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interviewInterview with John Hall
former Sea World research director. He also was involved in the Navy dolphin programs from 1963-65.

Q: What are your thoughts on the rehabilitation and reintroduction programs involving dolphins?

The costs of these dolphin reintroduction projects--at least the ones I've been involved that these projects, even on a shoestring, are extremely expensive. Whether they work or not. In the case of Keiko --that's going to be orders of magnitude more expensive. If he is not ultimately a candidate for release, if he's got to be maintained in a sea pen for the rest of his life, the--the costs there are just going to be to my mind astronomical. So, because none of these animals are endangered or threatened or depleted, and no one has proposed bringing to my knowledge any of the three highly endangered small cetaceans into captivity to - develop a reproductive program and to create enough, so that if at some point in the future there is suitable habitat for them, they can be reintroduced, I--as a conservation biologist-I've got to ask myself, "Why are we doing this?" It clearly is a feel-good endpoint for the dolphin mania stuff.

And, you know, dolphins are fabulous critters. I just think they're wonderful. I've been extremely privileged to be able to work one on one with dolphins in the ocean, and --people get to go to St. Ignacio Lagoon, and touch the grey whales. But working with an animal offshore every day, diving with it, it's very different. I mean, I feel very special and very privileged to have done that. But as a conservation biologist, I've got to ask myself, "What in the heck are we doing here?" I'm not opposed to it, especially if it's private money. But I do have to ask myself, "Could this money not be spent where there is an endangered or a threatened or a depleted animal at stake? Or perhaps the habitat that's going away that's being destroyed, and may lead to endangered status?

Q: Where do you see the need most urgent?

Specifically with regard just to small cetaceans because we just don't have the facilities and probably won't ever, to do anything with big cetaceans. With--regard to small cetaceans, our neighbors to the South, Mexico, has the little Gulf of California harbor porpoise. We're talking a few 100 at most left. No one has proposed helping them out by bringing a few of them into captivity, developing a reproductive pool of those animals, studying them, understanding what their habitat needs are. The same is true of Gangjes River dolphin, and the same is true of the white flag dolphin of the Yangzi River. In all three cases, almost gone, and I see no serious proposals to work with them to develop either captive reproductive programs and/or habitat conservations and reintroduction programs. From a ceetacean standpoint, those are three obvious candidates. But on the other hand, they're not large. They're not dynamic. They're not charismatic. They're small, cryptic, obscure species, and they aren't going to bring people in, either financially or emotionally, the way killer whales do.

Q: So, what does all this activism say about who we care about?

I don't know. I have given a couple of talks in the last couple three months, and the point I have been trying to make is that all these reintroduction projects--as few or as many of them as there are or will be--the big question is: Are we going to reintroduce these animals into habitat that's suitable for them? That question seems to fall on deaf ears. Nobody wants to talk about the status of the habitat. Especially in the marine world, there's an assumption that it's out there, and it's okay. And I'm not sure that's the case at all.

Q: So, maybe we're really worried about the wrong thing.

I certainly don't disagree with people being concerned about individual organisms. I have no problem with that. But in the bigger scheme of things, as a conservation biologist, I am much more concerned with the house for the animal than a specific individual animal.

Q: Like Keiko?

Like Keiko. Or like Lolita. Or like Bogey. Or like Bacall. It's easy to identify with an individual animal. It's-- much more obtuse and abstract to identify with productive habitat for a whole group of animals. But for me that's much more important. I will close by telling you with the Bogey and Bacall thing, I was really concerned about two-thirds of the way through the project--when I learned that boat traffic in the Indian River Lagoon was supposed to increase by fourfold in the next ten years. And not just for the manatees that get all sliced up from propellers, but underwater sounds from propellers--especially outboard motors. They're very loud, extremely broad band in frequency, and when you're talking about increasing from 700,000 trips a year to 3 or 4 million trips a year, it's just a continuous cacophony of sound. And these animals make their living by sound. I had to ask myself--and I asked the staff--"Are we really sure we know what we're doing here?" To say to Bogey and Bacall, "You've demonstrated you can feed yourselves. We've got marks on you. Good luck. We're going to, you know--have a good life." I'm not sure we were doing the right thing. I'm not convinced myself, not knowing what their habitat was projected to be like in ten years. You know, what's the other end of the pipeline?

Getting them out of a concrete tank, wherever they might currently be, putting them into a pipeline, that's one thing. But what's at the other end of the Underground Railroad? You know, if the Railroad ends and dumps right into a smelter, are they better off?


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