Wild or captivity?

Recently, a local media reported that Ocean Park, in order to compete with the about-to-be-open Hong Kong Disneyland, has submitted a proposal to the Government for buying 33 species of animals, including the pink Chinese White Dolphins.

If Hong Kong started to show pink dolphins, places in Mainland China and Southeast Asian countries would follow suit.  This would lead to unsustainable catching of dolphins from the wild; the result could be devastating to the already endangered populations.  Ocean Park may disguise it as a breeding programme, but decades of experience all around the world has proved that captive breeding simply doesnˇ¦t work. 

What is wrong with captive breeding?

Mr Bill Leverett, Founder of Hong Kong Dolphinwatch: ˇ§The other argument against captive breeding is that you have to have a genetically viable population, or you end up mating fathers with daughters, brothers with sisters, etc.  Capturing 10 won't do it.  There were worries that the wild population in HK, at a hundred or so, wouldn't be enough.  Capturing that many Sousa chinensis from the wild would be a severe blow to their chance of survival, all for a risky, untried scheme. Not to mention the point: where to keep them all?


Captive breeding has all sorts of barriers:

- capturing them without injuring them or their children/parents
- keeping them alive (they killed about 30 Inia geoffrensis (the other pink dolphin) before they figured out that they need    shallow parts of their tanks where they can lie on the bottom with their blowholes above the surface)
- getting them to mate
- bringing them to term successfully (note problems in that place in Thailand)
- accommodation, transfer
- introducing captive-born dolphins to the wild
- re-integrating them into a social structure

Few of these problems have been worked out with bottlenose dolphins, and we've had decades of practice.  We are still capturing them to maintain our captive stocks. Why? because captive breeding has failed. It may work with some other species, such as birds or amphibians, but dolphins have a different set of problems.ˇ¨

Professor Chris Parsons, George Mason University, USA: ˇ§Sousa is on CITES appendix I - so international trade should be limited because of fears of depletion in wild populations if live captures were to start (if Ocean Park showed Sousa, then it's only a matter of time before facilities in China/Vietnam/Thailand) start the same.

Because the population is so fragmented, if you were doing captive breeding then you would have to have animals all from the same population (otherwise stocks/sub-species may be interbred) ˇV an important consideration is also the behavioural aspect - any newborns would have to be taught all the appropriate foraging skills that animals would need in the wild, or else you will never be able to release the animals - ever.ˇ¨



Dolphin can live up to 40 yrs

53% die within the first 3 months

Orcas live up to 80 years

Average life span = 12 years 

Hunt for and eat live fish

Hand fed dead fish

Live in complex social structures, staying with family their entire lives.

Often isolated in barren tanks, many suffer from stress. Some commit suicide!

Swim up to 50 miles/day, and dive to depths of 500 feet.

8-foot dolphins can legally be confined in 24x24foot tanks, only 6 feet deep.

Live in ocean's salt water

Live in chlorinated, treated water

Use sonar to "see" and to interact

Unable to use sonar because of sound bouncing off tank walls. A hall of mirrors.

Can reproduce every 2-3 years starting at age 10-12.

About 25% of captive calves are stillborn

Average number of offspring in a lifetime is 6.

Captive breeding is very poor. Average number of offspring is less than 1.

Live free.

Captive dolphins perform unnatural "circus" tricks, beg for food, and/or give rides to be fed.




















Many dolphins died while being captured and their deaths are hidden from officials and the public. Another reason the total numbers of such deaths may never be realized is that ancillary kills are not recorded. For instance, in Japan, a dolphinaria may contract for 12 dolphins to be captured. Pools of as many as 80 dolphins may be rounded up, in order to choose the 12 most suited for capture. When the 12 are selected for shipment to a dolphinarium, the rest are often killed.  Nonetheless, the numbers are staggering.  The premature death of these animals cannot be denied.

The educational value, as so many of the facilities/parks/zoos like to talk about, is nil. What are they teaching? Are they simply teaching it is all right to take the lives of animals so long as a profit can be made?



Chinese White Dolphins (Sousa chinensis) in captivity:

So far no where else in the world is keeping the pink Sousa chinensis in captivity and showing them except Singaporeˇ¦s Sentosa Underwater World.  However, the pink dolphins there have not been doing too well, please take a look at the following news report:


2001 March 23: Singapore - Another of Sentosa's pink dolphins dies

ˇ§Singaporeˇ¦s Sentosa Underwater World's dolphin captive breeding programme has been struck a third blow in the space of six months - a miscarriage, the death of a newborn and now, the death of an adult female.

There are five pink dolphins left at the Underwater World after the death of Namtam, an adult female. She succumbed to a stomach inflammation. .

Namtam, a pink dolphin about 20 years old, miscarried last September and nearly died then.

She succumbed on March 5 to acute gastritis, or inflammation to the stomach.

A dolphin born on Feb 18 died within 15 minutes of its birth.ˇ¨

The pink dolphins in Singapore are bought from Thai fishermen who donˇ¦t have the knowledge and care to handle the animals less cruelly when catching them.  Because of this trade, the wild Sousa chinensis in Thai waters have been unsustainably caught, seriously depleting the population.  Do we want Hong Kongˇ¦s pink dolphins or those elsewhere suffering the same?  Should we further endanger those lovely yet already seriously endangered pink dolphins by permitting more capturing from the wild which will inevitably kill many during the catch and cause those captured to suffer a depressed existence in captivity?

Hong Kong Dolphinwatch Ltd is strongly against buying/catching wild pink dolphins and have them kept in captivity.  Please help to support our petition to prevent this irresponsible act by signing our petition letter and sending it back to us.  Thank you!

You can also write to: The Director, Agriculture, Fisheries, and Conservation Department, Cheung Sha Wan Government Offices, 303 Cheung  Sha Wan Road, Kowloon, Hong Kong

Fax: (852) 2730-3256             Email: afcdenq@afcd.gcn.gov.hk

 Read more about the cruelty behind captivity.

 The following is from the Cetacean Freedom Network website:


 1. With a scientific plan

If the experiments done on captive dolphins in captivity are considered essential for what we know about them, the same psycho-physiological or ethocognitive research could be undertaken perfectly well in a natural environment, without constraints, without pain, in direct cooperation with the subjects of the experiment.

Observation of wild dolphins (see the work of Denise Herzing) moreover represents an inexhaustible source of discoveries that are infinitely richer than laboratory data.  The study of their behaviors and their communication systems has only just recently begun.  We know nearly nothing about most cetaceans.

2. With a pedagogical plan

Far from discovering the marvelous complexity of cetacean life, dolphinariums do the contrary by making children believe that the dolphin is a "spectacle", an "object for amusement", a "domestic animal" gentile, subservient and as loyal as a dog, like we see on the television series "Flipper".

Dolphin shows emit a clear message: "Nature voluntarily submits itself to Man and even the most liberated beings in the world, the least likely to be maintained in captivity, belong to us and we make them dance for you!"

To say "hello" with its flipper, to nod its head like a human, catch fish in the air, hold itself straight up moreover reinforces the idea that the dolphin tries to imitate us with a charming awkwardness. In return, no show lets us see the multitude of its social behaviors or hunting techniques, nor the prodigious finesse of its echolocation. To really see how a dolphin swims it must be seen out at sea.



Dolphins, elephants, gorillas, chimpanzees and orangutans are all mammals that have a very high cognitive potential.  Their life expectancy is important and all benefit from an extremely prolonged childhood, during which their parents charge themselves with their education and transmitting their proper savoir-faire.

They are thus "cultural beings", living in the "third world" (Popper & Eccles, 1989) that interweave their rules of relationships, social identity, language, esthetic emotion, filial attachments or friendly and moral values such as altruism, encouragement of talent or the sense of the common well being (F. De Waal, 1995).

In the context where the regard of another builds and reinforces the sensation of existence, isolation is felt as a serious punishment.

For man, life imprisonment often replaces the death penalty.  When this isolation becomes total - for example, in solitary confinement - hallucinations happen very quickly, then complete dementia and death by suicide.

Simple clinical observation teaches us that chimpanzees and dolphins demonstrate exactly the same reactions as we do under the same circumstances.  For them also, it is inconceivable to live far from others, far from the world with which they are familiar.

A chimpanzee is only a TRUE chimpanzee when it is in the forest, surrounded by its group, of behaviors and that it earns in this manner its proper identity.  However, for these highly encephalized cetaceans beings, no form of captivity, no cage, no special facilities, no pool, even Olympic-sized, will ever replace the simple pleasure of living free in the wild.

In no way could the captivity imposed on dolphins replace the fantastic sensorial and social diversity that they know in the natural environment.

Enclosure is for them, particularly, a treatment of extreme cruelty that comes to reinforce the measures of discipline imposed on stubborn dolphins (rationing and isolation). We remember to finish that these "combats to death" don't exist in the ocean, even if certain conflicts are sometimes resolved in a violent manner.

What the captivity people want you to believe and what is really true

The debate over whether or not captivity kills or is merely a means of sustaining the species continues. Pro-captivity people often use the education as the reason they favor captivity. In reality, it is but one thing that motivates the owners of dolphinariums and aquariums. It is not education of our youth, but money. Here we hope to explore what the captivity industry would like you to believe and spend tons of money trying to get you to believe it. The simple fact of the matter is: Captivity Kills.

EXCUSE NUMBER ONE: Dolphins in captivity live longer than dolphins in the wild.

FACT: Dolphins lifespan is shortened by nearly 66% in captivity.

EXCUSE NUMBER TWO: Dolphinariums do important research which will help the dolphins in the wild.

FACT: Removing a dolphin from his family environment does nothing to help them live longer in the wild. Dolphinariums exist solely for the purpose of making money.

EXCUSE NUMBER THREE: Captive breeding can help to save an endangered species from extinction.

FACT: Captive breeding has failed.  The reproduction rate is far lower than that in the wild and those born in captivity animals are rarely (if ever) successfully released to the wild, they live like prisoners all their lives while our seas get emptier with wild species continuously being caught for captive breeding.

 Hereˇ¦s more information on captivity, written by Helene O'Barry:

How is a dolphin captured?

The capture of dolphins is a violent procedure. Pods of bottlenose dolphins are chased to exhaustion; surrounded with a net and dragged onto the capture boat where the capture team searches through the terrified group for the specimen they want. The lucky ones are thrown overboard. Those selected are taken ashore. They will never see their ocean world and their pod again.

According to dolphin captors, the most desirable dolphins are between two to four years old and still associate with their mothers. Many bottlenose dolphins have been brutally separated from their calves, regardless of the fact that a bottlenose dolphin normally protects and remains with her calf for at least five years. The violent and permanent separation is a traumatic experience for both mother and calf, and while the exact number of animals killed during the capture procedure remains unknown, we have documentation to show that dolphins have died from shock during capture.

Does captivity of dolphins help dolphin conservation?


In order to justify the capture and confinement of dolphins, the dolphin captivity industry and the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums (AMMPA) present the dolphins as "ambassadors" of their own species and maintain that captive dolphin displays serve the purpose of being educational. They are not in this business for the money, they say. They want us to believe that they capture and confine dolphins in order that the paying audience learns to appreciate dolphins and, based on that, grows motivated to contribute to the protection of dolphins in nature. But how can the spectators learn anything about the true nature of dolphins when the captive dolphins are trained in unnatural behaviors, mere circus tricks that these once-wild, opportunistic foragers of the oceans are performing for food rewards of dead fish? And how are the spectators supposed to become aware of the importance of preserving dolphins in nature when the dolphins they are watching have been either stolen from nature, kicking and screaming, or were born in captivity and have never seen the ocean?

There is no scientific evidence to support the claim that the capture and confinement of wild animals helps conserve them as a species. Humpback whales are appreciated and protected by people who have never seen a humpback whale. On the other hand, the elephants and tigers are on the brink of extinction today, despite the fact that these animals have been displayed in zoos and circuses for thousands of years.

Since the world's first formal dolphin show opened in St. Augustine, Florida, in 1938, hundreds of dolphins have been captured from the wild and trained to perform silly circus tricks. When the dolphins died, the captivity industry captured more. These are disposable dolphins for our disposable society, and to call them ambassadors is simply an obviously desperate attempt at sanitizing the exploitation of these animals.

What is the positive educational value of captive dolphin displays?

There is none.

Educational is the buzzword most frequently used to defend the capture and confinement of dolphins. The irony is that while the captivity industry's strongest justification to use dolphins in dolphin shows and dolphin swim programs is the alleged wish to educate the public about the importance of preserving dolphins in nature, the same industry refers to the fact that bottlenose dolphins are not threatened by extinction to defend the position that it is okay to capture them. It is precisely this utilitarian view of nature and its inhabitants that has destroyed wildlife everywhere on the planet. The capture, confinement, and exploitation of dolphins works against the spirit of wildlife conservation in that it cherishes human dominance over nature, leaving the public with the fatal message that turning wild animals into performing circus clowns and pets is permissible.

Captivity of dolphins is a form of education, but itˇ¦s a form of bad education in that it teaches millions of people, of whom many are impressionable children, that abusing nature is acceptable, as long as you can call it research, education, or therapy.

Is captivity stressful for dolphins?


Dolphins have evolved over millions of years, adapting perfectly to life in the ocean. They are intelligent, social, and self-aware, exhibiting evidence of a highly developed emotional sense. Imagine the panic dolphins must experience as they are yanked from the ocean, forever separated from their ocean world, their family, and their ability to swim freely.

Putting these complex, large brained animals through a violent capture and lifelong confinement in a small tank or sea cage inevitably exposes them to trauma and stress. Even people who work for the dolphin captivity industry admit to the fact that confining a free-ranging marine mammal in a restricted area has a negative impact on the welfare of these animals. Dr. Sweeney has said the following: ˇ¨Husbandry problems of marine mammals in captivity often come directly from exhibiting animals in a closed environment.ˇ¨ (Marine Mammal Behavioral Diagnostics, in L. Dierauf (ed.), Handbook of Marine Mammal Medicine. 1990, Boca Raton, CRC Press.)

Tagamet, Malox, and other kinds of stomach medication are commonly used to treat captive dolphins for stress related complications. The US Marine Mammal Inventory Report (MMIR) will show many examples of stress related deaths.