Earlier today I learned that Jeff Corwin (the famous wildlife conservationalist from Animal Planet) is doing a new show called Ocean Mysteries. This show is in partner with the Georgia Aquarium, where the show is filmed. The Georgia Aquarium is located in Atlanta and they have 11 captive dolphins. Clearly I do not support dolphins being kept in captivity, especially under the pretense of education. The marine mammals kept in captivity are so removed from their natural habitat that they are a poor representation of their species. So I was a little shocked to see that Jeff Corwin was giving support to such an establishment. As a person with such a great following, Jeff has the rare opportunity to reach out to millions of people with messages of conservation. A handful of us dolphin advocates wrote to Jeff on his Facebook wall about the new show and about cetaceans in captivity. This is what Jeff Corwin wrote back…
hey guys, looks like we are getting a lot of different opinions regarding zoos, aquariums, and the issues connected to marine mammals (for example cetaceans) in captivity. Let me make something clear, while we might not always agree on this stuff, i truly appreciate and respect the various views and opinions that i am hearing. In a nutshell, my primary focus with conservation is on protecting species and the ecosystems that they inhabit. I believe that awareness and education is a big part of that focus, and i believe zoos and aquariums ( institutions that are legitimate, well managed, and AZA recognized) are important parters in this effort. You may not agree with Georgia Aquarium’s marine mammal program, and again, you are absolutely entitled to have that opinion, and my mission is not to change your viewpoint on this matter, BUT, if it were not for the georgia aquarium, i would not be able to travel the world and bring important stories of conservation, wildlife and ecology to you. They, along with many other aquariums and zoos, are spearheading critically important and groundbreaking conservation programs that are saving species. For example, through this series we have highlighted the following – coral reef bleaching and restoration, sea turtle conservation, shark extinction and conservation, wildlife rescue and rehabilitation, restorations of pelicans and habitat from the gulf oil spill, climate change issues, sea otter conservation, impact of invasive species, etc. Again, you may not like or agree with zoos and aquariums but if it were not for these organizations, one could argue that there is a long list of species that would now be likely extinct! Here is a short list of species that would not be here today if it were not for these efforts – blacktail ferrets, manatees, indigo snakes, bald eagles, california condors, red wolfs, amphibians like the golden frogs of panama, hawaiian crow, etc. For example the black footed ferret had become extinct in the wild, but through zoos like denver, national and others, along with leadership from USFWS, they were bred in captivity and then released back into the wild (2000 today!), same could be said for california condor, reduced to about a dozen, but because of usfws, and zoos like san diego and los angeles, they are back in the wild (but certainly not out of the woods). Many of these institutions are far beyond antiquated menageries, but are often hardcore centers of conservation, and maybe the 1st experience for members of the public to witness wildlife and learn about conservation. Not everyone is lucky enough to have access to nature, for example an inner-city kid may develop an interest in conservation from a life changing moment at a zoo or aquarium, and believe it or not, i was once that kid! When i was very young we lived in the city, my dad was a police officer and he would drop me off at the franklin park zoo and the new england aquarium (so i would stay out of trouble), it is because of my experiences at these places (along with the passion of the folks working there), that i developed my own passion for nature, wildlife and conservation. So, while many of you guys have a different opinion from me when it comes to aquariums that i can respect, there maybe a whole other side to the story that you may not be aware of. Now, as for JCC, we really want this to be a place where people can express their personal feelings, opinions and beliefs, so please share your thoughts and ideas with us, BUT we CANNOT let this be a platform that allows for any bullying, intimidation, extremism, and belittling. So share your thoughts and lets keep the dialogue going, but lets engage each other with the respect that we all deserve. Cheers and Thanks – J
I guess Jeff didn’t understand what we were talking about. I responded again on this status hoping to clarify the position of myself and others who had wrote to him.
I understand that viewpoint Jeff. And I support the institutions that work on endangered species conservation and captive breeding programs that will allow for repopulating wild animals that are near extinction. However, my standpoint, and I believe the standpoint of a lot of people who wrote to you is not about that. Dolphins that are being held for entertainment purposes are not part of an educational program or a conservation mission. They are used for monetary purposes only. The “educational” value is obsolete and we learn very little from watching a dolphin jump through hoops or swim in countless circles. They are a greatly altered version of their wild counterparts. That is what people are NOT in support of. True conservation does not include marine mammals being kept in glorified swimming pools in order to entertain the masses. It has also been shown that the dolphin captivity industry fuels the slaughter of dolphins in Taiji, Japan. A sad few are taken to be sold to such aquariums while the rest are killed. In order to end that slaughter, we must not support the captivity industry. Again, I want to say that I am a big fan of you, your work and I encourage everyone to read your book 100 Heartbeats because it is filled with a lot of great information about animals that need our help.
The Georgia Aquarium is part of the captive industry problem just like SeaWorld, The Miami Seaquarium, and any other establishment that holds dolphins and whales in captivity. I went to Georgia Aquarium’s website to learn a little more about this place that Jeff Corwin is so boldly standing up for. I learned some interesting things.
Amongst the eleven captives there is one female who was taken from US waters in the 1980’s. According the website, “this female has thrived in a zoological location for decades, where she has an enriched life”. I am quite sure she would have a very different opinion about her life in captivity. She was born in the ocean and was living a life of freedom with her family until she was captured and has since been made to do tricks for dead fish while she swims in circles around her concrete prison.
I also learned that the dolphins are accessible to visitors nearly all day long so you can “view the dolphins and their naturally playful behaviors”. I think anyone who has either seen dolphins in the wild or at the very least watched videos of them in the wild can attest to the fact that no aquarium can allow for natural behaviors. Dolphins swim 40 to 100 miles a day while playing, socialization, and hunting. The Georgia Aquarium cannot allow for any of that truly natural behavior.
The dolphins are also part of a loud, music show that is compared to Broadway at an aquarium. Dolphins are acoustic animals so sound is their greatest sense and the animals at the Georgia Aquarium have to listen to that “Broadway” performance several times a day. I doubt the aquarium, during their educational portion of the show mentions that incredibly stressful situation to the visitors.
On their website the aquarium refers to the dolphins as being part of their “living collection”. This terms disgusts me for the main reason that people feel such ownership and superiority over wild animals. Claiming them to be part of some collection is just ignorant. And even though the majority came from other aquariums from around the world does not mean they belong to anyone. You cannot breed wild instincts out in a couple generations.
The Georgia Aquarium also claims to not support any Japanese dolphin drive hunts. Yet they are a member of AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) which allows JAZA(Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums) to be an association member. Most of the dolphins held in Japan’s dolphinariums are taken during these hunts and they are members of JAZA. So by being a member of AZA, the Georgia Aquarium is linked to the dolphin drive hunts in Japan. When it comes to such brutal events, such as the slaughter of thousands of dolphins, it does not matter if your involvement is direct or indirect. Either way, you are still involved.
The Georgia Aquarium also has another business venture called Marine Land. This terrible place allows you to swim with dolphins as well as other ridiculous activities. For $330, you can spend 45 minutes in the water with dolphins. At that financial cost, I think it is safe to say that Georgia Aquarium/Marine Land are not looking to educate anyone, but instead increase their revenue. I am also not sure what part of the Dolphin Designs program demonstrates their “naturally playful behaviors”? For $85 the dolphin will paint a canvass for you. I do not believe there is any documented observations of wild dolphins painting canvasses.
So I guess knowing all that about the Georgia Aquarium and their Marine Land partner, I do not understand how Jeff Corwin can support them? And not only support them, but actually claim they have some educational benefit for anyone. Jeff is an intelligent man who knows a great deal about wildlife and conservation. Knowing the natural lives that dolphins experience in the wild versus the altered, tortured, and exploited lives they lead in captivity, how can he work alongside places like Georgia Aquarium? I have never seen a dolphin or whale in captivity. I have never been to any marine park and yet I am a very devoted marine mammal activist. I learned everything I know from reading and watching their true, wild behaviors on film. I did not need to be a part of the captive industry to love and want to protect them. I think using the educational value route is just a poor excuse to continue to make money off of the lives of these animals.
I hope Jeff Corwin changes his mind about the captive industry. Or that one day a louder voice will be heard over his and those like him.