Dolphin and Orca Wages for Research and Entertainment?
… His diving experience allowed him to get a job at an aquarium, where he cleaned the underwater glass of the dolphin tanks.
One night, he was scrubbing away when he felt something nudge him from behind. It was a dolphin that had gotten out of its holding tank, one of several that had learned how to open the gate, swim out and then return after a while and snap the latch closed again.
“No one had any idea they were swimming out and playing around each night,” he said.
Schoelkoft explained that after that experience he “didn’t want to work with captive dolphins anymore.”
There is likely more to Mr. Schoelkoft’s decision to oppose dolphins in captivity, but if dolphins can escape and then return on their own, that seems to me a sign they prefer the day-jobs and fish-wages to life in the sea. For people concerned about advanced mammals like dolphins being held in captivity and performing for crowds, dolphin choices and preferences should, it seems to me, be considered.
I don’t mean to suggest zoos release their gorillas and hippos each evening hoping they will return after evening adventures, but for orcas and dolphins, if they can head out to the open sea to hang out with friends and relatives, and return when hungry or bored, that would for me make aquatic performances all the more appealing.
The first few minutes of Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (a movie I don’t recommend due to it’s ridicule of religion and general cliched awfulness), includes a nice song and swim suggesting dolphins have enjoyed their life on Earth, even in captivity.
The two bottlenose dolphins at Long Marine Lab are both males. Puka, 9, and Primo, 14, are on loan from the Navy Oceans Systems Center in San Diego. “These animals are raring to go every morning,” Williams said.
Members of animals rights’ groups sometimes clamor for the dolphins to be released, Williams said, but “the researchers would say, `we’ve done thousands of releases and they keep coming back.”
Once animals have been trained, she said, they usually return even when given the chance to escape. She worked with other trained dolphins at Kaneohe Bay in Hawaii that would sometimes go off to visit other dolphin groups, then return and wait for humans to open their sea pens.
The article discusses efforts to offer captive dolphins a sabbatical with extended time off (much as college professors are offered sabbaticals to enable periodic escape from their campus captivity). The “dolphin sabbaticals” didn’t work as well as hoped, apparently due to the difficulties of adjusting to life in the open ocean.
Another event suggesting the advantages to captivity, as least from the dolphins point of view:
When Hurricane Andrew hit the Florida coast, she said, dolphin handlers opened all the pens so the dolphins could escape to safety. All but one, she said, returned on their own. (Source)
So… I don’t have a good answer for best treatment of captive dolphins and orcas. People raised in captivity or living too long in prisons often have terrible difficulties adjusting to life on the outside. Raising dolphins in captivity can similarly limit their ability to survive and enjoy life in the open seas.
Researchers argue that they know little about dolphin biology and life cycles, and unless they can continue their humane research with captive dolphins, they will be unable to help them in the wild. As an example, dolphin researchers have limited knowledge of the current disease currently killing large numbers of dolphins. Perhaps if researchers knew more they could help save dolphin lives.
Many years ago I used to sail my father’s boat across Puget Sound and one day I was joined by a fifteen or more high-energy dolphin-size and orca-colored Dall’s porpoise zig-zagging back and forth in front and along side. It was a memorable few minutes and I wish I had a camera with me.