Our challenge is simple and it leaves the final decision to the dolphins. If RWS truly believes that the remaining 25 wild-caught dolphins are happy in their current enclosures, then ACRES asks that RWS open the enclosure gates leading out to the open ocean (or provide any other opening). If the dolphins are truly happy then surely they will remain in the enclosure? Will RWS agree to this challenge?
2. Why is ACRES only campaigning for dolphins now when news about RWS’ plans were announced in 2006?
ACRES has been voicing our concerns about their plans since 2006 and our concerns were published in The Straits Times article “Activists against having a whale of a time” in October
2006. Since 2006, ACRES has also been in closed door discussions with RWS with regard to our concerns about their plans to house dolphins and whale sharks at their attraction.
During these discussions, RWS went ahead to purchase 27 wild-caught dolphins. ACRES only found out about this from the media. Despite this, we continued to engage RWS. In October 2010, two of the RWS wild-caught dolphins died and, despite being in discussions with RWS, we only found out about this through other sources.
ACRES felt that the five years of discussions we had with RWS had not been fruitful, which is why we launched the public campaign. We note as well that RWS has failed to live up to their promises.
RWS has stated that they have “a world-class team of experienced professionals and animal experts” and it is their “mission to provide our animals with top-class care, and to treat them with respect.”
RWS has also stated that “its dolphin enclosure will 'far exceed' internationally recognised minimum space requirements for the animals” and that “care and well-being of the dolphins are of paramount importance”.
RWS further mentioned that bottlenose dolphins “are very adaptable to living in controlled environments”.
ACRES has consistently reminded RWS of the difficulty in keeping dolphins in captivity. Despite our appeal, RWS went ahead and purchased wild-caught dolphins. Two of the dolphins (in Langkawi), of the species which RWS had stated is “very adaptable to living in controlled environments”, have now died.
In addition, RWS housed the wild-caught dolphins in appalling conditions in Langkawi. The dolphin enclosures there failed to meet the European Association for Aquatic Mammals Standards for Establishments Housing Bottlenose Dolphins.
3. Can we trust RWS who have said they will provide the best care for the dolphins?
RWS had failed to live up to its promise of providing sufficient care to the wild-caught dolphins. An undercover investigation by ACRES revealed that enclosures used to house the wild-caught dolphins in Langkawi failed to meet the European Association for Aquatic Mammals Standards for Establishments Housing Bottlenose Dolphins.
The Langkawi enclosures failed in terms of: Not meeting minimum pool dimensions, failure to provide shelter, excessive noise, poor water quality, not having sufficient emergency procedures and not having a sufficient programme of measures for illness prevention and control.
The wild-caught dolphins were housed in enclosures which provided at most 0.001% of the smallest recorded natural home range for bottlenose dolphins.
Besides the small size of the enclosures, the location of the enclosures was a major concern.
The location was completely unsuitable for dolphins due to the high boat traffic.
RWS misled the public. The enclosures housing the RWS wild-caught dolphins were rusty. RWS denied this and stated that “'ACRES chose, in pictures it used for campaigning, to highlight rust on the side of a boardwalk next to the enclosures. This picture is not reflective of the facility when it was in operation.” RWS’ statement was proved to be false after photos were released by ACRES showing the rusty enclosures with dolphins in them when the facility was in operation. RWS has acknowledged that their other statement “enclosures were more than double the size of what ACRES had indicated” was false.
4. Why is ACRES only campaigning for the freedom of the RWS wild-caught dolphins? What about the dolphins at Dolphin Lagoon in Sentosa?
Whilst we continue to campaign for the release of the Dolphin Lagoon dolphins, we regret that RWS has decided to bring more dolphins into Singapore. At this point we need to focus our efforts on stopping even more dolphins from being brought into Singapore and also campaign for the freedom of the RWS’ wild-caught dolphins.
5. Why is ACRES so against zoos and marine parks?
ACRES is in-principle not against the keeping of animals in captivity, but we must focus on keeping animals that can cope with captivity. We do agree that zoos have an important educational role to play, but they must walk the talk and must focus on ethical practices, both in terms of animal care and animal acquisition.
ACRES, and over 670,000 people who have joined us in this campaign, are not campaigning for the closure of the Marine Life Park. We agree that zoos have an important role to play but, again, we are calling for RWS to focus on housing species which can cope with captivity and to also run an attraction that can indeed play a proper role in education and in-situ conservation.
Dolphins (and whales) have one of the largest home range in the wild and studies show that confining such wide-ranging animals is detrimental to their welfare.
Dolphins (and whales) are the only grouping of animals which governments have banned zoos from keeping in captivity. Progressive countries such as Chile and Costa Rica have banned the capture and display of dolphins, recognising that these animals belong in the vast open oceans.
We should also note that and learn from the experiences of other countries. Mexican Senator Jorge Legorreta Ordorica (Chairman, Committee of Environment, Natural Resources and Fisheries) was so dismayed at the plans of RWS that he wrote to Singapore’s National Development Minister about it. Senator Jorge wrote that Mexico's international reputation was dented as a result of its importing 28 Solomon Islands dolphins in 2003. At least 12 of the dolphins have since died.
“Mexico’s experience with this single import led to our government imposing an outright ban on importation and exportation of live cetaceans for entertainment purposes and this ban is still in place,” the Mexican senator said. He urged Singapore to consider Mexico's experience and 'the disturbing mortality' of the animals when evaluating applications for the permits to import such dolphins.
6. Why isn’t ACRES doing anything about Sea World Parks who are also housing dolphins in the USA?
Sea Worlds in the USA do indeed house dolphins. However, we should note that in the late
1980s, facilities in the United States implemented a voluntary moratorium on collection of bottlenose dolphins from the wild, and this remains in place. RWS has gone against the progressive movement and bought wild-caught dolphins.
ACRES is a Singapore-based charity and is as such focusing on issues in this region. There are numerous charities worldwide working on captive dolphin issues and we urge everyone to support them as well.
7. Why isn’t ACRES doing anything about the Singapore Zoo and other zoos?
8. What is ACRES doing about other animal welfare issues in Singapore and other countries and what about helping humans?
ACRES is devoted to ending cruelty to animals and we very much appreciate being alerted to cases of animal suffering. Regrettably, we are unable to rescue every animal, nor are we able to mount a campaign for every deserving animal welfare issue, although we wish we could.
ACRES focuses on wildlife issues and industralised animal cruelty. We must focus our energy and our resources on the anti-cruelty campaigns which you can read about on our website (www.acres.org.sg). This is the way we feel we can do the most good for the animals.
In addition, ACRES is an animal protection charity and we as such focus on such issues. We are, however, equally concerned about human welfare issues. We note that there are numerous other charities in Singapore focusing on a variety of issues including helping the elderly, children, woman etc and we urge everyone to support them as well.
9. RWS has stressed that having dolphins was part of their bid for the Integrated Resort. How can ACRES ask them to amend something they are contractually obligated to?
In May 2009, RWS scrapped its plans to exhibit whale sharks at the same attraction, stating “it believes it may not be able to care for the animals.” RWS was similarly contractually obligated to have whale sharks.
RWS can similarly scrap their plans to exhibit dolphins. RWS have failed to live up to their promise of providing the wild-caught dolphins “with top-class care, and to treat them with respect.” The deaths of the two wild-caught dolphins in their care, and the appalling conditions they housed these dolphins in, are clear indications that they could not care for these animals.
10. Isn’t RWS getting a lot of support for their plans to have dolphins?
Local and international outrage over their plans to house wild-caught dolphins has been growing. Over 660,000 people worldwide have joined ACRES to asking RWS to “please let the dolphins go”. 27 local and international organisations and music bands have also joined our campaign.
United Parcel Service (UPS), which transported the first shipment of RWS dolphins from the Solomon Islands to The Philippines, said it would stop moving this kind of cargo, as the practice violated its environmental principles.
Chris Porter, who sold the wild-caught dolphins to RWS, called for RWS to “review its motivation for using these animals as a tourist draw”. He was concerned that “RWS is using the animals primarily to make money while telling the public that its aim is to educate the public on marine conservation.”
11. What is wrong with catching dolphins from the wild?
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a leading authority on the environment and sustainable development, the threats facing the Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins (the species purchased by RWS) include live capture for oceanariums.
CITES does allow the capture of dolphins from the wild, however, according to IUCN, catching more dolphins might drive species such as the Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin towards extinction. IUCN states that “their preference (Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins) as a captive display species makes them vulnerable to depletion from such catches.”
IUCN has also stated that exports of this species should not take place from the Solomon Islands and that “CITES Parties should not issue permits to import dolphins from the Solomon Islands”. Singapore is a signatory to CITES.
We should note that in the late 1980s, facilities in the United States implemented a voluntary moratorium on collection of bottlenose dolphins from the wild, and this remains in place.
Catching and transporting dolphins is also a very traumatic event for the dolphins. Scientific studies indicate that handling and transportation are stressful events for dolphins and can lead to impairment of their immune system. Each time the dolphins are confined and shipped from one place to another, it is as traumatic as if they were being newly captured from the wild. The experience of being removed from water and restrained is apparently so stressful to dolphins that they never find it routine.
RWS states that "no calves or lactating mothers were among our dolphins that were humanely and sustainably collected". Dolphins are highly social animals living in a close knit family unit. If no calves or lactating mothers were collected, can RWS urgently clarify what was done to these individuals? Were they forcefully removed and separated from their families?
12. Isn’t it educational to see dolphins in captivity?
The reality is: What can RWS really teach its visitors about dolphin protection? Would it not be an irony and contradiction for RWS to ask their visitors to protect dolphins when they themselves obtained 27 individual dolphins from the wild, contributing to one of their threats in the wild and two have now died?
While RWS argues that it is educational to see dolphins in captivity, they should also clarify why Japan has one of the worst track records for dolphin protection despite having the highest number of dolphinariums of any country.
13. Will the dolphins survive if they are released back into the wild?
Marine Mammal specialist and star of The Cove, Ric O’Barry, is offering the possibility of setting up a rehabilitation and release project for these dolphins in conjunction with RWS.
According to findings of a workshop on Rescue, Rehabilitation, and Release of Marine Mammals, “these data, and the few successful reintroductions of monk seals, harbor seals, bottlenose dolphins and manatees suggest that marine mammals may be easier (emphasis added) to reintroduce successfully to their habitat than other animals such as birds, terrestrial carnivores, and primates.”
Marine parks may argue that dolphins in captivity have forgotten how to live in the wild. However, the fact is that dolphins have been successfully released into the wild from captive establishments. In addition, dolphins are intelligent creatures; if they can learn tricks that are not necessary for survival, then they can learn how to be wild again.
RWS has to agree that releasing the dolphins is possible, since they plan to establish a breeding programme for the future release of the dolphins.
14. Surely ACRES agrees that dolphins in the wild are stressed too? Isn’t it better for them to be in captivity where food and security is provided for them?
It is true that wild dolphins may not enjoy a carefree life, but they do enjoy freedom and the choice of where to go, what to eat (live fish), who to socialise with and they will not be forced to perform behaviours that they don’t want to do.
ACRES is confident that any animal will choose freedom over captivity if given a choice. If RWS is confident that their wild-caught dolphins would choose to remain in captivity, then the challenge is for RWS to open the gates to their enclosure and see if they swim into the vast open oceans or choose to remain in their enclosure.
15. Who is going to be responsible for the loss incurred by RWS if they release the dolphins?
ACRES is not campaigning for the closure of the entire attraction, only for RWS to shelve their plans to keep dolphins. RWS did pay to purchase the dolphins and, while it is true that they will make a loss, it will not be a significant loss for RWS and will only represent a minute percentage of their quarterly revenue. RWS generated $732 million in revenue and pre-tax profits of $346.5 million for the third quarter of 2010. RWS is also a company that strongly believes in Corporate Social Responsibility programmes and in marine protection. It needs to now walk the talk and make a moral and ethical decision to let the dolphins go.
16. What can RWS do to help dolphins?
RWS should focus on funding in-situ conservation work (in the wild) instead of contributing to one of the threats dolphins face in the wild. With their significant financial resoruces, they can truly make a difference for dolphins in the wild.
17. Is ACRES running this campaign to raise funds?
The “Save the World’s Saddest Dolphins” is not a fundraising campaign. Our aim is to secure the freedom of the dolphins and not to increase the income of ACRES.
ACRES is a registered Institution of Public Character and all funds raised are channelled to our objective of fostering respect and compassion for animals. The ACRES Executive Director is the highest paid member of staff and earns a monthly salary of $1,900. All the salaries of ACRES members of staff are listed on our website, together with our audited financial statements. All ACRES committee members receive no remuneration.
18. How do we learn about dolphins if we do not keep them in captivity?
“They were nothing more than an alibi for scientific research since keeping dolphins in
artificial conditions can do little else than produce artificial scientific results.”
- Professor Giorgio Pilleri
Research is largely conducted at marine parks in order to improve animal husbandry and veterinary knowledge. In the captive setting, research has undoubtedly yielded some important findings on marine mammal physiology, energetics, body growth, genetics and reproduction. However, these research findings have been motivated more from necessity than science: the necessity of keeping captives alive.
Dr. Louis Herman, who has studied dolphin cognition and communication at Hawaii's Kewalo Basin Marine Mammal Laboratory, has described his research from the perspective of trying to find out what dolphins can do under conditions that are completely alien to their natural lives, rather than studying dolphins in their natural environment. Any conclusions drawn under these conditions would appear to be applicable only to his research subjects and similar captives, and therefore of limited value.
Captive versus natural environments
“For – even when the purpose is scientific study – the animals are so physically and psychologically deformed in the process that any discoveries made are distorted and give a thoroughly inadequate picture of (their) true behaviour in the wild.”
- Professor Giorgio Pilleri
The physical nature of the captive environment will have a profound influence on the quality and relevance of insights which the research can provide.
Research, such as the study of natural behaviour – which includes social behaviour, hunting and feeding, foraging, and other aspects of a cetacean group's daily life – is difficult or impossible to pursue in marine parks.
Animals confined in pools, even big ones, are obviously not able to carry out all of their normal life patterns. The outward face of dolphins- the ways they deal with their larger world- necessarily exist only as a hint in captive animals.
The environment in captivity is also very static. The bland environment of the pool is very different from the complex environment of the oceans. Even basic reproductive data on calving intervals and fecundity may not be relevant to wild populations, because changing environmental conditions and food availability will affect the reproductive potential.
The shortcomings of the captive environment, the unnatural nature of the captive population, the lack of a representative sample and our improving ability to study animals in their natural environment all undermine the case for research on captive dolphins being directly relevant to conservation of wild populations.
Ironically, it is only by conducting studies on wild animals and making comparative assessments that the value of captive studies be assessed. Inevitably, this again raises the question of whether the studies could not be more appropriately carried out in the wild.
The natural alternative: Field studies in the natural environment
What is not known about other species' longevity and social dynamics is unlikely to be learned under the artificial conditions of confinement. Long-term field studies based on observations and photo-identification techniques have revealed more about a species' natural history, social structure and longevity than any research conducted on captives.
Admittedly, field research and observational studies are painstakingly slow and expensive. Yet, few can dispute the value and results of these scientific findings. Pioneering work on orca photo-identification by Michael Bigg, on chimpanzees by Jane Goodall, and on mountain gorillas by Dian Fossey, could never have been accomplished in captive settings. Overall, far more data on natural history have been published from benign, observational studies of wild populations than from studies of captives.
Our ability to conduct research on wild populations is also increasing rapidly. Some of this is invasive in some respects, such as the use of satellite tagging and time depth recorders, but does not impose the same restrictions that captivity does. Long-term behavioural studies of different populations of cetaceans are providing data which gives important insights into social organisation and activity.
For example, Jefferson’s (2000) three year study of wild Indo-Pacific humpbacked dolphins provided vital data on the distribution and abundance of the dolphins. In addition, data on movement patterns, home ranges and social organisation, feeding habits, growth, reproduction, eco-toxicology and stock structure were also collected. These data, which have been vital in developing conservation strategies for the protection of these dolphins, could never have been obtained in a captive environment.
Techniques for use in the wild have become increasingly sophisticated. Visual sonar, radio and satellite tracking are becoming routine, allowing much more information to be collected than was possible in the past. Because of the complexities of the natural environment, such research may prove more directly relevant to conservation of wild species.
List of research conducted in captive environments and factors that influence it.
Over the years, the justification for the research has expanded from determining baseline levels from which to assess the health of animals in captivity to being able ‘to diagnose disease problems in wild populations’.
Normal ranges for haematology and blood biochemistry have been established for the majority of commonly-held whales and dolphins. Whilst this data is useful for monitoring the health of captive animals, their relevance to free-living animals is limited because captivity leads to alterations in basic haematology and blood biochemistry.
The physical fact of confinement has profound effects on many aspects of cetacean physiology and ecology. Basic haematology and biochemistry parameters are altered for several reasons including the stress of captivity and routine medication such as de-worming and diet. Shallow pools and restricted areas for travel mean that adaptive changes associated with the physiological requirements of diving and foraging may be lost.
Wild bottlenose dolphins have significantly higher white blood cell (WBC) counts, a lower percentage of neutrophils and a higher percentage of eosinophils than captive dolphins. Beluga whales showed a progressive decline in packed cell volume and haemoglobin during a 10 week period in captivity, which was attributed to a reduced oxygen demand as a result of the imposed period of relative inactivity. The whales also had a decrease then increase in WBC, associated initially with a fall in eosinophil and lymphocyte numbers, followed by an increase in neutrophils.
The artificial diets of captive animals also affect some aspects of their blood chemistry. Levels of blood urea nitrogen (BUN) are related to the protein content of the diet and cholesterol and triglyceride levels are affected by the fat content. BUN levels were lower in captive bottlenose dolphins than in wild dolphins and cholesterol and triglyceride levels higher. The levels of triglyceride rose and cholesterol level fluctuated in beluga whales who were kept in captivity for 10 weeks and fed on oil-rich herring rather than their normal diet of decapod crustaceans.
Another difference between wild and captive species has been detected in circulating levels of the thyroid hormones thyroxine (T3) and triiodothyronine (T4).
In free-living belugas, there are seasonal variations in T3 and T4, with levels significantly higher in the summer than in the winter. This seasonal variation is not seen in captive belugas, which is attributed to their relatively constant environment.
In addition, significant individual variation in haematology has been recorded in the beluga, harbour porpoise and orca, which has led Bossart and Dierauf (1990) to conclude that: “...individual baselines must be established for each animal in one’s care before being confident that any particular value is abnormal.”
Therefore, there are limitations to any potential use of haematology data in investigating disease in wild animals because of the need to know what is normal for any one individual. Before firm conclusions can be drawn, there would need to be repeated sampling from an individual or, at least, extensive sampling from the population to gain some idea of the normal range. Neither approach would be practical in the field.
The relevance and application of haematology and blood chemistry data collected from captive animals to wild animals is clearly questionable.
All the research on reproduction using captive animals is clearly relevant to the successful breeding of animals in captivity. It is important to understand growth rates and normal calf behaviour to monitor the health of newborns. Knowing the most fertile periods will help determine when to introduce males to females with the best chances of success.
Basic reproductive data on calving intervals and age at sexual maturity has been obtained for some species. Studies of the reproductive cycle have been used to estimate age at sexual maturity and calving interval of orcas and bottlenose dolphins.
However, the highly controlled environment of the aquarium is a long way from that of the ocean. Feeding has a marked effect on these parameters, and the unnatural composition and idealised nature of zoo diets mean that animals may be growing more quickly and reproducing earlier and more frequently than in the natural environment.
Nutrition is likely to be linked to age at sexual maturity and calving interval as it is in many other species, which limits how these values could be used in a management or conservation context.
Three of the many factors likely to influence calving intervals are, for example; food availability, whether a suitable mate is present at the correct time, and general health.
Values that are established in captivity would have to be very carefully verified in the wild if they were to be applied in management regimes. It would be dangerous to apply this information directly to the conservation and management of wild populations as it may overestimate their reproductive capacities.
Important differences exist which make captive animals a poor model for disease in free- ranging populations. For example, captive animals do not carry a parasite burden as they are routinely treated with anthelmintics. In contrast, parasitic disease is ubiquitous in wild cetaceans. In addition, knowledge from captive studies of disease has given little insight into the recent outbreaks of morbillivirus disease and large-scale mortality of some species of dolphins.
In addition, when outbreaks of disease have occurred in wild cetaceans, the literature on diseases in captive animals does not appear to have been very helpful in its investigation.
In particular, studies of diseases in captive animals have not helped in understanding some of the most visible marine mammal mortality events in recent years. Therefore, from a conservation perspective, there is little value gained from disease studies on captive animals.
Exercise and respiratory physiology has been studied using animals trained to undertake tasks in a pool or to accompany boats to sea. Whilst these have provided interesting knowledge about comparative physiology, they have been limited by the physical dimensions of pools (precluding studies on diving) together with the relatively sedentary lifestyle and abnormal diet of captive animals. If such data were to be used uncritically in management programmes, it could be misleading.
Physiological studies can give interesting insights into the way in which cetaceans are adapted to their marine existence. This knowledge enriches our understanding of these animals and provides interesting comparative data.
However, it seems to have little obvious practical application in the conservation of animals in the wild. In particular, studies of nutrition and energetics are likely to be poor predictors of the performance of wild animals because of the sedentary lifestyle of captive animals and their consequent lack of basic fitness and abnormal diet.
Fascinating as the data from captive studies of cognition and consciousness may seem, it may be fulfilling humans’ needs rather than those of the animals concerned. Whether this justifies the imposition of captivity and experimentation remains in question.
A great deal of behavioural work undertaken in dolphinariums has been concerned with how to train whales and dolphins to undertake certain tasks. These have primarily been for display purposes, but also for management such as blood and urine sampling.
Training techniques rely on operant conditioning, where a reward is given for the correct behaviour and none given if the wrong behaviour is performed. This has no obvious relevance to the behaviour of cetaceans in their natural habitats.
Captivity, which imposes conditions, clearly has effects on social structure and general behaviour. Dominance hierarchies control the social organisation of animals in captivity. In contrast, the situation in natural environments is more dynamic, and aggressive behaviours are much less a feature of the description of free-living cetaceans.
Confinement also results in stereotyped behaviours such as unidirectional circling of the pool. Size of pool is one of the most important factors influencing the expression of behaviour.
These constraints mean that the relevance of behavioural studies on captive animals to free- living animals always remains in doubt. In fact it is one area where studies of free-living animals are more useful to establishing basic requirements for captive animals than vice versa.
Studies of the behaviour of wild animals have been used to improve the conditions of animals kept in captivity by indicating appropriate group size and sex composition. However, studies of animal behaviour in captivity do not seem to have the potential to improve the conservation of wild cetaceans in the same way, as they are too artificial.
Going by the above, research conducted on dolphins in captivity shows that it does not necessarily aid in the conservation of wild cetaceans as the lives of captive animals are artificial. The extensive research list on captive cetaceans above provides evidence on the limited potential of these captive areas.
The limited value of captive studies and the increasing ability to conduct research on wild dolphins all undermine the case for the continued research conducted on captive dolphins. No genuine conservation organisation will deny the fact that conservation in the wild must take precedence over all other programmes.