Some arguments against the Subic Bay Marine Exploratorium:
- SBME is nothing more than a business. It is not
a genuine conservation program. It is not a genuine research program. It
is not even a successful captive breeding program.
- It is not community-based. It will not create
significant new livelihood opportunities.
- It runs directly against the long-standing
national policies and efforts on marine mammal conservation.
- It has been rejected by local NGOs involved in
marine mammal work.
- It was previously denied permission under the
Ramos Administration. It obtained its permits through connections with
the Estrada administration.
- It is part of a sunset industry that is being rejected by the First
World. It will project the image that the Philippines is out of step
with prevailing conservation programs throughout the world.
It must be closed down.
Nothing more than a business
The dolphins and whales at SBME have been made to completely forget their
natural feeding and foraging patterns. Since food is used as a primary
conditioning tool by SBME trainers, the dolphins and whales there are
made to realize that their only source of food at Subic are their trainers.
Stereotyped behaviors, such as pacing and self-mutilation, and even abnormal
aggression toward conspecifics and humans may develop, as is the case
with many captive predators who are denied the opportunity to forage.
The captive marine mammals at SBME have been "trained" to lose
the ability to hunt. They are completely dependent on their human keepers.
They have been deliberately conditioned to forget how to survive in the
Aside from hunting and foraging, other natural behaviors, such as those
associated with dominance, mating, and maternal care, have been altered
significantly in captivity. Wild-caught marine mammals, such as those
in SBME, are made to gradually experience the atrophy of many of their
Viewing captive dolphins and whales at SBME gives people a false picture
of the animals' natural life. Worse yet, it desensitizes Filipinos to
the psychological manipulation that SBME has subjected its captive animals
At SBME, the needs of the visiting public come before the needs of the
animals. The bottlenose dolphins and false killer whales that will be
used there, are not endangered species. There is absolutely no justification
for conservation or captive breeding. These species have been used in
many dolphinaria throughout the world. Much research has already been
done on these two species. There is absolutely justification for further
SBME is a business. It cannot be regarded as a genuine conservation program.
As a business, dolphinaria are a sunset industry. Many countries throughout
the world have made it illegal to establish new facilities of this sort.
Each year, more and more such facilities are closing down. SBME features
outdated technology that the First World no longer wants.
In contrast, whale watching is a growth industry. The existing
Philippine policy on marine mammals encourages the establishment of community-based
whale watching programs, and discourages captive dolphin shows. SBME's
program runs directly against current Philippine policy. It has been forced
down the throats of supervisory agencies, such as BFAR [Bureau of Fisheries
and Aquatic Resources], by decisions made at the highest levels of the
previous government. These decisions were made by [former Secretary Edgardo]
Angara of DA [Department of Agriculture], [former Secretary Antonio] Cerilles
of DENR [Department of
Environment and Natural Resources], and Chairman Felicisimo Payumo
of Subic Bay [Metropolitan Authority]. There may be sufficient basis for
a graft case.
Swim-with-the-Dolphin programs, according to SBME, are offered in many
places throughout the world. This may be true. But SBME's program is a
Swim-with-the-Whales program -- something unique, but untried, clearly
an attempt to create a new marketing niche for this business.
William Perrin, a well-known cetacean expert, was surprised by this and
stated that he would not enter the water with false killer whales in such
an interaction program. These whales are large carnivores, that will be
more difficult to control than dolphins. Furthermore, veterinarians have
confirmed that there is a possibility that zoonotic infections can be
passed on to humans, by contact with parasites on a whale's skin, or even
through mere inhalation of an infected whale's breath.
Human-cetacean interactions do not always allow the animals to choose
the levels of interaction and rest they prefer. It is designed for the
customer, not for the cetacean. Unless, of course, customers will be turned
away if a whale is not "in the mood". A trainer stands in the
water between the animal and paying guests to control the animal's behavior.
This further reinforces submissive behavior toward humans, and alters
the dominance structure within the dolphins' own social group.
SBME promotes itself as a conservation enterprise, even if it is not involved
in any of the substantial marine mammal conservation efforts. The Inter-Agency
Task Force for Marine Mammal Conservation has taken a clear position against
SBME's whale and dolphin show. This position was ignored by Angara, Cerilles
Rather than enhancing wild populations, SBME's stated objective of engaging
in captive breeding of two relatively common species, is all talk. No
significant success has been achieved. And, if breeding actually takes
place, it will only create a surplus of common animals who will never
be released into the wild.
Clearly, it is wrong to bring wild marine mammals into captivity at Subic
Bay, for the purpose of commercial public display. SBME must be prevented
from operating its whale and dolphin show.
About education and conservation
A rather outdated school of thought states that the display of live animals
is required to educate people about a species. In many First World countries,
the public has become skeptical of these assertions. Many now believe
that public display is no more than commercial exploitation of captive
animals. SBME is taking advantage of the situation in the Philippines,
where public awareness may not be as high.
Traditional exhibits center on animals performing tricks that are exaggerated
variations of their natural behaviors. In many First World countries,
anthropomorphic displays of this sort are now being frowned upon. In a
natural condition, dolphins and whales spend most of their time underwater.
For dolphin and whale shows, they are compelled to spend an inordinate
amount of time at the surface, or worse, performing tricks above the water
for the paying public.
Repeated exposure to a dolphin swimming in an enclosure, encourages people
to consider wildlife as isolated OBJECTS or as servants to human needs
and desires, rather than as integral elements of an ecosystem with their
own intrinsic value. This runs counter to conservation efforts that are
struggling to build a more widespread awareness of the value of marine
ecosystems in the Philippines.
Yoyong Magdaraog sits on the SBME Board. He also sits on the board of
NIPA, a consortium of local NGOs. There is a confirmed report that the
NIPA board has been convinced to invest up to P6 Million into SBME. This
money will be sourced from a special World Bank fund restricted to the
promotion of livelihood. An application has reportedly been submitted
to the World Bank. Clearly, this is a misuse of badly needed livelihood
funds, which will only make foreign donor agencies believe that Philippine
NGOs are unworthy of trust.
The conservation fallacy
Public-display facilities have increasingly promoted themselves as conservation
centers. Through skillful marketing and public relations, they emphasize
their role as modern arks. Most of these facilities, however, do no more
than produce multiple generations of a limited group of species and do
not maintain true conservation programs at all. As in SBME, they generally
use common species that are more easily caught rather than endangered
species, for which a more urgent conservation imperative exists.
Marine parks still acquire several species of marine mammals directly
from the wild. Contrary to conservation principles, little serious work
has been done to ascertain what effect these captures have on the populations
from which these animals are taken or on the individuals who may be captured
but then immediately released because they are deemed unsuitable.
If SBME was truly concerned about conserving the bottlenose dolphins and
false killer whales they bought in Japan, they should have taken them
to a safer area in that country, and released them back to the wild. Instead,
they were taken to Beijing, to become one of the many features of that
oceanarium. And now, they have been moved to the Philippines to continue
their performances. This is not conservation. It is business.
SBME claims that they foster research and scientific study of marine mammals,
thereby contributing to both education and conservation. Much of what
can be learned from captive marine mammals, however, has already been
learned. A look through literature shows that more than half of all captive
research has taken place in dedicated research facilities or rehabilitation
centers, not in marine parks aimed at public entertainment.
Much of current research is now done with wild populations. Furthermore,
current thinking is that you cannot study a species without studying the
habitat in which that species exists. SBME has not initiated any research
activities on marine mammals and their environment. No marine mammal surveys
have been done within Subic Bay. No significant information, education
and communication work has been done with the communities around Subic
The only real research being done is on the animals themselves. That is,
how to keep them healthy so that they can continue performing and generating
revenues for SBME.
The physical and social environment
At SBME, satisfying the needs of the visiting public and the facility's
budget comes before meeting the needs of the animals.
The dolphins typically held in captivity are wholly aquatic, far-ranging,
fast-moving, deep-diving predators. In the wild they may travel up to
160km a day, reach speeds of up to 50kph, and dive several hundred meters
deep. They are highly intelligent, extraordinarily social and behaviorally
complex. Their perception of the world is largely acoustic, a difference
in mode of perception that makes it virtually impossible for humans to
imagine what they "see".
SBME cannot remotely simulate the natural habitat of these species. In
order to maintain control of the animals, therefore, SBME has invested
much time and effort to modify the behavior of these animals so that they
perform for the public as needed, when needed.
The situation is even worse with regard to the social environment provided
for these animals at Subic. Dolphins are not merely gregarious; they form
a complex society that is frequently based on kinship. SBME, with its
own logistical constraints, commercial considerations, and physical limitations,
cannot provide conditions that allow natural social structures to form.
Dolphins are in all ways severely compromised by captivity at SBME. SBME
is nothing more than a business. It is not a genuine conservation program.
It is not a genuine research program. It is not even a successful captive
breeding program. It is not community-based. It will not create significant
new livelihood opportunities. It runs directly against the long-standing
national policies and efforts on marine mammal conservation. It has been
rejected by local NGOs involved in marine mammal work. It was previously
denied permission under the Ramos Administration. It obtained its permits
through connections with the Estrada administration. It is part of a sunset
industry that is being rejected by the First World. It will project the
image that the Philippines is out of step with prevailing conservation
programs throughout the world.
It must be closed down.
marine park off to a stormy start
marine experts score dolphin shows