opening address
by Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan [Presented at the Belleride Symposium on Captive Dolphins and Whales, Geneva, 1990}

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 fragmentation.

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 interdependence.

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 dolphins.

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 nature.

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 held captive?

- How should we set about pursuing stricter legislative control of oceanaria?

- In what ways could we improve our own efficiency in the field of inter-organizational cooperation?

- 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?"

home .  viewer discussion .  the debate .  inside seaworld .  interviews .  keiko .  slaughter
other captive orcas .  ted griffin .  navy dolphins .  man & marine mammals .  laws
press reaction .  tapes & transcripts

web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation

pbs online