I extend a warm welcome to you all.
Before we begin our deliberations I would like to explain our motivation in
convening this Symposium.
Since all of us are actively engaged in promoting conservation, the reasons may
seem obvious enough. And indeed, by the time our meeting draws to a close
tomorrow afternoon, I hope that we will have formulated some concrete measures
aimed at bringing an end to the exploitation of cetaceans in captivity. Yet in
discussing policy and defining objectives and strategy, I can't help feeling
that we should never lose sight of the broader, philosophical aspects of the
debate. It is these perspectives that give our argument depth and our
practical initiatives a firm spiritual grounding. Above all, they give our
endeavours a crucial sense of wholeness in a world tortured by
What I should like to dwell on for a few moments, is relationship, the
relationship between humans and dolphins; humanity's ailing relationship with
the planet as a whole - relationship in the ecological sense of
The human tendency - or should I say failing? - to divide and categorize quite
clearly amounts to an antithesis of ecology. Ironically, this is also evident
even within the conservation movement as separate organizations and individuals
grapple with issues as diverse as protecting species, saving habitats,
combating pollution, safeguarding animal welfare - a multitude of different
issues, sub-issues and specializations. Sometimes it is all too easy to forget
that the world is intricately linked. I believe this must be especially true
for the general public. At the brunt of the information revolution, the public
is confronted, even bombarded, by so many daunting and apparently unrelated
ecological crises that confusion and perhaps fatalism too - becomes an almost
inevitable side-effect. While there can be no doubt that the conservation
movement must specialize in order to combat envirorunental problems
effectively, we should never lose sight of the fact that these problems are as
interrelated as the ecology of the planet itself. Indeed, one of the greatest
challenges facing the conservation movement today is to extend the boundaries
of human perception of what constitutes ecology. We need to encourage an
ecological awareness, and a perception of the solutions that are open to us.
A common denominator in humanity's destruction of the environment is
utilitarianism - a belief system that reduces the living world to mere
inanimate matter and exploitable resources. Out of this also springs the ugly
face of speciesism which regards the creatures of the planet as inferior beings
whose worth is judged solely in terms of their economic usefulness to the human
race. In general, no species apart from Homo sapiens is believed to
have an intrinsic value of its own. This view is particularly insidious in
that it places human beings outside the realm of creation. Will ecological
harmony return to this planet until it is eradicated?
In recent years the dolphin has also become a victim of speciesism. This is
despite the fact that a strong and mystical bond of friendship has existed
between human and dolphin since the dawn of civilization. Judging by the
prehistoric cave paintings to be found in the Pyrenees and elsewhere, our
fascination for the dolphin existed long before the human race began to record
its history in words. In Ancient Egypt, dolphins were known as "The Sea
People," and commanded respect as intelligent and moral creatures. In the
Minoan palace of Knossos in Crete, a 3,400 year old fresco depicts dolphins in
a sea that was believed not only to be living but like the Earth as a whole -
to be endowed with consciousness.
Elsewhere in ancient Greece, the killing of a dolphin was regarded as a
sacrilege against the gods to be punished with death. The human-dolphin
empathy upon which this edict was based was rooted partly in spiritual
intuition and an appreciation of the creature's profound intelligence and
compassion. But it also reflected an uncanny recognition of biological
kinship. Not only had Aristotle correctly classified them as mammals, but it
was widely believed that these 'marine cousins' of humanity had once lived upon
dry land, together with the earliest ancestors of man and woman. "Diviner than
the dolphin is nothing yet created" the poet Oppian wrote 1800 years ago.
"They exchanged the land for the sea and put on the form of fishes." In fact
the Greek word for dolphin, delphis, and womb, delphys come from
the same Indo-European root, and the Greek for brother, adelphos,
literally means "born of one womb." In another glowing tribute, the
philosopher Plutarch declared that dolphins are the only creatures who seek
friendship for purely altruistic reasons, without any thought of personal gain.
The civflization's luminous legends often spoke of the animals rescuing
shipwrecked sailors, or told of children riding on the backs of wild
Along the coasts of the world, early societies saw the whale as the ultimate
anchor of the world's stability. Even those aboriginal tribes who practiced
subsistence hunting of cetaceans did so with reserve and respect for the
animal. For the Makah and Nootka of the Pacific northwest, for example, the
whale not only provided much-needed sustenance in the form of basic material
needs, but was of vital importance to the integrity of their culture and its
religious mysticism. Those chosen to harpoon the whale would first have to
undergo ritual purification and offer not only prayers to the spirit of the
animal, but also to wind and water deities. As we can see today from a world
ravaged by ecological destruction, the bed-rock philosophy of such tribes
represented far more than mere superstition; it created and sustained a crucial
bond with nature, and also something that we seem to be on the verge of losing
entirely in the modern world: a lucid awareness of human integration within
Numerous other cultures around the world have honoured the whale and dolphin,
and some still do. In Mauritania, for example, a unique form of cooperation
has evolved between fishermen and local dolphin schools. The fishermen strike
the surface of the sea with sticks to alert the dolphins who then herd shoals
of fish into their nets.
All of this says a great deal about humanity's capacity to relate to other
creatures. We are gravely mistaken to interpret such beliefs as primitive and
obsolete. They may well provide us with a beacon by which we will be able to
guide ourselves through the current darkness of our estrangement with nature,
towards a more compassionate and enlightened future.
While there is hardly another species on the planet that evokes so much human
fascination and empathy, the dolphin has become a symbol or microcosm of our
deteriorating relationship with the Earth, particularly its seas and oceans.
Stories of dolphins befriending humans and playing with children, or saving
bathers by fighting off shark attacks are still heard frequently, but they are
usually eclipsed by macabre reports of dolphins being slaughtered by angry
fishermen. A scapegoat for our own species' greed in fishing the oceans to
exhaustion, in many parts of the world they are despised as "gangsters" or
"thieves" because they damage nets and dare to eat fish that "belong" to human
beings. For many years some governments even paid a bounty for the head of
every dead dolphin that was brought in, simply because the animal was regarded
as being in unfair competition with the fishing industry. Elsewhere, dolphins
suffocate as they become trapped or entangled in fishing nets, or are maimed
and mutilated by heavy machinery as the nets are winched on board. In the
Eastern Tropical Pacific tuna fishing industry, which has claimed the lives of
almost seven million dolphins since 1959, at least 125,000 individuals continue
to be slaughtered every year with no justification apart from an all too
respectable ambition to maximise profits.
As the dolphin becomes just another victim of humanity's utilitarian attitudes
towards the Earth, it seems as though the ancient'friendship between our
respective species is no longer entirely reciprocal. Such exploitation is
nowhere more evident than in the capture and display of cetaceans for profit.
Stripped of their natural identity, deprived of their own culture and
environment, the dolphin and whale incarcerated within the oceanarium not only
symbolizes our abuse of that ancient relationship, but above all our
estrangement from nature as a whole. Let us not forget that we are talking
about beings with a highly developed intelligence, communication abilities and
social customs. On the philosophical level, it is only because we regard the
dolphin as an "animal" - and therefore somehow inferior to our own species -
that such exploitation, more akin to slavery in reality, is permitted. I will
not dwell on all the compelling evidence available to show that cetaceans are
physically and mentally tortured by their captivity. I only wish to emphasise
the fact that on a fundamental, even biological level a relationship exists
between human And dolphin whether we acknowledge it or not. In short, cetacean
captivity can only be supported by denying kinship. Yet in accepting a
biological, spiritual relationship, is it not obvious that an animal deprived
of its multifaceted undersea environment, its ability to swim at speeds
approaching 60 kilometres an hour, to travel 120 kilometres a day and to dive
to depths of 300 metres, will suffer? To accept such a proposition is not
anthropomorphism, but simply common sense.
This unfortunately is the harsh reality which lurks behind the colourful
illusion of the marine circus. But although this cynical trade reduces
sentient beings to little more than inanimate commodity items, we cannot deny
the fact that the public, attracted by the glittering show, still flocks to the
oceanarium in search of sensation and entertainment. One of the industry's
primary concerns is to conceal animal suffering, and that is achieved not only
by more obvious methods of subterfuge but also by turning the dolphin into a
bizarre caricature or parody of its true self. More than any other contrived
ruse, it is this that makes the turnstiles spin and the cash register ring. As
Professor Giorgio Pilleri has said, the industry has "created out of the
dolphin a Walt Disney character, a perpetually smiling, happy and funny dolphin
called Flipper. But 'Flipper' is not a dolphin, any more than 'Mickey Mouse'
is a mouse.
It is thus that the dolphin is packaged and sold to the consumer. And it is
the consumer that makes the industry solvent. In this respect we should
perhaps always bear in mind that our ultimate weapon against the cetacean
display industry is not legislation or lobbying, but people power.
This brings us back to our motivation for convening this Symposium. What can
we hope to achieve? The agenda before us, formulated in consultation with you
all, raises profound and intriguing questions:
- How can we effectively combat the continuing capture of cetaceans?
- What methods are open to us to alleviate the suffering of cetaceans already
- How should we set about pursuing stricter legislative control of
- In what ways could we improve our own efficiency in the field of
- Is the rehabilitation and release of captive cetaceans a viable proposition?
If so, by what means can we help such projects succeed?
In our deliberations, let us not forget that it is only the public at large -
persuaded that it is cruel and unethical to imprison our fellow creatures for
the sake of profit and entertainment that will ultimately bring an end to such
abuse. To quote Albert Schweitzer: "The time will come when public opinion
will no longer tolerate amusements based on the mistreatment and killing of
animals. The time will come, but when?"