Melissa Hevenor
Sunday November 17 , 2019
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Water Angels - Part 2

When I wrote about the dolphins in my last blog, I mentioned how, as a child, I preferred going to Sea World over Disney World, and felt a strong connection to dolphins. Little did I know, this love of mine only contributed to the exploitation of these animals. I feel so passionately about this cause and the tragedy of what dolphins are undergoing in the fishing community of Taiji, Japan, that I watched The Cove, a documentary done by Luis Psihoyos, along with Jim Clark, who are both part of the Oceanic Preservation Society. A large contributor to the documentary was Ric O’Barry. Ric O’Barry was the trainer who trained Flipper, two bottlenose dolphins that played Flipper on the hit 1960’s sitcom. After the television series ended, Ric began to realize that these mammals did not belong in captivity. He began to understand that the dolphins have a sense of self. When he would pull the television out to the large pool where the dolphins were held at his house where the show was filmed, so he could watch the series with them outside, and after doing this, he could tell that the dolphins were able to distinguish when it was them on camera. Once the show ended, his beloved dolphin committed suicide as dolphin can control their breath and must take a breath after extended time under water. The dolphin swam into Ric’s arms and refused to take another breath. He goes on to explain that after the dolphin known as Flipper died, he made a vow to free dolphins from captivity and the next day, was arrested for trying to free two dolphins from Miami Seaquarium. He explains that he began to recognize that Flipper was becoming more and more depressed and believed that because it is not uncommon for dolphins to swim up to 40 miles a day, spending the morning swimming in the surf with other large pods, and then swimming up to 24 miles away for feeding, the limited space in the cement pools of captivity, cause the dolphins great stress. Dolphins also have an extreme sensitivity to sound. In fact, they have the strongest sonar capabilities of any creature. Therefore, the sound of the water splashing against the cement walls of a pool can also trigger great stress. In the fish houses that can be found within any aquarium that holds whales and dolphins in captivity, there are large quantities of Maalox that dolphins are given regularly because of the severe ulcers they suffer from, due to the stress. Also, because of their sensitivity to sound, the clapping, babies crying and other unnatural sounds that the dolphin would commonly hear from audience members watching their stadium-sized shows, can further aggravate the ulcers. Dolphins use their exceptional sonar ability to see right through things in the water. In fact, they can see a human being’s heartbeat, circulation and if a human is pregnant all through the water. When dolphins were first becoming a commodity in captivity after Flipper’s success, they kept dying in the Baltimore Aquarium. The trainers finally figured out that the filtration system in the water was making so much noise it was killing them. This incredible auditory sense is also the vulnerability that allows the Japanese fishing community to capture these mammals. About twelve boats go out at a time, and bang on a large metal pole that is descended into the water, attached to a metal plate. When all twelve fishermen boats are actively banging on these poles, the sound ripples through the ocean, as it vibrates off the metal platform, deep in the water, and scares the dolphins, causing them to flee away, into a valley area where there are nets that prevent them from escaping. They are held captive in this netted area for 24 hours, and the next morning trainers from all over the world, go down into the water, and hand pick the dolphins they want for amusement. For the dolphins that are chosen, the fishermen receive anywhere from $100,000-200,000 per dolphin. For the dolphins that are not chosen, the fishermen soon spear them, stabbing them to death and then selling the meat to fish markets for approximately $600. Ric O’Barry has tirelessly tried to end this horrific killing for years, and even offered to get outside funding to provide the same fisherman community with the equivalent financial gain if the fishermen restrained from killing and capturing the dolphins. Over and over again, the community has responded that it’s not about the money, it’s about the principle and helping the government, as killing the dolphins are considered a form of pest control, as the government in this area continues to blame the dolphins for the fish decline in global fisheries since 2003. The Journal of Science projects that if we continue to fish globally at the rate that we are currently depleting these natural resources, within 40 years there will be a total collapse of the world’s fish stock. If this happens, it will cause a ripple effect of starvation for the areas that rely heavily on seafood for survival. Therefore, many Japanese fisheries have begun making up for the decline by replacing it with dolphin meat. Dolphin meat is known for high levels of mercury, the only radioactive chemical that can not be cooked out of meat. In fact, because of industrial pollutants, the mercury levels in all fish has increased, and the higher quality fish on the food chain are more heavily laced with mercury, because they consume the smaller fish that are becoming contaminated with this radioactive material. Mercury toxicity can lead to Alzheimer’s, dementia, autism, loss of speech, loss of hearing and severe memory loss. Mercury is the most toxic radioactive chemical and levels in the environment have risen 1-3% every year since the Industrial Revolution, due to the burning of fossil fuel.

All of this information I absorbed after watching this beautifully done, but heart-wrenching documentary. At the end, the filmmakers showed footage from hidden cameras that they had placed underwater, in trees, and in surrounding rock formations in what has become known as Death Valley for the dolphins. By sneaking out at night and placing them in man-made creations that look like bird nests and rocks, the filmmakers did make every effort to do this legally, but they were prohibited by the local government to bring any cameras into Taiji. The government officials provided a map of all the off-limit areas, which Luis Psihoyos used as a road map to where he needed to have the cameras placed. They also elicited the help of two famous deep-sea divers, who have endlessly captured footage of the depleting coral reefs in an effort to educate the public about the depletion of the ocean. They were happy to be a part of this mission, as they described the wonderment of swimming alongside free dolphins, who would swim right up to them and play.

I have now decided to serve as part of the next generation to help the dolphins and serve as an activist and spokesperson for all animals. Dolphins are gentle, healing creatures who Mother Nature has blessed with an expression of an endless smile, but it is up to us to create an environment that resembles the beauty and joy expressed in their faces. Not only is it important to help animals, which I believe are much more spiritually evolved than us as humans, but also to work dutifully so that generations to come can be blessed by a flourishing ocean all over the world. Someday I hope to write Water Angels Part III, where the travesty in Taiji, Japan, has ended, because as of September, 2011, through March 2012, the fishing season and killing of dolphins continues to thrive. It is not uncommon for up to 23,000 dolphins to be killed per year.

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