The Dolphin Show or Send in the Clowns
The dolphin show does represent a form of education but it's a form of bad education in that it teaches millions of people that human supremacy over nature is a good thing.
In order to justify the capture and confinement of dolphins, the billion-dollar captivity industry, which is supported in the USA by the National Marine Fisheries Service of the Department of Commerce, presents the dolphins as "ambassadors" of their own species and maintains that dolphin shows serve the purpose of being educational. So when the disco-music is blasting away and the performing dolphins walk on their tails, play basketball, and take their trainers for rides around the tank, the audience is supposed to become acquainted with the true nature of dolphins and, based on that, grow motivated to contribute to the protection of dolphins in nature.
But how can the spectators learn anything about the true nature of dolphins when the captive dolphins are trained in unnatural behaviors, mere circus tricks that these once-wild, opportunistic foragers of the oceans are performing for food rewards of dead fish? And how are the spectators supposed to become aware of the importance of preserving dolphins in nature when the dolphins they are watching have been either stolen from nature, kicking and screaming, or were born in captivity and have never seen the ocean?
Any intelligent person watching dolphins perform circus tricks must conclude that this is about one thing only: amusement.
During the dolphin show one might hear the announcer tell the audience that "this is the dolphin's dorsal fin," and when the dolphin trainer gives the dolphin the hand signal to wave his pectoral fin, the announcer will say "and this is the pectoral fin." These superficial descriptions of the dolphins' physiology are nothing but a token gesture, serving the purpose of being able to call the dolphin spectacle educational.
There is not a word about how the dolphins were captured and separated from their family pods, nor is there an in-depth description of the dolphins' social nature, their organized pod structure, and highly developed sensory sense that's rendered useless in a concrete tank. This information is withheld from the audience because it gives all the reasons why dolphins do not belong in captivity, thus undermining the captivity industry's foremost errand, which is to make as huge a profit from the performing dolphins as possible.
While the captivity industry's strongest justification to training dolphins to perform shows is the alleged wish to educate the public about the importance of preserving dolphins in nature, the same industry refers to the fact that bottlenose dolphins are not threatened by extinction to defend the position that it is okay to capture them. It is precisely this utilitarian view of nature and its inhabitants that has destroyed wildlife everywhere on the planet, and the theatrical content of the captive dolphin spectacle works against the spirit of wildlife conservation in that it cherishes human dominance over nature.
It's interesting to note that the fact that the bottlenose dolphin is not threatened by extinction is also used by the captivity industry to argue that there is no reason to release captive dolphins back into their natural habitat. It is then always added that besides, captive dolphins are better off remaining in captivity for the rest of their lives, as they have lost their natural survival skills and no longer know how to live in the oceans. This claim is made with no evidence to substantiate it and presents yet another of the captivity industry's double standards: Even though captivity has permanently destroyed the dolphins' abilities to survive in nature and made them helplessly dependent on people for their survival, they are wild enough to educate the public about the true nature of dolphins.
Since the world's first formal dolphin show opened in St. Augustine, Florida, in 1938, hundreds of dolphins have been captured from the wild and trained to perform silly circus tricks. When the dolphins died, the captivity industry simply captured more. These are disposable dolphins for our disposable society, and to call them ambassadors is simply an obviously desperate attempt at sanitizing the exploitation of these animals.
By Helene O'Barry