Dolphin Imprisoned In Toxic Aquarium
By Vanessa Papas: Every year a hunt for blood takes place in the waters of Taiji, Japan. Hundreds of wild dolphins are rounded up and butchered in the infamous ‘Cove’. The hunts are subsidised by the dolphin captivity industry, which pays high prices for a few ‘show quality’ dolphins. During each hunt a small portion of dolphins – the most beautiful of the species – are spared only to be captured for a life in captivity in dolphinariums, aquariums and swim-with-dolphin programmes around the world. Angel was one such dolphin.
In 2014 the story of Angel gained international coverage not only because she was just a baby when ripped away from her mother while swimming in a pod of about 150 bottlenose dolphins and put in a tiny tank at Taiji Whale Museum, but because she was an albino. Albinism occurs when cells that normally make the pigment melanin, responsible for skin, hair, and eye colour, fail to produce it at normal levels, or at all. albinism can come with several different health problems. The pigment melanin provides protection against the sun’s rays, and also plays an important role in eyesight: Without it, many albinos suffer from vision problems. Because of this, it’s rare to see an albino dolphin in the wild.
Veteran Dolphin Project Cove Monitor Karla Sanjur remembers the day Angel was captured. “I woke up to the biggest pod of bottlenose dolphins the fishermen had seen in a long time. There were over 250 of them. I had never seen anything like it. Amongst the pod was an albino calf. White as snow, she shined in the water – you couldn’t miss her. Every time I saw her she was next to her mom, swimming side by side. I thought to myself, ‘she looks like an angel with fins’, and I guess, everyone thought so too. She was the first one taken into captivity. A prize, rare albino dolphin to attract the masses. Who knows how much one would pay to see an albino? The rest of the pod was divided into groups and endured three days of captive selection. In the end, they took around 35 captive, slaughtered around 60 to 70 and the rest were driven out to sea.”
Sarah Lucas, CEO of Australia for Dolphins (AFD), first visited Angel shortly after her capture. “Angel was initially kept in a small outdoor swimming pool, where she could do nothing but swim in small circles,” explains Sarah. “The most heart-wrenching thing was seeing her all alone. I think it must have been so traumatic for her to be taken from her mother, and suddenly thrown into alien conditions. I felt very sad for her. Angel was eventually placed in an indoor tank with four or five other dolphins, but this hasn’t improved her welfare. There’s very little space. In the wild Angel might have swum 100 kilometres in a day, but she now has to swim in awkward circles trying not to hit the edge of her tank. The tank is barren, and completely devoid of stimuli. Angel also has ‘rake’ scars on her skin, probably from dominant male dolphins attacking her.”
Not only is Angel being bullied, but her tank is filled with chlorinated water, which experts say could spell the end of this majestic mammal’s life. “We documented the dolphins inside this filthy chlorinated tank with swollen eyes, skin that was eaten away at, not able to swim without jagged, unnatural movements,” say Sea Shepherd Cove Guardians. “Since this last visit, the water in the tank has been re-chlorinated, evident to us as soon as we walked through the doors to the tunnel and smelled the overwhelming stench or chlorine. As an albino, Angel would be more susceptible to eye irritations from the chlorine. Her eyes are closed all the time but it’s not just Angel who is suffering as a result. In a video taken at the Museum most of the dolphins appear to have closed eyes. Dolphins are swimming blindly in circles, dolphins are floating lifelessly on the surface, trying to keep their faces as close to the surface as possible to avoid the painful sting of chlorine. What you see is blatant abuse.”
Courtney Vail, a marine consultant for AWI, believes the problem could be even more sinister than ‘burning eyes’. “The condition (of closed eyes) is not normal and should be investigated by a competent veterinarian ophthalmologist. It is possible that Angel could have either, or both, a viral or bacterial infection. And if either of those conditions go systemic, then her life could be in danger,” adds Courtney.
Last year several reports circulated that Marine Activist Ric O’Barry, along with representatives from AFD, Save Japan Dolphins, and the Earth Island Institute, won a law suit to have Angel returned to the wild. However, the lawsuit was not won in favour of Angel’s freedom. The suit was filed against the Taiji Whale Museum for discriminating against westerners, and not giving them the same access to the museum as Japanese nationals. Last year, the judge in the case made a ruling in the activists’ favour. While this means Angel still won’t be free, it’s believe the decision will aid the ongoing battle to have her relocated to a sea pen at the front of the Museum’s property.
To help Angel and the other dolphins trapped at the Taiji Whale Museum, you can make a donation to Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. Log onto www.seashepherd.org for more information.