Yesterday the Vancouver Aquarium announced that it is giving up its fight to keep dolphins and whales in captivity. Canada is now only one marine park away from being free of captive dolphins and whales! And it’s because of thousands of voices like ours, who spoke up on behalf of those who are unable to! Now only Marineland Canada in Ontario has captive dolphins and whales.
In May 2017, the Vancouver Park Board, voted to prevent the aquarium from bringing in any new whales and dolphins, after commissioners said they were concerned about the ethics of keeping the animals in captivity. At this time there were only 3 cetaceans left at the facility: Helen (a pacific white sided dolphin), Chester (a false killer whale) and Daisy (a harbour porpoise). Helen, Chester and Daisy were allowed to remain at the facility but were no longer a part of the shows.
Since the park board vote in 2017, two of the aquarium’s three remaining cetaceans have died, Chester and Daisy, leaving only Helen, the pacific white sided dolphin.
Helen, a pacific white sided dolphin, the only remaining captive cetacean at the Vancouver Aquarium
Helen was purchased from Enoshima Aquarium in Japan, a facility known for sourcing it’s captive cetaceans from the infamous Dolphin Drive hunt in Taiji. Helen’s fate has yet to be decided. According to CEO John Nightingale there are two available options: transporting her to a new facility or bringing in a companion animal, which means defying the park board. Neither of these choices are ideal.
4 years ago today I arrived in Taiji, Japan, to start my journey as a Cove Guardian. What has changed in the 4 years since I’ve been there? The drive hunt still continues – dolphins are still slaughtered and taken for captivity. The Cove Guardian campaign has ended, largely due to the fact that Japan does not allow veteran volunteers with Sea Shepherd to enter the country. Many volunteers have attempted to go back, only to be held in immigration, questioned and then deported, never to return. Simply witnessing and documenting the slaughter of dolphins in Japan is now a crime and classified as terrorism. Only Dolphin Project remains on the ground in Taiji to document the daily atrocities that occur in the little town of horrors.
Rarely does a day go by without some thought of my time in Taiji. Over the course of my two weeks on the ground, I would witness several different slaughters (bottlenose, striped & risso dolphins) and live captures (bottlenose & pacific white sided dolphins). I remember each of these vividly, as if it just happened yesterday & it’s not something you forget easily. Witnessing a pod of dolphins spending their last moments together in fear, frustration, panic and hearing those last few breathes they take as they are pushed under the tarps of killing shore is utterly heartbreaking.
In the last year I have seen multiple people on my Facebook/Instagram feed posting photos of them and/or their children swimming with dolphins. Thanks to Instagram for taking a step in the right direction and for attempting to protect wildlife – see photo below – if you search for #swimwithdolphins an alert pops up stating that you are searching for a hashtag that may be associated with harmful behaviour to animals or the environment.
It’s time for people to wake up and realize that yes swimming with dolphins is a harmful behaviour to that dolphin. “The dolphin smile is nature’s greatest deception, it creates the illusion that they’re always happy” Ric O’Barry.
No dolphin has ever volunteered for a life of captivity! The dolphins at swim with dolphin programs, Sea World, Marineland Canada, etc., are performing tricks for food (dead medicated fish), they are taking your child for a ride, ‘dancing’ with them, jumping through hoops all in order to be fed! These dolphins are either stolen from their family/pod or they were born into a life of captivity. Either way, once in captivity, these dolphins are sentenced to a life of imprisonment in a tiny tank or sea pens for one reason only – your entertainment! This is where the problem begins, and if people would stop purchasing tickets to swim with dolphin programs or Sea world and thus supporting them, then the demand for live dolphins will go down and then one day perhaps we can hope for an end to the Dolphin Drive Hunt & Slaughter in Taiji.
Please consider teaching your children kindness to animals and wildlife. Become informed and watch the following documentaries:
Pacific White Sided Dolphins near Telegraph Cove, BC, Canada – Photo Credit: John E. Marriott
The 2017/2018 Drive Hunt Quota allows for 134 Pacific White-Sided Dolphins
The Pacific white-sided dolphin is energetic, active and is frequently seen leaping, belly flopping and somersaulting. They are strong fast swimmers and enthusiastic bow riders, often staying with moving vessels for extended periods.
The Pacific white-sided dolphin has a robust body with a very short stubby beak and black lips. The dorsal fin is one of the most distinguishing characteristics of this species being tall, falcate, and bicoloured with a black leading edge fading to grey on the trailing edge. The large flippers are similarly coloured with rounded tips. Overall the Pacific white-sided dolphin is dark grey or black in colour. As its name suggests, it has a greyish thoracic patch which extends down the sides to just below the dorsal fin. Thin greyish stripes under the dorsal fin meet and broaden along the tailstock. The throat and belly are bright white. The eye is surrounded by a dark patch and there is a black stripe running from the face to the flippers and down to the anus, separating the white underside from the greyish flanks. Several colour morphs exist throughout the species range. The Pacific white-sided dolphin may be confused with the common dolphin, but the latter has a more pronounced beak and different colour pattern, whilst the former can usually be easily identified by its diagnostic dorsal fin.
Video: Mark Peters and friends encounter an unexpected surprise while albacore fishing off the coast of Santa Cruz, CA – Pacific White Sided Dolphins
Pacific white-sided dolphins are extremely agile, acrobatic and social. Generally traveling in groups of tens or hundreds of individuals, they can be seen in herds of 2,000 or more. Groups are often segregated according to sex and age. They associate with many other species including northern right-whale dolphins, Risso’s dolphins, sea lions, and seals. They are avid bow and wake riders, and are known to actively approach boats. They can be seen performing leaps, flips, spins, somersaults, and they often porpoise at high speeds. Large groups travelling at high speeds create a lot of surface disturbance that is visible from a great distance.
Video: Dolphin Superpod in Strait of Georgia
The Pacific white-sided dolphin is found in the cool temperate waters of the North Pacific and adjoining seas. It prefers deep, offshore waters around the continental shelf although they can also be found in more nearshore waters. In recent decades the major threat to this species was bycatch in drift and gill-net fisheries operated on the high seas. Many thousands of individuals were killed before the fisheries were banned in 1993. Bycatch in other fisheries however remains a threat. Pacific white-sided dolphins have also been taken in small numbers off the coast of Japan, and that country is considering starting regular hunting of this species again. Other threats include prey depletion, marine debris and the impacts of climate change.
There is no reliable global population estimate for this species and the IUCN categorises this species as of ‘Least Concern’.
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In Taiji: As already mentioned, Pacific white-sided dolphins are very fast, very active and they are also very valuable to the captive trade in Taiji – they are worth more than Bottlenose dolphins. So valuable that they do not drive the Pacific white-sided dolphins into the cove for fear of injury and the simple fact that they are worth more captive than they are for meat.
Instead of driving the Pacific white-sided dolphins into the cove the Taiji dolphin hunters and trainers will do an off-shore capture. In the off-shore capture the dolphin hunters will try to orchestrate large nets to surround the Pacific white-sided dolphin pod. The small skiffs will then attempt to pull these nets tighter and tighter, making if more difficult for the dolphins to swim or even surface.
These dolphins are then subjected to examination by trainers to determine probability for a life of captivity. The dolphins are then tossed into skiffs and held down by several of the Taiji fisherman netting them to the floor of the boats. They are then taken to the Taiji harbour sea pens (floating sea prison) and dumped over the side of the skiffs into the tiny sea pens, which will hold multiple dolphins.
Pacific White Sided Dolphins at Dolphin Base in December 2013: