A Mob by Any Other Name

The world is horrified by the recent upsetting story of an infant Franciscana dolphin who was taken out of the water by beachgoers in Argentina and passed around as a prop for selfies, and who then died. The unfortunate infant could cialis sans ordonnance not maintain body temperature, and she likely became dehydrated when out of the water.

But her death is so much more than just a case of a manhandled animal. Her story is a microcosm of what our species does to other animals every day, treating them as objects for our benefit, with value only as long as they provide entertainment.

It is difficult not to see the connection between how this young dolphin was used and what happens at the institutionalized versions known as zoos, aquariums and circuses. The only difference is that one has to pay for a ticket to gawk at, touch or ride on the animals at one of these facilities. But the psychology is the same.

Treating them as objects for our benefit, with value only as long as they provide entertainment.

Zoos and aquariums offer visitors the opportunity to see animals who are also “taken out of the water” and placed in artificial circumstances that often lead to abuse and death. There is little difference between what happened to this infant and what has been happening to dolphins and whales for decades in theme parks. Out of their natural, physical and social environment, these animals not only cannot thrive but often cannot even survive. This is why high mortality rates, low survival rates, abnormal behaviors, and stress-related diseases are rampant in the dolphin and whale captivity industry.

The figures speak for themselves: In the span of just a few months, four marine mammals have perished prematurely at SeaWorld San Antonio: an 18-year old orca, a 12-year old Pacific white-sided dolphin, a 2-year-old beluga whale, and a newborn beluga.

And since its opening in 2005, there have been five premature deaths of belugas at the Georgia Aquarium: a 17-year-old male, a 25-year-old female, and a 21-year-old female and her two calves, each less than a month old. In the case of the mother and her calves, the youngsters failed to thrive, and photos of trainers and other aquarium staff in the water handling the newborns are eerily similar to what happened on the beach. Though the aquarium staff may have been trying to save the infants, their attempts are poignant failures of understanding of who these animals really are and what they need to thrive.

While the world expresses shock and dismay over the death of the infant on the beach in Argentina, we should remind ourselves that this incident sits within a wider context of the exploitation of nonhuman animals for entertainment, and an industry that not only condones but promotes the kind of behavior that leads to worldwide animal abuse and exploitation.

Buying a ticket to be part of the audience at a dolphin or whale show is basically no different from being part of the mob on that Argentinian beach.

How Smart Are Dolphins? A TED-Ed Video

Dr. Lori Marino has created a TED-Ed video, “Why Dolphins Are So Smart” as part of the series Lessons Worth Sharing.

Dr. Marino worked with the TED folks and a group of talented producers and artists from Zedem Media, Inc. to produce this animated lesson on dolphin intelligence (also available on TED’s YouTube channel).

There’s also a lesson plan with multiple-choice questions, a “Dig Deeper” section with lots of links to explore, and a discussion area that poses the question:

“A lot of scientific research shows that dolphins are not happy or healthy performing tricks in marine parks. How would you propose to solve this problem?”

(Go ahead and respond with your own view on what could and should be done.)

TED is well known for featuring cutting edge ideas from around the world and TED-Ed uses short, engaging videos to share those ideas. Take a moment to check out the video, and encourage other people to watch it, too, and to share their responses to the final question.

New Imaging Technique Reveals Dolphin Brain Pathways

Figure shows the new pathways (in blue and yellow) connecting the midbrain of a dolphin to the temporal lobe.

Two dolphins who died more than a decade ago on a North Carolina beach are now the focus of an unprecedented finding in the scientific literature, giving scientists new information about how dolphin brains process sounds.

The new paper is co-authored by Kimmela Center Executive Director Lori Marino, who joined with colleagues at Emory University and at the University of Oxford to use a new imaging method, called Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI), to explore the connections between areas in the two dolphin brains. Each of the large brains had to be scanned for over 12 hours for the imaging data to be obtained.

Earlier studies of a different type, done with live dolphins in Russia, showed that the pathway from the inner ear to the cortex of the brain culminates at the apex of the brain next to the visual processing area. All of that made sense because dolphins are echolocators and integrate visual and acoustic information very quickly.

The unique arrangement of the dolphin brain was added to existing pathways already laid down in mammals.

But when Marino and her colleagues used DTI to examine connections in the postmortem dolphin brains they discovered something never before seen: yet another pathway from the ear to a different part of the brain, the temporal lobe, where the primary auditory cortex of most mammals is located.

This second connection shows that the unique arrangement of the dolphin brain was added to existing pathways already laid down in mammals.

“We found that there are probably multiple areas in the dolphin brain associated with auditory information, and the neural pathways look similar to those of a bat,” lead author Greg Berns says. “This is surprising because dolphins and bats are far apart on the evolutionary tree. They diverged tens of millions of years ago but their brains may have evolved similar mechanisms for using sound not just to hear, but to also create mental images.”

Now that this imaging technique has demonstrated it can reveal connectivity patterns in postmortem cetacean brains, a whole world of opportunity opens up for exploring dolphin and whale brains, and all non-invasively.

Brainiacs of the Sea and the Land

Students experienced an exciting opportunity to learn about cetacean intelligence from Dr. Lori Marino at the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition (IHMC)’s March 2015 Science Saturday, about “Dolphins, Brainiacs of the Sea“.

Dr. Marino shared her knowledge and her passion for animals while showing that science is fun. Over 80 third through fifth graders had the amazing experience of doing hands-on science and learning about dolphins in the context of their high intelligence. Fun and excitement are among the sparks that light a desire for science learning – and both were plentiful during this Science Saturday.

Fun and excitement light a desire for science learning.

The morning sessions included a hands-on activity designed to teach them how to determine the brain size of different animals by filling their skulls with corn kernels and measuring these out in graduated cylinders. The students measured the cranial volume of several different local species including black bear, raccoon, dog, cougar and alligators from specimens provided by the The Silver River Museum and Environmental Education Center. They compared their measurements to the large brain volume of a bottlenose dolphin specimen from the Florida Museum of Natural History, calculated an Encephalization Quotient (a measure of brain to body size) for each species and then pooled their data to make a graph comparing dolphin EQ with that of the other species and even humans. They also learned logical thinking and mathematics as they went through the steps of comparing brain and body ratios and estimating and comparing EQ for each species.

From the extensive questions and intense looks on their faces as they made their measurements, it was clear the students were getting a lot out of their journey into the world of science that morning.

SeaWorld’s Act for Dolphins

SeaWorld wants to put as much distance as possible between itself and the infamous dolphin massacre at Taiji.

In a position statement, the company says it’s “opposed to these drive hunts in Japan and elsewhere,” and, in another statement, that it’s committed to “see it stop.”

I believe them. The Taiji drive hunts, with 41 dolphins dead this last time, along with 52 being shipped to marine circuses from Dubai to China, and another 140 injured, orphaned and traumatized as they’re driven back out to sea, are a public relations nightmare for the whole captivity industry.

To support the notion that they’re against these massacres, SeaWorld is identifying itself with an out-of-date campaign called Act for Dolphins, which was put together eight years ago by marine mammal scientist Diana Reiss, Dr. Paul Boyle (then CEO of The Ocean Project) and myself. And while SeaWorld played no role in Act for Dolphins, by linking to its website they are implying that they were involved.

That, in itself, is fine by me. But SeaWorld has now caught itself in a snag. On the one hand, it tries to co-opt the Scientists Statement Against the Japanese Dolphin Drive Hunts that Diana Reiss and I co-wrote. Yet at the same time it’s claiming that “there is not a shred of scientific support” for my statements in the film Blackfish, and attacking me and my scientific colleagues who are featured in the movie with ad hominem comments depicting us as “advocates masquerading as scientists.”

You can’t have it both ways, SeaWorld. If you want to “Act for Dolphins”, you need to get your own act together first.

India Bans Dolphinariums

In a stunningly progressive move, India’s Ministry of Environment and Forests released a statement on May 17th that they are banning dolphinariums in India.

Dolphins in the sunsetThe Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India have decided not to allow establishment of dolpinarium in the country.

The State Governments are advised to reject any such proposal for dolphinarium to any person/ persons, organizations, Government agencies, private or public enterprises that involves import, capture of cetacean species to establish for commercial entertainment, private or public exhibition and interaction purposes whatsoever.

Kimmela collaborated with the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organizations (FIAPO) and their international partners to provide the scientific evidence that convinced the Indian government that it would be morally wrong to keep dolphins in captivity because of their complex intelligence and poor survival in captivity. The Ministry noted this in its preamble, saying:

Whereas cetaceans in general are highly intelligent and sensitive, and various scientists who have researched dolphin behavior have suggested that their unusually high intelligence, as compared to other animals, means that dolphin should be seen as “non-human persons” and as such should have their own specific rights and [that it] is morally unacceptable to keep them captive for entertainment purpose.

Whereas cetaceans in general do not survive well in captivity, [and] confinement in captivity can seriously compromise the welfare and survival of all types of cetaceans by altering their behaviour and causing extreme distress.

The Kimmela Center was originally contacted by FIAPO which was preparing to advise the Animal Welfare Board of India (which advises state governments and wildlife wardens) on efforts to capture, transport or keep dolphins and whales in captivity. The board then ruled that dolphin shows and exhibits would violate the 1960 Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. In its new policy directive, the Ministry has now ratified that ruling.

The Indian government’s decision is advanced in comparison to the United States, which still permits dolphin captivity for entertainment. Moreover, their acknowledgement that dolphins are nonhuman persons with basic rights is an unprecedented step forward for animal advocacy.