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Sad Photos Show How Wild Dolphins Are Shipped To Marine Parks

"For these wild dolphins, being pulled from the water and suspended in slings aboard a noisy airplane is bound to cause severe distress."

In a photograph, a dolphin lies across a dry cloth, her eyes tightly shut under the building's bright, artificial lights. She'd just been flown from Japan to China when the photo was taken, and she looks exhausted and miserable. People are gathered around her, taking photos and touching her back.

This bottlenose dolphin, along with nine others, was transported earlier this week from Japan to Penglai Ocean Polar World, a popular marine park in China's Shandong Province, according to SDNews.

The park said the the dolphins would be used for research, breeding and education. However, it seems more likely that the dolphins will be used for entertainment. Penglai Ocean Polar World offers dolphin and sea lion performances, and displays other animals like beluga whales, macaws and squirrel monkeys, according to a spokesperson for China Cetacean Alliance (CCA). The park also announced that tourists would soon be able to interact with the dolphins.

While SDNews didn't say where the dolphins had come from, a representative from Ceta Base, an organization that keeps extensive records of captive marine mammals around the world, told The Dodo that the dolphins had definitely come from the infamous dolphin hunts in Taiji, Japan.

Taiji is a place where dolphins have to fight for their lives. Each year between September and March, Japanese fishermen kill hundreds of wild dolphins by driving them into a notorious killing cove. They do this by finding dolphin pods out in the open ocean and banging metal poles onto the bottoms of their boats, which impairs the dolphins' sonar abilities and traps them inside a "wall" of sound.

Then a brutal selection process occurs - dolphin trainers choose the most attractive (and usually the youngest) animals to use in dolphinariums and swim-with-the-dolphin programs around the world, and they rip these wild dolphins away from their families. The Taiji fishermen reap an incredible profit selling these dolphins into captivity - well over $100,000 for a trained dolphin.

After that, the remaining dolphins (the ones who aren't wanted for captivity) are usually killed for their meat, often right in front of their families. On killing days in Taiji, the blue waters of the cove turn red with the dolphins' blood.

This isn't the first time Penglai Ocean Polar World has gotten dolphins from Taiji, either. The marine park purchased 6 dolphins from Taiji in 2006, 3 dolphins in 2008 and 10 dolphins in 2013, according to Ceta Base. A second park owned by the same company, Jinan Ocean Spring Polar World, has also bought dolphins from Taiji.

It's not known whether the 10 dolphins transported to China witnessed their families' death, but they probably went through a lot of trauma. Not only were they separated from their pods, but they also had to deal with the stress of being yanked out of the ocean, placed in holding pens and transported to another part of the world to begin life in captivity.

The transport process looked "typical," Naomi Rose, a marine mammal scientist at the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), told The Dodo. Based on the images published in SDNews, it looks as if the dolphins were held in slings inside dry transport crates while being flown to China.

"They were born to swim free in the ocean, not to be packed into crates and shipped as cargo," Ric O'Barry, founder of Dolphin Project, told The Dodo. "For these wild dolphins, being pulled from the water and suspended in slings aboard a noisy airplane is bound to cause severe distress."

While dolphins can handle being out of water for short periods of time, according to Rose, overheating is always a concern.

More than anything else, Rose said, she worries about the dolphins' ability to acclimatize to life at the Chinese marine park, especially as some dolphins look to be older.

"Several of the dolphins appear (and I say 'appear' because, with the lanolin coating their skin, it's a bit hard to tell) to have several rake marks and scars on their bodies," Rose said. "This is not necessarily unusual in free-ranging dolphins, who often jockey for dominance, but again, it's more typical of adults. Juveniles would be less scarred or raked up. I worry that the ability of these older animals to adjust to captivity is compromised at the outset."

Dr. Heather Rally, a wildlife veterinarian with the PETA Foundation, also said the method of transport - and their new life - could cause severe health risks for the dolphins.

"These terrified dolphins are taken from their families and ocean home and then subjected to the deadly perils of transport, including overheating, respiratory illness and even death," Rally told The Dodo. "Dolphins transferred between facilities are at increased risk of death within the first 50 days of arrival, and if they survive, they'll face years of swimming in endless circles in a tiny concrete tank, denied everything that's natural and important to them - just so that humans can gawk at them."

To help dolphins living in captivity, sign this pledge to never buy a ticket to a dolphin show. You can also help dolphins by making a donation to Ric O'Barry's Dolphin Project, and avoiding facilities that have captive cetaceans on display.