Say no to dolphin shows in Pakistan

Published: January 27, 2014
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A campaign was designed in the US under the name ‘Empty the Tanks’ against dolphin captivity while in Pakistan we heard of dolphin shows being organised by the Maritime Museum. PHOTO: AYESHA MIR/FILE

A campaign was designed in the US under the name ‘Empty the Tanks’ against dolphin captivity while in Pakistan we heard of dolphin shows being organised by the Maritime Museum. PHOTO: REUTERS A campaign was designed in the US under the name ‘Empty the Tanks’ against dolphin captivity while in Pakistan we heard of dolphin shows being organised by the Maritime Museum. PHOTO: AYESHA MIR/FILE A campaign was designed in the US under the name ‘Empty the Tanks’ against dolphin captivity while in Pakistan we heard of dolphin shows being organised by the Maritime Museum. PHOTO: AYESHA MIR/FILE

Imagine a seventeen-year-old, full of energy, vigour and liveliness, always ready to get up and do something. Now, imagine confining these young, vivacious teenagers to a closet and training them to perform and entertain an audience.

Does that make sense?

This is exactly what we do to dolphins.

A dolphin is a mammal just like us and the brain activity of a mature dolphin is second only to humans. They love to swim at 140 nautical miles a day, they migrate in social groups known as pods, hunt for live fish and help each other nurse their young. Moreover, as most of us have seen live or on TV, they are extremely friendly with humans as well.

And what do human beings do to them in return?

We confine them to a small pool and force them to entertain the audience in ‘Dolphin Shows’.

Quite frankly, it is terribly inhumane.

Research has shown that dolphins die prematurely in captivity because they are innately unsuited for confinement. They are meant to be wild and free-swimming animals and confining them to small tanks or sea-pens disrupts their overall behaviour and affects them biologically. Even the largest pool or tank cannot compare to the vast and natural environment of the open sea which allows them to evolve as natural survivors.

And no one should be fooled by the attractive and ‘natural-looking’ backdrops which some dolphinariums add to their pools.

Some of the dangers that dolphins face while confined to pens or tanks are:

  • The dolphin petting pool is quite awful, contrary to what people generally think. There are crowds all day long and many people throw coins in the water which some dolphins swallow and get sick; in worse case scenarios they die of zinc poisoning.
  • The stress of imprisonment can also result in behavioural abnormalities, illness and reduced resistance to disease as well as low life expectancy. Captivity may also affect the health of pregnant dolphins.
  • Steel bars which surround their tanks to separate them from the audience and trainers are also a danger to these animals. They tend to break their teeth and damage their fins when pushing against the bars. With broken teeth and damaged fins, it is difficult for them to survive in their natural habitat too – to which they are usually sent back since without these features, they become useless for entertainment.
  • Captive dolphins in Pakistan have not had any mating incident yet but in case there is one, it will make us another country responsible for off-spring captivity. Of course, we may argue that this serves the purpose of conservation but the offspring of captive dolphins are investments that simply ensure the supply of animals for display or trade.

And the fact is that dolphins are not meant to perform for our amusement.

Japan and the dolphin crisis

Although the recent slaughtering of dolphins and whales in Japan has sparked uproar the world over, this is not a cause that has been taken up recently.

Almost half a century ago, former dolphin trainer Richard O’Barry – more commonly known as Ric – embarked on a long and arduous campaign against animal captivity and the use of animals – particularly dolphins – being used for entertainment.

His global efforts have even been featured in the 2010 Oscar-winning documentary The Cove, a film that shows the massive slaughter of dolphins annually in a small coastal village called Taiji in Japan.

Marine parks and aquariums buy untrained dolphins from Japan and the money paid by the dolphin show industry fuels the hunts which supply aquariums and dolphinariums worldwide. They also fulfil the meat demand of Japan and the rest of the world. Dolphin hunters are equipped with the latest boats, scuba divers and nets, and have set up coves and sea pens for the captivity of the unfortunate dolphins.

The capture of dolphin pods in the open sea is itself a torturous process.

Pods are forced to move towards the harbour by boat drive motion and the dolphins are banged on their heads to reduce their swimming speed. They are then caught in the net and transported into the sea pen. Some of them get injured as they splash frantically in their struggle to escape, while others get injured from the motor blades of boats. The ones who get caught are also tortured so they stay in control.

At Taiji Island, aquariums and dolphin brokers also help the dolphin killers in their work, picking only a few for captivity. The rest of the dolphins are killed for meat that is poisonous and should not be consumed by anyone.

Traditionalists argue that these hunts are part of the Japanese or Taiji tradition. But that is not true. These hunts began some 45 years ago and have continued to gain momentum due to the material gains they bring.

World views on dolphin slaughter

The UK government freed the last captive dolphin way back in 1993 when they obtained feedback from school teachers that dolphinariums do not generate any educational aspect and only serve to entertain. And in July last year, a campaign was designed in the US under the name ‘Empty the Tanks’ against dolphin captivity.

Today as the issue has heightened to an almost unbearable degree, criticism and activism continues to pour in from all corners of the world. But in spite of the constant and increasing criticism by conservationists, activists and government officials – such as Ambassador Caroline Kennedy – the hunting and slaughter continues unabated. According to reports, fishermen have already killed over 170 dolphins and small whales and taken 24 captive since the beginning of 2014.

And with Kennedy’s regular updates and criticism on Twitter, what began as an environmental and conservation issue, is now causing a rift between Washington and Tokyo – normally the staunchest of allies.

Pakistan’s entrance into the arena

In Pakistan dolphin shows and the training of marine animals are suddenly springing up. Although the authorities in Pakistan have claimed that international standards are being maintained to take care of the animals, it is like fooling ourselves since captivity in any form is still captivity and should not tolerated.

Moreover, I am shocked that the World Wide Fund-Pakistan (WWF-P) and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) – world leaders in marine life conservation – actually permitted this event to take place without any objection.

My fear is that since the population of third world countries are naïve about environmental protection matters, this industry might flourish at double the pace than any other industry in the country. After all, if today the authorities have no concern about organising a dolphin show in the name of entertainment; tomorrow they will be happy to invest in the captive industry of these sea mammals, in their drive for personal gains.

Already, the management has expressed plans to extend shows to other cities of the country depending on the response of the public. This will require these animals to be transported which will cause even more discomfort to them.

The least I would expect from the IUCN, WWF and the wildlife department of Pakistan would be to stand firm against the inhuman transportation of these animals and warn airlines as well as road transporters both, that they will be fined if they undertake this task under the pressure of the museum and the organisers.

But I wonder if our government – which has still not been able to stop the hunting of  rare falcons in the interiors of Punjab by the Arab sheikhs– will really be able to take action against the inhuman capture and slaughter of dolphins in the country.

Need of the hour – save the dolphins today

In my opinion, the general public in Pakistan and abroad can do a lot to protect this endangered species. We all know that every creature has a role to play in its habitat and hence, every creature needs protection in order to ensure the smooth functioning of the entire planet. I know that it is enthralling to watch the tricks performed by dolphins, belugas and sea lions but we need to realise that one admission ticket could also permanent damage to one of these lovely creatures.

We need to learn from Ric who set up SaveJapandolphin.org under the umbrella of An Earth Island Institute Project to address the plight of dolphins in the name of humanity. His request to the public was,

“My message is very simple – please don’t buy tickets for dolphin shows.”

In light of what is happening in Japan today, it is easy to understand his perspective. Today if we look forward to being entertained by captive dolphins, tomorrow our conscience may not react even to the inhuman hunting and slaughter of these friendly animals.

According to O’ Barry,

“It is bad education. What are children learning from dolphin tricks? They are learning that abusing nature is okay, that these (dolphins) are nothing more than performing circus clowns. And they walk away from there, uneducated.”

So, stand up today and say ‘No’ to field trips to dolphinariums.

Say ‘No’ to restraining these and other animals to confined spaces instead of letting them live in their natural habitat.

Say ‘No’ to such cheap and inhumane ‘entertainment’.

Tazeen Inam

Tazeen Inam

She worked at Aaj TV till 2008, freelances currently for Express Tribune and Dawn and is associated with a television commercial production company.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Shark

    At least they are in better condition than dolphin in River Indus. What have we done to save them? stopped the flow of natural river by diverting and making dams?Recommend

  • Saqib

    You can’t be asking us to feel sorry for animals in a country where people are slaughtered on a daily basis. Animal welfare doesn’t suit the 3rd world.Recommend

  • Ali

    How can you possible link dolphin slaughter (for consumption or entertainment) in Japan to dolphin shows in Pakistan? You’re blowing the matter out of proportion. Yes, they’re captivated, but so are animals in the zoo. Should we close all the zoos?

    This is badly written, and tries to link two completely disconnected things. You’re trying to get people to boycott the shows on the basis of dolphins being slaughtered elsewhere in the world. Yes, its bad; but that’s not what’s happening at the Maritime Museum!Recommend

  • Noman Ansari

    YES! Dolphin shows are cruel! People who go watch these intelligent creatures who are tortured for our amusement should be ashamed!Recommend

  • Noman Ansari

    I hope you are being sarcastic.Recommend

  • kurram

    These dolphins are well taken care of by the sanctuary staff and now through these shows the entertainment starved Pakistani public can experience these wonderful animals and learn from them.Recommend

  • Spock

    No words on millions of innocent animals slaughtered in pakistan in the name of religion.Recommend

  • Sami

    In Pakistan you will find everyone complaining for everything. If they would not be dolphins then it would be something else. Complain, Complain and more complain.Recommend

  • Parvez

    In an ideal world what you say would make sense.Recommend

  • Karachite

    What about the slaughter of beluga and other whales in Japan, Denmark, Finland Norway and elsewhere. This show is scheduled just in the winters and the amphibians are kept in a good condition. These shows are common in the western world and if the captivity is against the animal rights then what about animals kept in zoo’s and i captive the world over. Anything positive happening in the country is always taken with cynicism an undue criticism.Recommend

  • atif

    Such armetour work..Recommend

  • Pakistani

    How typical….a media person making an issue when one doesn’t exist…..Recommend

  • BM

    @Spock: Have no idea where you are coming from ???!!???Recommend

  • BM

    Sorry Tazeen, but this is an incredibly out of sorts article. Realized midway that you were lost and confused.Recommend

  • Jijaji00

    How about millions of cows , goats, sheeps and camels slaughtered in the name of religion? Are you brave enough to raise the issue? Or are you a hypocrite , who is moved by the dolphin torture and killing but will remain silent about the cruelity endowed on the ‘mammals’ mentioned above ??? Why double standards??Recommend

  • Aizah

    The same person will happily go abroad and watch a dolphin show or go to a night safari in Singapore for example.Recommend

  • No one

    What about a parrot kept in cage?Recommend

  • Mahwish

    I am sorry , but this is seriously crapRecommend

  • animal lover (no time 2 nurse)

    you are completely wrong to justify the whole world because you think that way. in fact, not only are you increasing the knowledge in kids (and even as adults), but you are also planting a seed in their head that we are the ones who have to take care of other species on earth too. this would encourage some to litter less or grow up to work with wild life animals so that they can sustain (better yet, increase the population of critically and endangered species) who will then further educate … and it’s a circle of continuous growth and improvement; means more jobs => stronger economies => better knowledge of best practices (especially because the trend for the entire world is going towards living cooperatively, tolerance, independent freedom of rights, more knowledge – the ones who are opposed to it will die out themselves, sadly by killing other individuals with them)

    If you are someone who would seriously go hunt animals, i would encourage you go to adopt an a small pet (like a bird) into your home, but make sure that you two kind of get a long. Any animal would do, but something small and that doesn’t get supper attached too fast, so that if you are not the animal lover (hey that’s ok too … u can just done money ;) ) …

    It is because I like to go to the zoo once every couple years and once every 5 years whales/dolphins, and every other year huge aquarium has made me love animals a whole lot more and in return i am doing more for the animals too.

    The ones who complain about these shows and stuff should first return all the animals to their natural habitat.

    please donate to WWF, there are many endangered species in Pakistan as well as natural habitats that re being destroying; once irreversible … humans too will die.Recommend

  • peace

    based on your theory then all the zoos and safaris in the world be closed tooRecommend

  • Shah

    May I tell you that you do send your children to train them in “SCHOOLS” for “Talent shows” etc. Lame article…..!!!!!Recommend

  • Satti

    ..Why …then bann all the zoos and all the talent shows in Schools and children are trained there as welll…wht a pathetic reason…!!!!!Recommend

  • Ammar

    yup, ban the zoos. How would you feel if you were captured, and trained to do tricks?Recommend

  • Nidz

    This is the harsh reality of life. We cant do much about it. Animals are tortured in the zoo, for making clothes, animal testing etc etc. But yes I do agree with you that we should try our best to avoid situations in which a living being is tortured and we tend to enjoy that. I personally agree to you to some extent.Recommend

  • Satii

    Dear Sir..most of the humans in a cage theoretically…..You are trained in school against childs will…..You are trained at work and you need to sit and work even at odd hours..theoretically against your will as you are blackmailed regarding your earning……etc etc..In simple worlds you are a modern day slave…if you want a free world than ban having pets, ban eating meat and also Vegetables because Plants are also a living creature. Many vegetarian think tht they are not cruel which is totally wrong because plants live, breathe as well….!!!!!
    So stop living because your very breath kills thousands of bacteria…!!!!Recommend

  • goggi (Lahore)

    My spiritual homeland is on the other side of Wagah…………………because that is the only country of our planet where contradictions meet!Recommend

  • oo

    Yes, one may say we are free-ing the dolphin from its own cage. Its forced to hang out in pods, or be excluded from the other dolphins. Even though it doesn’t want to hang out with them, it still has to. It has to show up everyday, with that same expression on it’s face even though its dying on the inside.Recommend

  • Graham Goon

    Read the facebook page of the event. Mothers are talking about how their kids are taking interest in marine life again. Thanks to the show. In all of Pakistan’s history we’ve done a great job of messing up our marine animals and with zero education. At least this show is a small part in the right direction.Recommend

  • radio

    She’s against the dolphin shows in Pakistan but would fine with waiting in long lines at international locations and even dare to brag about how she took her kids to so and so place. Recommend

  • Rsingh

    India has dolphin shows, but India is a country where most of populace is vegetarian country so it is understandable, but why countries like Pakistan or west, where a meal is not considered complete unless and until it includes meat in it.
    Myself was meat eater, gave it up, not because of religion but because did not want to make a fellow creature go through something which i would never myself want to endure.Recommend

  • abubakar

    Why would he be sarcastic? He is stating a fact and a truthRecommend

  • abubakar

    Why would he be sarcastic? He is stating a fact and a truth,,,Recommend

  • SANE

    cannot believe the comments and the way people are trying to justify this. This thread is laughable, every comment is so crude that it feels wrong to say we’re civilized.
    Yes, zoos too should be closed down. We have textbooks with pictures, we can take the children to a park instead.
    Just because we teach children about animal slaughterhouses, doesnt mean we always physically go show them one? They wont learn less about these animals if they had access to good documentaries, a privileged few visits to safaris.
    And pls dont tell me someone cant afford safaris, you also have birds to look at, if you just look UP.Recommend

  • sane

    this reply is TRAGICRecommend

  • animal lover

    i guess zoos in karachi needs more protests than these dolphins. the condition is pathetic and every now and then we hear of death of an animal due to negligence.Recommend

  • satram sangi

    Hundred% agreed with you, It is too much better and timely writing. Thanks for good share Tazeen Inam. There is dire need of protection of nature and their creature. Your click is absolutely correct and impressive.Recommend

  • Tyrone Tellis

    They are mammals not amphibians. The writer has gone overboard who are slaughtering dolphins here?Recommend

  • Sabah
  • Atif

    Speaking of WWF, marine turtles are openly being sold at Sunday animal market in Karachi. Years ago i had reported the same to WWF but nothing has happened to save these poor endangered species, it hurts so bad that for mere currency notes people are trading them.. @Tazeen can you please also blog about marine turtles..Recommend

  • Atif

    Speaking of WWF, marine turtles are openly being sold at Sunday animal market in Karachi. Years ago i had reported the same to WWF but nothing has happened to save these poor endangered species, it hurts so bad that for mere currency notes people are trading them.. @Tazeen can you please also blog about marine turtles..Recommend

  • gp65


    Imagine a seventeen-year-old, full of energy, vigour and liveliness, always ready to get up and do something. Now, imagine confining these young, vivacious teenagers to a closet and training them to perform and entertain an audience.
    Does that make sense?
    This is exactly what we do to dolphins”.
    Ah, so now we are going to compare humans with animals? So does one slaughter humans on special religious days? Does one use human skin to make bags and shoes? Does one boil a human embryo in water to create a fibre (silk)? Does one deprive a human child of his mother’s milk and sell that milk to others? No, no, no and no. Rightly or wrongly, humans and animals are not treated similarly. So your comparison does not hold,Recommend

  • gp65

    More cruel than killing animals for food, leather and fibre (silk)?Recommend

  • gp65

    An ideal world where people were not just vegetarians but vegans. DId not slaughter animals for food and leaher. Did not deprive a child (calf) of his moether’s milk.Recommend

  • S

    Yes they should close! Zoos and safaris are no better!Recommend

  • S

    How can you state such things about the writer unless you know her really well and are very sure that she will go to watch a dolphin show/night safari abroad? Please stop posting assumptions as facts.Recommend

  • S

    In case of animals, the cruelty of torment is greater because they have no hope to look forward and neither can they console themselves.Recommend

  • Dee

    Finally a sensible piece on this issue. Thanks for jotting down all the reasons together, it was becoming increasingly difficult for me to explain it to family and friends why they should boycott this show. Recommend

  • Fatima Sajjad

    As much as I would like to agree with you on certain points,I can’t. This is like the glass being half empty half fully situation. We’ve become extremely critical of EVERYTHING and instead of looking at the good part of it we criticize it. Dolphin shows might be a little wrong ethically but you cannot ignore the fact that people get a family outing here(which has been quite limited to restaurants) and that it’s a tourist attraction! Kuch ho tou hum naa khush,kuch naa ho hum tab bhi naa khush.Recommend

  • Arsalan Ahmed

    what a sick article written by the sick minded person!
    His mentality is like, If you can’t do anything better, dont let any other do it.. crap!
    Dolphins are like pets, you can have them at your home like other pets, they are friendly and loyal. If a Pakistani can not train them, it doesn’t mean that we should not watch this show!
    I ask the author to write exactly the same about other pets ppl of pakistan own, and set them free into the jungle and the roads (wherever they belong to). He will get to know when the whole world will laugh on him.
    Sick!Recommend

  • Yusra

    Exactly! This is tragic. I cant believe how heartless people have become.Recommend

  • Yusra

    If you do not consider animal cruelty as an issue that needs to be addressed, i feel sorry for you.Recommend

  • ethics

    Do you even know how the dolphins are trained or what conditions they are kept in? Yes there is no link between the dolphin slaughter going on in Japan and the shows in Pakistan, but this can not be used to justify what is being done. It is not right to keep wild animals captive just for the sake of our entertainment. Yes, the zoos should close down! Have you seen the condition of our zoos? Watching animals spending all their life in small cages brings joy to our children. Dont you think there is something wrong with that? If no, then i have nothing to say.Recommend

  • Yusra

    Treat your children the way they treat animals in zoos and circuses. Do you have the heart to do so? Or maybe you dont know what goes on behind the closed doors?
    You can not, under any circumstances, compare human life to that of the animal’s. Specially, if you dont know what conditions they are kept in and how they are mistreated. I’d suggest you do some research before talking on the matter. Recommend

  • Yusra

    If the parrot is being kept in healthy conditions, being adequately fed, and not forced to do some stupid tricks just to satisfy human entertainment needs, i dont see anything wrong with that.Recommend

  • Woo11

    Dolphins captured in Taiji are sold to so called dolphinarium all over the world. The article doesn’t blow anything out of proportion. And in order to capture the young dolphins they prefer, they slaughter the rest of the pod family. Animal biologists know that among the most self aware and intelligent mammals, the apes, the elephants, etc, are the dolphins. They know who they are and what they should be and that they are captured. Very many of these captured dolphins die young, and have to be constantly medicated to counter their stress. Their captivity is brutal, and increaslingly seen to be round the world. Please, read up about it, plenty of info on the web, watch the Oscar and multiple award winning doc The Cove it will explain the link to you https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4KRD8e20fBo https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kzGKPhdsWSI Please stop bing in denial!Recommend

  • Woo11

    yep close the zoos. the sooner we learn that wild animals are not for our vain entertainment the better!Recommend

  • Woo11

    yes Karachi zoo is awful. multiple deaths alos in Marghazar zoo in Islamamabad. Basically zoos in Pakistan are concrete cells. the animals dont even have the basics, like appropriate diets and free access to fresh water. However I dont believe you cant ignore a new fashion, more captivity – the dolphinariums – because Karachi zoo is so cruel,Recommend

  • Woo11

    All I can say to some of the people commenting here is they really should do their homework before spotlighting their ignorance or naivety. Just have the care to do some reserach – its all there on the web. in the Meantime see the direct connection between Taiji and dolphinariums, watch the multi award winning documantary The Cove https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4KRD8e20fBo https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kzGKPhdsWSI closing down international dolphinariums is now a world wide movt btw.Recommend

  • Woo11

    Watch The Cove documentary!Recommend

  • Mehreen Ahmed

    If we are going there then what about animals slaughtered for food everyday?
    That religious festival only slaughters animals that are killed everyday for their meat.Recommend

  • Mehreen Ahmed

    So do we ask the parents of the the dolphins to train them? Humans are asked. Also it is not the natural habit of the mammal to do such tricks. And do you actually think that their training is done the same way as we train our children ? I do not think so.Recommend