Thursday, October 30, 2014

Wild vs Captivity

News on the pink dolphin having cancer is spreading like wild fire all over social media these few days, and it so happens that this week’s environmental law tutorial involves the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) as well as dolphins in captivity, so yupp I will be blogging about dolphins today!

It was published in the Straits Times on October 27, just 2 days ago, that a pink dolphin in Underwater World Singapore caught a non-contagious skin cancer. Health checks show that besides undergoing treatment for the cancer, the dolphin is generally in good health.
These Indo-Pacific humpbacked dolphins, also known as pink dolphins, are listed in Appendix I of CITES, which means that these dolphins are threatened with extinction and commercialized international trade in them is prohibited.
The investigators bought tickets to watch 2 animal shows and felt that the animals (dolphins and fur seals), face stress due to the loud music played before and during the shows, and were kept in rusty enclosures that barely met the minimum standard. The report also urged Underwater World to cease all animal shows and release the dolphins back into the wild.

Underwater World and Dolphin Lagoon. I still remembered the last time I went in was so long ago when I was a kid and my school decided to bring us there for an excursion to learn more about marine animals. I really enjoyed the animal shows, and was fascinated by how seals and dolphins could perform so many cool tricks. Although I cannot remember exactly what did we do or learn in the Underwater World, the images of huge schools of fishes, stingrays and sharks swimming over my head, as well as dolphins balancing the basketball and jumping over hula hoop are still stuck in my head until today. Perhaps this sparked my interest in dolphins and other marine animals, and without a trip to Underwater World when I was young, perhaps I I would not be so interested in marine biodiversity as I am today. 

To say that confining dolphins in tanks could cause unnecessary suffering compare to leaving them in the wild is understandable and we cannot deny that it is largely true. However, without these dolphins in captivity, not only will we not be able to enjoy these shows, we might not even have a chance to see real dolphins at all! How many people are actually capable of going into the coastal waters in different parts of the world to look for dolphins? Most of the time it is for research purposes or work-related that you get to observe real animals living in their natural habitat but for most of the public that only wants to see how a dolphin looks like in real life, they may never have a chance. Hence, although some may argue that keeping dolphins in enclosures is subjecting them to unnecessary sufferings, others feel that it is not considered absolutely unnecessary. Dolphins are important to us not for entertainment, but to spark interest in young children about these fantastic animals, and learn to protect and conserve them so that they do not become extinct.

Furthermore, releasing dolphins in the wild after being in captivity for so many years also poses a great threat to them so they need time to adapt and could have forgotten how to fend for themselves. This is especially crucial to dolphins which are born and raised in UWS their whole life. How are they going to compete in the wild environment based on ‘survival of the fittest’ when they have been feed everyday since they were born? Although the dolphins could undergo rehabilitation programme before releasing them into the wild, a man-made environment will still be different from the wild, where they will face serious threats of predation and have to face strong competition for food.

Finally, I want to say that this issue on dolphins or in general, any wild animals in captivity is really subjective and depends on everyone’s different perspective. Although keeping dolphins in tanks seems to be a self-centered act where humans are more regarded as more superior compared to animals, it might not be totally beneficial to release them into the wild either. It really pains me to look at images of the poor dolphin suffering from the skin cancer so I shall put a picture of healthy dolphin instead!

Tan, Audrey. "Pink Dolphin at Underwater World Singapore Has Non-Contagious Skin Cancer." The Straits Times, 2014.
Tan, Jeanette. "Pink Dolphin's Condition Raised in Wildlife Report on Underwater World Singapore." 2014.