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The Online Magazine for Sustainable Seas
February, 2001 Vol.4 No. 2
   



Editor's Note: The Subic Bay Marine Exploratorium (SBME), set to open this month in Subic Bay, Philippines, is in the center of a heated debate over the use of dolphins and whales for public display and entertainment. The company says the project, dubbed as the Philippines' first natural marine park, will contribute to protecting individual animal welfare, conserving the environment, protecting biological diversity, and, by fusing entertainment and education, helping people appreciate the need to protect the environment. Not so, insist marine mammal experts, conservationists and animal welfare activists. ONEOCEAN.ORG joins their urgent call:

Close down SBME!
By Lorenzo Tan, Inter-Agency Task Force on Marine Mammals Conservation

 


 

 

 

   

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 wild.

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 natural behaviors.

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 to.

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 research.

SBME is a business. It cannot be regarded as a genuine conservation program.

Outdated
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 and Payumo.

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.

Research
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 Bay.

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.



Related stories:

Subic marine park off to a stormy start

Silliman marine experts score dolphin shows

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