The Dolphin Defender
Dolphin Captures: Past, Present, and Future

dolphin corpses on a beach

In the summer of 2003, word got out that fishermen in the Solomon Islands, a tropical chain of islands in the Pacific, had trapped some 200 bottlenose dolphins in a shallow inlet. After securing the animals’ captivity, they began selling them to the highest bidders.

Who were the buyers interested in such cruelly captured creatures? Marine parks that prize the intelligent animals for their ability to perform acrobatic tricks, and hotels and amusement centers that charge guests a hefty fee to “swim with the dolphins.” Like the dolphins captured in Bluefields, Nicaragua in NATURE’s The Dolphin Defender, these animals were destined for hotels. Although the Bluefields dolphins were eventually rescued and released, several dozen of the Solomon dolphins were not as lucky and were flown to tourist hotels in Mexico. The imports drew fierce protests from conservationists and condemnation from Mexican newspaper editors, who said the trade violated international conservation laws. Eventually, the government responded that it would more carefully scrutinize future dolphin imports.

Even today, despite government efforts, “the demand for live dolphins is just exploding,” says Hardy Jones, the filmmaker and dolphin advocate behind The Dolphin Defender. “The trade is being encouraged by people willing to pay $150 each to jump in the water and swim with a captive dolphin for an hour.” For decades, Jones has been working to expose and stop the trade in dolphins which he says contributes to the decline of some species. In Japan, for instance, where dolphin meat is considered a delicacy, the trade is helping bring back another troubling practice: the annual dolphin hunt, which Japanese fishermen largely abandoned in the 1970s after international protests.

Traditionally, the hunts took place in several seaside villages. Fishermen would corral the dolphins into nets or weirs, then kill and butcher them. The meat brings a good price on the Japanese market, and was at one time an important source of income for some families. (Jones says dolphin meat today is contaminated with mercury and other pollutants, and not very safe to eat.)

In 1980, Jones filmed one of the hunts and gave the bloody, dramatic footage to television networks. Many viewers were shocked, and the ensuing protests persuaded many fishermen to abandon the practice. One village eventually established a dolphin-watching industry to help replace lost income.

rescued dolphin   

Scientists rehabilitate a Bluefields dolphin before releasing it back into the wild.

But Jones says the growing dolphin trade, which some analysts estimate involves up to 1,000 animals a year, is encouraging Japanese villagers to bring back the hunt. That’s because they now have two kinds of customers: those interested in buying the meat, and those willing to pay $20,000 or more for a single live dolphin.

“Japan is becoming a major source of dolphins along with China and some other nations,” Jones says. Demand is also coming from Asia, where an economic boom is promoting the growth of tourism. In the United States, dolphin captures are strictly regulated; there have been no legal captures since 1993. Some marine parks have learned to breed dolphins while others display injured animals that are being rehabilitated or import animals from European parks.

In the Solomon Islands, the controversy over the 2003 captures has died down. But some conservationists say an unstable political situation has allowed the trade to continue on a smaller scale.

The protests have had an impact elsewhere. Last year, a dolphin hunter obtained a permit from the government of the Caribbean islands of Antigua and Barbuda to capture a dozen dolphins. After the public found out about the permits, however, protesters convinced officials to change their minds.

  • Kat

    To watch the ruthless killing of these beautiful and trusting creatures hurt more than words can describe. When I heard one cry out while it was being slaughtered will forever reverberate through my soul. This showed me the darkest side of human beings and made me question man’s ability for empathy. I hope that this disturbing footage will have a prfound effect on those that believe we are supperior to our fellow inhabitants of this planet. I for one think that of all the predators in the animal kingdom none are as cruel or as wasteful with life as the homo sapien.

  • Mary

    If you find that shocking, watch the documentary “A Life Among Whales”.

  • Amy

    Think about this the next time you see a dolphin in captivity. Yet again, selfish people thinking they own the world and all its inhabitants. Makes me ill. These precious dolphins deserve a better life. These cruel people should be thrown in jail.

  • Hannah

    Sealife. One word that can change the face of our world, not only our oceans, but the way we live, everthing in life is connceted, for every ation there is an opposite reaction, why can’t people see that what we do now will effect geneorations to come…not only our childern, but thier childern, killing these lovley animales only hurts us in the long run.

  • Mark

    Watching video of dolphin captures and slaughters puts a lump in my throat, and then tears in my eyes, and then anger in my heart for these ruthless, greedy people who kill them for meat or trade them as a commodity … don’t throw them in jail – throw them into a life preserver and then into the middle of the ocean where they’ve done their dirty deeds … hey, turnabout is fair play, eh?

  • Abby

    Well its not just dolphins! It’s every animal in the world! Did you ever wonder what happen to a chicken before it ended up on your plate? . Animals have he ability to communicate, and action like us, our lives are no more valuable than theirs! GO VEG!! BECOME A VEGETARIAN AND SAVE MILLIONS OF LIVES PER YEAR!

  • Jacky

    it is so cruel to watch these poor dolphins get killed, they are the most beautiful mammals in the world.they trusted us, swam with us…..I am glad they passed a law to ban dolphin killing…SAVE THE DOLPHINS PROTECT THE WORLD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Jaimie

    Hey i think that the people of the world should excapet the fact that we are and so is the dolphins apart of the world just like us!!!

  • bill

    respect the dolphins

  • brent

    no one cares

  • Class 7/8-503

    As a class we find this film to be sad and hope more attention is paid to this horrible situation.

  • Iriki Rodriguez

    i like dolphins and i think that is horrible to see this pictures… should be more respect to this and other animals.

  • shereen

    watching these horrific videos and reading about the torment that these beautiful and serene animals have to endure is sickening. After watching that one video i began to bawl like a baby. this issue effects me to the core. I feel pain in my heart for these lovely creatures. i have had a passion for whales and dolphins since i was in elementary school. i just wish there was more i could do than just donate money.

  • amy l.

    we all have to do something to make the world a better place. please tell a friend about a site you’ve visited, a documentary that you might have seen, give anything you can so these brave and caring people can continue there work. they need are help in everyway.

  • lizzy

    that was so sad and touching.

  • lilly

    that is sooooooooo cruel. they can’t do that.

  • vo

    that is the saddest thing i have ever seen =( they should stop killing dolphins for meat. we o ready have enough meat u selfish people. or should i say sell fish people !!!!!!!!

  • vo

    i love dolphins and when i grow up i am going to work to save those kind, friendly , beautiful and smart dolphins from these heartless cruel people!

  • Dina

    We must do something to save dolphins! It has to be more such people like for example We should unite to help cetaceans. I’m glad that I could help them a little by sending some money to these wonderful people who don’t sit on their hands but try to do something for saving dolphins! Cos these animals are so nice and kind! And if we don’t help them then who will? I think they hope on our help.

  • Arthur

    Killing one of these beings that have done so much for us is shameful.Dolphins are smart anmals that live in packs.When one is taken and the rest is killed is very cruel ways humans are to blame for it.Man needs to be kind to animals even those raised for food. I am not a vegan but I do support the animals I eat are treated with kindnees.I am against factory farming and trophy hunting also.

  • Faith

    It hurt just to read it my heart achces from that why are people so mean i mean ya there you have money for harming creatures its NOT RIGHT!!!!!!

  • Eve

    OMG that is so so so so so sad to see people hurt such a beautiful creature STOP KILLING DOLPHINS.

  • Ava

    NEVER EVEN HURT THESE BEAUTIFUL CREATURES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    I am sooooooooooo going to be a marine biologist and HELP SAVE DOLPHINS FROM THIS TORTURE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    PS anyone who thinks dolphins are not like humans please go to youtube and type CNN/dolphins-mirror expiriment!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Liza says

    These beautiful creatures have been given to us by God who made Heaven and Earth-everything above the Earth on the earth and beneath it. We need to rise up and help wonderful people like Hardy to keep filming and speaking out against this wickedness and evil upon loving, innocent beautiful Dolphins, Whales and all other Marine Life. We used to live in Lagos, Nigeria and many Dolphins accompany ships and swim beside them and often sing-the wickedness of some men to kill these amazing loving creatures-bring Justice and Judgement upon this evil. These men should be put in jail-as another person emailed. Enough is enough.
    Blessings upon all those who bring Justice to these beautiful creatures to survive and live in joy and peace.
    We do reap what we sow!

  • Erik

    These beautiful creatures shouldn’t be killed or captured. They shouldn’t have PERMISSION to do this murderous deed and to suceed with it too. It’s horrible and ruthless too.

  • thinker

    Torture and the infliction of pain upon an animal unecessarily is to be abhored. The incrimination of people who kill animals for food to sustain their lives where often they have little other choice however is ignorant. In some islands, food can be scarce, and where necessity arrives people revert to drastic measures. I think it is rather a pious view to paint these people criminals and bastards while we relax with our stomachs full, behind the safety of our computer screens. Dolphins may be intelligent, they may also live in packs and be self aware… so are magpies and pigs and many other animals. They are also serial rapists. When we live as part of the world rather than above and beyond it, real understanding and respect can be given, and the choice to hunt, eat or not has undisputable conviction. Something to think about

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