Whale and dolphin captivity is a process, not just an end result of permanent confinement in a tank. It is fed by a life cycle of supply and demand that is motivated just as much by corporate profit as it is by consumer choices. Most international captive facilities source their dolphins from the wild. The entire process of captivity, from capture, transport and subsequent confinement takes a deadly toll on the individual animals involved, and the wild populations left behind.
In 2006, WDC published our campaign report, "Driven by Demand" (PDF), that revealed the connections between the captivity industry and the dolphin drive hunts in Japan. In order to feed this global demand for dolphin interaction programs, the dolphins that are acquired from the wild have to be transported by an airline or cargo company. More specifically, the dolphins acquired from the drive hunts in Japan are transported to international destinations such as Egypt, Ukraine, Turkey, Iran, China, and Vietnam by Air China, ULS, Nankai Express, and Korean Air Cargo, among others.
All capture methods are inherently inhumane and can result in death and injury. Whether they are dolphin drive hunts in Japan, round-ups in Cuba and the Solomon Islands, or orca and beluga captures in Russia, captures from the wild exact a terrible price on the individuals and populations targeted. In addition to the cruel methods used to chase, corral and entrap dolphins during capture, the mortality risk in dolphins increases six-fold after a capture from the wild and takes about a month to return to normal levels. Stress, sometimes fatal, is an acknowledged threat even using the method considered most humane (purse seine netting) by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). Dolphins also become entangled in nets and die from suffocation during captures.
In addition to the cruel and unsustainable nature of the hunts, we are also concerned about the mental and physical effects of transport on whales and dolphins. Scientific data reveal that the stress of transfer and of adapting to a new captive environment can pose a serious risk to their health and welfare. Unnecessary handling and transport produce a demonstrable change in stress hormone levels similar to those humans experience during stressful situations. It is well established that chronic stress can lead to immunosuppression and susceptibility to disease.
In order to address this important link in the supply chain of captivity, WDC launched a targeted campaign focused on contacting over 300 airlines worldwide, and targeting especially those carriers implicated in current or past transport of wild-captured dolphins. We asked them for a commitment to not carry dolphins acquired from the wild (except under special circumstances, such as medical emergencies and other welfare exceptions) and to implement policies and procedures prohibiting such transport.
The response has been positive. Over 50 airlines have responded that they do not, or will no longer, transport dolphins captured from the wild or from inhumane sources such as the drive hunts for the aquarium industry. These include Emirates, KLM, Austrian Airlines, Olympic Air, Thai Airways, Delta Airlines, US Airways, British Airways, SriLankan Airlines, among many others. Japan Airlines has confirmed that they no longer carry dolphins acquired from the drive hunts. Hong Kong Airlines turned around its transport policy in 2011 after many organizations, including WDC, contacted them after carrying dolphins acquired in the drive hunts to Vietnam. We have not received a response from many of the carriers that still carry dolphins, such as Air China: and we are continuing our pressure there and need support from the public for our ongoing petition to these airlines.
More recently, WDC has engaged with other airlines, such as Southwest Airlines, focusing not on their carriage of whales and dolphins from the wild, but rather, their carriage of tourists and promotion of travel to captive facilities such as SeaWorld. WDC recently launched its campaign targeting Virgin Holidays and other tour operators in the UK on late February. WDC had called on Sir Richard Branson to end Virgin's support for facilities holding whales and dolphins in captivity through its Virgin Holidays' sales and promotions. Branson had issued statements against the drive hunts, but openly endorsed captive facilities. However, as a result of our campaign, he has responded that Virgin will no longer work with any zoo or aquarium that captures whales and dolphins from the wild, and has initiated a six-month stakeholder engagement process to look at the issue of captive whales and dolphins in tourism and invited WDC to participate in that process. We continue to call on Virgin Holidays and other major tour operators that sell holidays and trips to places like SeaWorld to end their support for such businesses while they continue to display whales and dolphins in captivity.
However, WDC's history targeting the airlines goes back much further. WDC's airline campaign has its foundations in our work stemming from the late 1990s when we worked to convince Lufthansa Airlines to agree to no longer transport bottlenose dolphins captured in the Black Sea. A flight carrying four dolphins captured in the Black Sea from Russia to Argentina resulted in the unfortunate death of two of the dolphins who died during transport. Our constructive dialogue with Lufthansa resulted in the issuance and implementation of a policy prohibiting the transport of cetaceans (whales and dolphins) that had been acquired from the wild. In fact, in May 2001, Lufthansa Cargo declared its decision to cease carrying all wild animals for commercial purposes. The self-imposed embargo is still in place.
In addition, WDC was part of a small consortium of groups including the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) and Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) that targeted United Parcel Service (UPS) pressured them to end their carriage of dolphins captured in the Solomon Islands. UPS was responsible for the shipment of seven bottlenose dolphins from the Solomon Islands to the Philippines in December 2008.
The problem with airlines that transport live whales and dolphins acquired from the wild for the aquarium industry, and specifically those dolphins that may have been acquired through inhumane methods, is that they serve to sustain both supply and demand in the whole cruel process associated with captivity, impacting dolphin welfare and conservation.
And this brings us back to the choices that each of us makes. We can choose to not buy a ticket -- a ticket to a show, or an airline ticket. Our patronage and support of airlines that continue to carry whales and dolphins acquired from the wild, and especially from the drive hunts in Taiji, fuels the supply chain of suffering for dolphins worldwide.