it could be played up in these shows rather than inane "tricks" like the surfing here in this photo.
    • Hix
      It was 2:00am when I wrote the above post, so forgot to link it to the photo and my original comment.

      The entire narration was oversensationalised exclamatory hype, and was so loud it was almost yelled at us. The girl giving the presentation was so animated and enthusiastic she made Steve Irwin look positively quiet. Relating to the picture above, the commentary went along the lines of "Everyone knows surfing was invented in Hawai'i, and here at Sea Life Park WE DO IT WITH A DIFFERENCE! Here comes Annette and KEKAIMALUUUUUUUU!!!!!" And then Annette (or whatever her name was) came out surfing the wholphin with the Hawaii 5-0 theme blaring out of the speakers.

      There was nothing in the presentation about operant conditioning or training. Which is a shame, because to train something like this would probably take a few months and would involve several steps. A demonstration of how behaviours are routines are put together would have at least been educational.

      Ideally, teach the wholphin how to be a surfboard and then only surf her in the mornings before the park opens.
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    Sea Life Park Hawaii
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