Jiyu a dolphin who couldn’t withstand captivity, photo by Heather Hill of Save Japan Dolphins
To those who think that dolphin captivity is a benign enterprise, meet Jiyu, one of its latest casualties. To those who go to the dolphin show, whether Sea World, the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, or another, the dolphins you see in the show are the ones who made a successful transition from living in the wild to captivity or the progeny of those who made that transition.
What is central to this transition? Force-feeding. Wild dolphins catch and eat live fish. Once they have been deprived of the ability to feed themselves, they must be motivated by food-deprivation (hunger) followed by force-feeding to accept dead fish as food.
Hand down the throat, photo by Martyn Stewart
What does force-feeding of a dolphin look like? In a nutshell, the first trainers these dolphins will ever see must “break” them to accept a small enclosure. The trainers, or most appropriately called “breakers”, force their hands down the throats of dolphins pushing dead fish to the point in their throats where the dolphins are unable to spit it out. Over and over and over, until the dolphin accepts dead fish from the hands of people as their food.
You won’t see that from the trainers at Sea World or the Georgia Aquarium, because the first trainers somewhere else performed that ugly task. The show trainers may still need to perform force-feeding, but they don’t typically do that in front of you. They save that for the back-tanks. After the show.
But what about the dolphins that do not make the transition from a free life to captivity and become a casualty? Meet Jiyu, who was snatched from the wild, languished, unable to make the transition, unable to accept dead fish as food.
The trainers, realizing that she was a “lost cause” for the show or breeding in captivity, stopped caring for her. And now she has disappeared from this miserable pen, and is likely in a grocery store, in the human food chain.
I am sorry, Jiyu. Someday there will be no more dolphin shows or trainers whose job it is to dominate and force-feed you. Someday there will be trainers whose job it is to teach your kind to learn how to fish and be returned to the ocean where you deserved to live out your life.
And now, reader, please have a moment of silence to honor the life of Jiyu and the others who have fallen due to the captive dolphin industry.
Thank you to Martyn Stewart for the images of the breaker and Heather Hill for the video of Jiyu. For more information, see Champions for Cetaceans, My Porpoise Driven Life and Suite 101.