Two recent developments regarding Dolphins in Pakistan have re-ignited my interest in them. The first news item is that of a Dolphin show which is reportedly visiting Pakistan in the near future. It was originally stated to arrive here in October 2012 but has been considerably delayed due to a late monsoon season hampering pool preparations and later logistic and security reasons, etc. However, grapevine has it that the show will start within the next month. I’m keeping my flippers crossed.
The event is being organised by “The Talent Broker International (TBI)” of Pakistan and their international partners “Utrish Dolphinarium” from Russia. Even before its arrival, the show has attracted the criticism and concern from conservation groups and segments of the society.
Apprehension against such activities is an international phenomenon and often supported by views of experts. The “Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society” (WDCS), which “is the leading global charity dedicated to the conservation and welfare of all whales and dolphins” states in a publication titled “Introduction to Captivity”:
“Once confined, dolphins…
- Are separated from their natural habitat and enclosed in a totally alien environment. - Have to undergo medication and fertility control. - Have to put up with an artificial diet, unusual noise, strange odours and the proximity of people and other unfamiliar captive animals. - No longer have free will to choose social bonds. - May suffer aggression from other pool mates more dominant than them. - Are sometimes kept on their own (some in hotel swimming pools), e.g. four orcas are currently held in captivity on their own. - Suffer from stress, reduced life expectancy and breeding problems. - The Marine Mammal Inventory Report, maintained by the US government, lists a variety of causes of death including drowning, ingestion of foreign objects and aggression from pool mates.
The trouble with tanks: - Any tank is small and cramped compared to the open ocean. - Chemically-treated water effects dolphins’ sensitive skin, causing ulcers and skin lesions. - Chemically-treated water means no live fish or plants can be placed inside, leaving the tank bare and largely featureless, with no mental stimulation. - Many countries do not have minimum standards for housing captive dolphins.”
We in Pakistan are amongst those countries mentioned in the last point i.e., we do not have any minimum standards that need to be adhered to for keeping captive marine mammals. Hence, the question of a violation of national code does not arise.
The “Alliance for Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums” is “an international association representing marine life parks, aquariums, zoos, research facilities, and professional organisations”. They issue standards and guidelines for their members around the world, on the acquisition, disposition, training, care, environment and other aspects of establishing and running a marine mammal park or aquarium. Their standards and guidelines also include aspects conducive for awareness, education and conservation activities. Perhaps we can adopt their standards and guidelines in a customised manner under the regulatory oversight of the relevant Wildlife Departments.
Interestingly, the opportunity of a dolphin show visiting the country could also be utilised for initiating an academic or research program in liaison with local universities or to allow internship opportunities for local researchers and students.
Sometimes, captive animals are used for far more serious purposes than mere entertainment. Dating back from the times when canaries were kept in coal mines to raise alarm, certain tasks have been assigned to animals for greater efficiency and safety. Testing of pharmaceuticals during research and development on various animals, and chimpanzees being launched into space, prior to manned missions are modern examples of how animals have been able to reduce risk exposure to humans and in some cases have even been able to save scores of lives.
Similarly, the use of sniffer dogs has been instrumental in counter terrorism and search and rescue missions. K-9 units across the globe are a testimony to their effectiveness. However, dogs cannot be used for underwater counter-terrorism or search and rescue tasks. This is where Marine mammals including dolphins come in.