Waves of excitement roll through the arena as walls of water pound the splash zone. The entertainers flip and dive in response to the cheers of the crowd. Initially, the dolphins’ smile appears to reflect the mood of the audience, when in reality, the fixated expression protects a multi-million dollar industry. The T.V. show Flippersparked a phenomenon as dolphins became in demand for entertainment, however, their world is not one of enjoyment. Humans are not the only species capable of deception, and the dolphins’ facial facade hides the turmoil within.
Amusement parks that showcase dolphins as toys for our amusement exploit the animals to the point that their physical and mental health is compromised. Dolphins are acoustic animals. They rely heavily on their ability to hear and have highly adapted sonar, so much so that dolphins can literally see your heartbeat underwater (The Cove). In fact, a large part of their brain is dedicated to the detection, interpretation, and production of sound (Bearzi 141). So when they are packed into an arena with thousands of screaming spectators, dolphins experience sensory overload. Stress caused by their environment causes ulcers and can kill them. Dolphins experience suicidal tendencies when under pressure; each of their breaths is conscious, so eventually they just stop trying to breathe. One of their brains’ greatest ability, their advanced sonar, is often the cause of their demise. This is true not only in captivity.
The dolphin entertainment industry created the initial demand for dolphins and currently drives the dolphin hunting industry. Japan alone catches, consumes, and exports the largest amount of dolphins; the small coast town Taiji specifically, is the largest supplier of dolphins to marine parks and swim with dolphin programs in the world (The Cove). The Japanese government continues to purport dolphin hunting as an aspect of their culture (Huffington Post). Taiji not only stresses the importance of whaling as the source of its economic stability, but emphasizes the significance of whaling in their own history. Despite their defense of the industry, whaling would not exist without the large monetary incentive involved in dolphin entertainment; a dolphin can be bought by one of these parks for up to $150,000, however, one dolphin in the right place can make up to $1,000,000 per year (The Cove). Not all dolphins caught are selected to entertain and the rest are slaughtered for meat: approximately 23,000 dolphins and porpoises are killed in Japan each year (The Cove). ‘Slaughtered’ seems like a bit of an overreaction. Humans breed chickens and cows for food, why are dolphins different? However, the barbaric methods and results of dolphin fishermen justifies the use of such drastic diction.
It is called drive fishing: fisherman spot a pod of dolphins and drive multiple boats in their direction while violently striking the side of the boat with long metal rods (these boats are...