Recently there have been some comments on Facebook, with critical views on Kolmarden for keeping dolphins in captivity. Even though this critic is counter-balanced by the much higher numbers of our visitors, who express love for our dolphins and respect for the way we treat and present them, we feel that the critics need to be addressed. We will also organize a hearing on the subject, read more about it at the end of this post.
So why is Kolmarden keeping dolphins and why presenting them in “shows”? Let’s take one step backwards and ask: why are zoos, including Kolmarden, keeping animals in captivity – or under human care, we’d like to say! – to put them on public display? This is a question that the zoo community has put a lot of thought into in recent years. This thinking has resulted in the policy document “Building a Future; the World Zoo and Aquarium Conservation Strategy”, published in 2005 by the World Association of Zoos and Aquaria, WAZA (www.waza.org). It places the zoo in the global nature conservation context and identifies the main tasks of zoos and aquaria:
- Long term managing of the zoo populations in order to maintain maximum genetic diversity and demographic balance, under conditions that guarantee the wellbeing of the animals. If necessary also contribute to re-introductions into the wild, adhering to IUCN’s guidelines for this action.
- Seriously engage in research concerning nature conservation.
- Seriously engage in education and training, to promote nature conservation.
The overall aim of zoos is to make a real and meaningful contribution to nature conservation, but not without acknowledging the fact that the zoo community is only one of many players in this work. Hence, to be a worthwhile effort, zoos need to cooperate with these other important players, e.g. NGO’s such as WWF and IUCN, national authorities such as the Swedish Environment Protection Agency and Swedish Water and Marine Agency, international authorities such as the EU and the UN, and international agreement bodies such as ASCOBANS (Agreement on the Conservation of Small Cetaceans of the Baltic, North East Atlantic, Irish and North Seas", concluded under the auspices of the Convention on Migratory Species (CBM)). This cooperation has got better organized and more efficient during the last decades, to the benefit of endangered species and ecosystems.
But still you can ask the question why it is necessary to “exploit” live animals to reach these goals? Would it not be enough or even better to rely on films produced in the wild and published via the TV networks, or on the Internet, e.g. via YouTube or Facebook? Watching the world around us, however, indicates that, in spite of a wealth of such films, there is still an alarming lack of knowledge in biology in the general public as well as in lawmakers around the world, leading to problems when Nature is exploited. Modern man leads a life disconnected from Nature, and has great difficulties in critically evaluate the edited and cleared up stories that are shown on TV or the hefty highlights on YouTube. TV also tends to result in only short-lived effects on public attitudes and opinions. Psychologists claim that in order to obtain true and lasting changes in attitudes, you need to hit all senses, not only vision and hearing via TV or internet. This is where the zoos come in. Here the visitors can meet and experience live animals with all their senses: see them, hear them, smell them, and sometimes touch them, guided by real, live educators and zoo keepers. This compound input leaves a much deeper impression and hence constitutes a powerful tool to create positive attitudes towards Nature and Nature conservation. These attitudes come into play when choices need to be made, between Nature and distracting and competing forces that challenge the efforts to protect Nature: the wish to own a fast leisure boat or car, the tendency by people to use a fast increasing number of fancy electronic gadgets consuming more electric power, the urge to find and exploit new oil and gas deposits under the sea bed, the modern society’s “need” to build new motor roads, a growing global human population that chop down the rain forest in order to produce more food… But it only works if the zoo community is taking this education task seriously and more importantly, is recognized as honest and trustworthy by the visitors and the rest of the general public. The conservation messages must be true, and the animals used as education “tools” must be treated with respect and their living conditions must meet the highest animal welfare standards. Also, the responsibilities of zoos are not limited to the zoo grounds, but should extend out in the field. This is why Kolmarden is sending its scientists out on the Baltic Sea to count critically endangered harbor porpoises, or zoo keepers to Peru to help safeguarding vulnerable Humboldt penguins.
Now back to dolphins! The ever smiling symbol of altruism is not always happy, and not always kind! They do not reason rationally, but their societies are most likely governed by emotions. These emotions are not always friendly; dolphins may even be aggressive bullies just like humans. But this does not mean that they are humans packed into a streamlined body, with the human way of thinking or the human way of living, in spite of their very large brain. They live in a world of sounds, heavily relying on their high frequency sonar, a dimension very hard for the visually dominated human to comprehend. The seas where they live are not a paradise environment, even though we all too often allow ourselves to be deceived by the glittering, beautiful water surface. It is noisy, polluted, with stressed and over-exploited ecosystems. The wild dolphins need powerful ambassadors that can help convincing lawmakers and the general public to show the necessary consideration to the sea inhabitants in all aspects of human exploitation of the seas. These ambassadors may be the dolphins at Kolmarden, and they can do a huge difference, if the Kolmarden management and staff take this educational task seriously. And they do! The presentation in the dolphinarium must be respectful to the dolphins, and the message must be relevant to the situation in the wild and most importantly it must be trustworthy! If the visitors are not convinced, then the whole education effort is failed. With the new dolphin presentation “Life”, developed for the 2013 season, Kolmarden has lifted its ambitions to an unprecedented level, conveying a very powerful message to the visitors, pointing at the bad way we are treating Mother Earth and at the desperate need for us humans to do a better job! Being completely confident that the dolphins are enjoying their role in this presentation, and that they lead a high-quality, rewarding life at Kolmarden, the staff is eagerly looking forward to the opening of the season and to meeting the visitors crowds. They will be the true judges of the presentation and its educational value.
The post will be our final words in the "debate" until the hearing, we hope you respect that.
Mats Amundin, Research Director and Adj. prof. Linköping University
and Mats Höggren, Director of Zoology
Are you interested to discuss this further? We will hold a hearing where the subject "dolphins at Kolmården" will be discussed. Mats Amundin and Mats Höggren will be there, among other spoke persons.
Location: FoU, Kolmårdens Djurpark
Date: 14/5 2013 Time: 13:30
Want to know more or register your interest? Drop us an email: email@example.com