Date of Submission

Spring 2013

Academic Program

Multidisciplinary Studies

Project Advisor 1

Daniel Berthold

Project Advisor 2

David Shein

Abstract/Artist's Statement

Cetaceans are not meant to be in captivity. There are facilities all over the world that hold whales and dolphins as prisoners in man-made enclosures. The practice of keeping cetaceans in captivity is a major controversial issue, since many scientific and moral based arguments suggest that keeping them in confinement is inhumane and ethically wrong.

There are those who can provide dozens of reasons for why cetaceans should be in captivity, including entertainment, research, or conservation based reasons. Underneath these reasons there is a larger one: a way of thinking called speciesism. Speciesism is practiced and believed by some humans towards non-human animals. Speciesism is the idea that membership in the human species is the criterion for moral standing: simply being human gives us superiority over all other beings. Among many actions, this means that humans approve and accept the concept that nonhuman animals can be placed in facilities that are not their natural habitat for our curiosity and entertainment. Captive dolphins and whales find themselves in the inhumane situations because most people have placed Homo sapiens’ interest over cetaceans’ freedom. Reducing a cetacean’s freedom can be compared to reducing the freedom of women or racial minorities: in her book, The Dreaded Comparison: Human and Animal Slavery, Marjorie Spiegel writes, “The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for whites or women for men.” Speciesism has made cetaceans into display-only-beings. When really cetaceans are individuals with self-fulfilling, purposeful, and socially engaging lives in the wild: they do not exist to be put in captivity.

Cetaceans need better treatment from those who cause them the most pain, humans. Cetaceans suffer many injustices and pains from human activity, but captivity is one of the worst. The cetacean captivity industry is a villainous business. The industry involves traumatic captures, small concrete tanks, high mortality rates and low birth rates, family separation, painful injuries, mental and physical limitations, and sadly much more. In order to reduce the suffering of cetaceans, captive facilities need to close down. Additionally humans need to stop going to captive facilities because when they go to them they contribute to the torment of cetaceans. Purchasing tickets for a live orca show or for a Swim-with-the-Dolphin program only enables the captivity industry to continue doing harm to whales and dolphins.

Fortunately, there has been a growing global public concern for cetaceans in captive situations. More humans are realizing that whales and dolphins are meant to be free in the wild and there have been great international efforts to advocate cetaceans’ freedom. By presenting scientific evidence and moral arguments, this movement hopes to change the way humans currently regard cetaceans from negative to positive attitudes. Cetaceans deserve special status and protection (from individuals, laws, and governments) because they are amazing animals,

Whales and dolphins are special animals. They are highly intelligent; many species have developed elaborate social systems; they exhibit altruistic behavior towards each other and apparently suffer grief at the death of group members; members of some species including the great ape, orca, and some dolphins are sociable towards humans and are even recorded as having saved human lives; some compose and perform music."

How can we justify locking up an animal that is smart and creative enough to be able to perform music?

This paper is going to argue that keeping cetaceans in captivity is cruel and unjust. Cetaceans are not supposed to be locked up, it is unnatural; the organizations Humane Society of the United States and World Society for the Protection of Animals state, “The totally of the captive experience for marine mammals is so contrary to their natural experience that it should be rejected outright. […] It is wrong to bring marine mammals into captivity.”Whales and dolphins deserve to be free. Using factual and ethical arguments, this paper will campaign for the freedom of cetaceans, while protesting against the cetacean captivity industry.

Since the middle of the nineteenth century, cetaceans have been put in captivity and today it is a multi-billion dollar industry. While many types of whale and dolphin species have been held in captivity,bottlenose dolphins have been and continue to be the most commonly held cetacean species in captivity. Bottlenose dolphins are easy to train and live longer than most other cetaceans in captivity, thus they are the most profitable species for facilities to own. Through out the world there are currently hundreds of them held in captivity. As a result of the their numbers in captivity, they have become iconic; symbols of what a cetaceans is. Since bottlenose dolphins are the most held cetacean species within the industry, this paper is going to consistently refer to them as representatives for why cetaceans should not be in captivity.

This paper will demonstrate that captivity is a form of physical and emotional abuse for bottlenose dolphins, who are entitled to a moral standing. This paper will be divided up into four major chapters. In the first chapter, the physical, social, intellectual, and emotional characteristics of bottlenose dolphins will be described in detail. The second chapter will provide a series of factual and empirical arguments to demonstrate the physical restrictions and damages implemented on captive dolphins. The third chapter will present moral and ethical arguments to support the idea that keeping them in captivity is wrong. This paper will then conclude in the fourth chapter.

Distribution Options

Access restricted to On-Campus only

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

This work is protected by a Creative Commons license. Any use not permitted under that license is prohibited.

Bard Off-campus Download

Bard College faculty, staff, and students can login from off-campus by clicking on the Off-campus Download button and entering their Bard username and password.