Jacques Cousteau probably never imagined that, once we imprisoned marine mammals, we would also assault them with sound
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has published a story about the Georgia Aquarium that reveals, once again, that the AJC and the Georgia Aquarium are in the groove, in synch, singing from the same sheet of music, and any other music metaphor you can imagine. To the beluga whales and dolphins held at the Georgia Aquarium, there is nothing harmonious about it.
This “news” should be disturbing to humans when they understand that holding the whales and dolphins in tanks is holding them, quite literally, in a sound-bouncing chamber of horrors. The horror arises because dolphins and whales live, communicate, hunt, explore – generally experience their world – through sound, or echolocation, more than sight. And when humans comprehend this, they will also understand that adding more sound to their sound-bouncing chamber is truly one of the worst things we could do to them in captivity.
Knowing that these tanks are sound-bouncing chambers should make us take care that we minimize the sound impacts. But what does the Georgia Aquarium do? It adds insult to injury by injecting additional extraneous noise, which we call music, to that chamber. Imagine yourself as sound-based creature in a tank which is connected by lots of solid floors, pipes, walls, steel supports directly to the music system.
Imagine the thump, thump, thump of even the most melodious music injected, reflected, and amplified – at much higher velocities than in air – to that chamber. In salt water, sound travels around 4.5 times faster than in air. In the concrete tank, floor, walls, ceilings? Sound travels even faster than 4.5 times faster than in air. In the steel beams that hold the Aquarium together? Even faster – somewhere around 10 times faster than in air.
By the time the Georgia Aquarium visitors have heard even the very first note, the dolphins and whales have heard not only that note, but also the reflection of that first note and its reflection and its reflection – somewhere greater than five times. Again, before you even hear the first note.
Please re-read that sentence until you get it.
But even with these facts, I am imagining that some of you don’t yet get it. I understand. I do. Part of our difficulty in understanding why this new sound venue at the Georgia Aquarium is a truly horrid event is that humans relate to sound differently than do whales or dolphins. We take for granted, quite frankly, that if a human lost his hearing, he would able to function and have a full, though soundless, life. But not so, for the dolphin or beluga whale. Sound, for the dolphin or beluga, is essential to its life. The dolphins and whales have evolved to their status of marine predator because of their highly tuned hearing in a medium where sound travels at those much higher velocities.
This chamber of horrors is somewhat like the life-long deaf person who, when fitted with technology that allows him or her to hear, finds that sound is disturbing, and takes off the hearing aid, never to replace it.
But back to the AJC piece. It did pepper a few facts in amongst its having, once again, missed the reality of captivity for the whales and dolphins.
- The Georgia Aquarium has, for five years, been exposing its marine mammals and other creatures to an onslaught of sound.
- Sound travels in “sonic” waves.
- The Georgia Aquarium has experienced declining revenues in the last year and is looking for more ways to reinvigorate its earnings.
- When people come to the Georgia Aquarium, they are “gawking” at the beluga whales and other animals.
Maris and baby beluga calf who died at the Georgia Aquarium five days after its birth, photo from the Georgia Aquarium
So, please understand that your gawking is harmful to the animals. If you want your child to appreciate wildlife, then don’t confuse them by having them gawk at animals whose lives are miserable in that tank. Don’t confuse them into thinking that captivity is either benign or natural. Teach them to understand echolocation via classroom experiments – exercises that will result in an appreciation that dolphins and whales do not belong in captivity. Teach them, as Jacques Cousteau tried to teach us, that captivity is anathema to appreciating and protecting wild life. See dolphins and whales in the wild, from the shore or a kayak. Quietly. Respectfully. In harmony with nature. Not with a thump of a sound system, no matter how groovy the music.
Say no to the dolphin show; say no to captivity.
For more information on how you can protect dolphins and whales from being hunted and captured for your amusement, please visit Save Japan Dolphins and Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.