The charity Marine Connection has strong beliefs that cetaceans should be free from distress, suffering, fear and confinement. Marine Connection hope to inspire and educate aiming for a better world for cetaceans. With a combined effort from each and every one of us significant change could make their world how it should be without humans impacting detrimentally to their environment and wellbeing.
The issues that are commonly associated with dolphins, porpoises and whales include the moral dispute of captivity and Bycatch and the cruel act of drive hunts. Strandings and rescues are also issues and the charity additionally looks into the rare phenomenon of solitary social animals. Controversial kills such as whaling is still evident today with governments still supporting the act, making this an even more difficult to eradicate. David Essex supports the work of Marine Connection and hopes to encourage others.
“Supporting the work of the Marine Connection was a decision taken with great responsibility as I am aware my patronage of the charity and their cause may encourage others. Marine Connection campaigns are extremely effective in supporting dolphin and whale protection and conservation, all money donated is spent with care, therefore I have no hesitation in giving my wholehearted support to the charity and their work.”
David Essex OBE
We interviewed Margaux Dodds, co-founder of Marine Connection to gain insight into how Marine Connection first started out and to delve into the main issues with marine environments and the wellbeing of cetaceans.
How did Marine Connection first start out?
I co-founded Marine Connection after encountering a wild dolphin in South-West Ireland. Having loved dolphins and whales (collectively known as cetaceans) since a young age, I grew up in the days of Flipper being on TV and when the UK still had marine parks and had never seen a wild cetacean. Seeing this dolphin in its natural habitat made me realise how cruel it is to keep them in captivity and how important it is to protect their environment, this led to me volunteering to protect the species and eventually to forming Marine Connection – to connect people to the subject of cetacean protection, welfare and conservation.
What are the main issues with holding marine animals in captivity?
Cetaceans are wide-ranging mammals that travel long distances in their daily lives in the wild. They also are, like humans, very social and live in a highly matriarchal society, in multi-generational pods, retaining family bonds for life. Orcas in particular retain this bond with males leaving the family pod to mate but always returning living with their mothers’ pod for life. In captivity not only is the animals freedom of choice totally removed but they are put into social groups which they may not be suited to, with animals from different areas and this can result in aggression. Furthermore, they enjoy a very varied diet in the wild and this variety cannot be replicated in a captive environment. To address this, animals are often fed fish supplemented with vitamins, but this still does not meet their needs. Captive marine mammals also suffer severe health problems, despite having access to constant vet care. The stress of confinement results in a shorter lifespan that is usual in the wild, with many captive whales and dolphins suffering stress related health issues, both physical and psychological. More and more we are seeing reports of violent outbursts by whales or dolphins brought on by the stress of being held in a captive, restrictive environment. These are large mammals and to live a life free from stress and boredom they require a habitat to match that size. Quite simply, no marine park is able to provide a habitat which can adequately meet the needs of these large, social mammals – a tank is a far cry from their natural world. This is why Marine Connection is now supporting the establishment of seaside sanctuaries, where ex-captive marine mammals can be retired to, in order that they may live a more natural life, away from close proximity of humans and having to perform to eat. A captive dolphin or whale may be alive but is not living – and we want this to change, phase out shows and see an eventual end to the keeping of them in captivity.
What is Bycatch and how can we become more ethical food shoppers and reduce or eliminate Bycatch?
Bycatch is the incidental capture of non-target species such as dolphins, porpoises, and whales (cetaceans) by fisheries. A staggering 400,000 die each year from entanglement in fishing nets and lines, or direct capture by hooks or in trawl nets, meaning several species and many populations will be lost in the next few decades if nothing is done to stop this. Bycatch is generally considered the most serious threat globally to cetaceans, however consumers can play a major role by shopping ethically and making an informed choice. Supermarkets are making it easier to choose fish by providing more detailed information on their labels about where and how the fish was caught. By purchasing only sustainably harvested fish and seafood products, demand for this will increase and provide an incentive for the industry to fish responsibly to ensure a safer ocean for dolphins, porpoises, whales and all other marine life.
Drive hunts still occur around the world today with even governments supporting the act, how does Marine Connection deal with this and how can we help?
Drive hunts continue in countries including the Faroe Islands, Solomon Islands and Japan (Taiji). Some of these hunts are claimed to continue under the auspices of ‘tradition’ however governments will continue to support this for financial reasons. For example, in the Solomon Islands, although dolphins were traditionally caught for meat and islanders used their teeth as currency, there was a ban in place on live trade. This was overturned when an individual formed a company with locals to capture and export bottlenose dolphins in Solomon Island waters for Atlantis, the Palm hotel in Dubai. In Japan, animals are taken for their meat but the profit really comes from wild captures for the entertainment industry. Despite the continued public outcry and appeals to the government from NGOs like Marine Connection from around the world for these kills/captures to cease, they continue. So long as this business continues to be profitable, sadly they will continue, for this reason it is important that we continue to not only campaign to authorities for this to cease, but to also raise public awareness – asking people not to support seeing these animals in captivity as by doing so they are supporting the continued hunts and wild captures. The answer is stop the demand and the captures will cease to be profitable – simply we urge people not to buy a ticket to a whale or dolphin show or to participate in a swim programme. By doing this one simple thing, one person can make a difference and put an end to this suffering. Nalu can help us simply by promoting our work – to help educate the public on the issues surrounding these hunts, and the links to the captivity industry, to help us stop the demand for these animals.
What would you suggest we do if we were ever to find a stranded whale, dolphin or similar marine animal?
Marine Connection is part of the UK Marine Animal Rescue Coalition (MARC) – established to address the issues of strandings on our shores. Full details of the rescue hotline and what to do can be found on our website at this link http://marineconnection.org/strandings-rescue/
What are the main issues with whaling and killing dolphins? Are they killed humanely and is there still demand for their meat?
This was partly covered in the drive hunt issue above, however whaling – like drive hunts – continues mainly for profit. There are a few native subsistence takes from the wild each year, for example by the Inuit population, however commercial whaling by countries such as Iceland, Japan and Norway should cease. Whaling is cruel, using inhumane killing methods. Harpoons used explode inside the animal, many animals do not die quickly when struck resulting in them suffering agony for an unspecified time due to the difficulty in ascertaining the exact moment of death. There is no scientific reason for whaling to continue. Recent advances in non-lethal techniques such as biopsies mean that data can now be obtained without killing whales. Similarly, it is no longer necessary to kill whales to ascertain what they have been eating, as this can be determined from DNA in samples of faeces. Continued kills also pose a threat to the future survival of wild populations, however on the issues of welfare alone, whaling should cease.
How can we support Marine Connection and what else can we do to help the issues your charity deals with?
By producing a specific bead to promote the conservation of cetaceans, Nalu are already helping our cause, as we hope that this will act as a catalyst for those who have never considered some of the issues surrounding cetaceans to take an interest on what they, as a person, can do to support their protection and conservation. Something as simple as reporting to the charity on any captive facility, taking photos or video will help us keep up to date on conditions for animals in marine parks, reporting sightings of dolphins or whales, all helps to support our campaigns. Continued financial support is of course vital as it helps us remain engaged and involved in campaigns, projects and conferences worldwide to address the welfare and conservation of dolphins and whales and raise issues with governments and authorities to stop new facilities being established. We hope that, having seen the work Marine Connection does globally, others may be encouraged to add their support, whether financially or by giving their time as a volunteer. Our charity very much focuses on connecting people with the issues and never underestimate the power of one, we hope that by working together we can create a better, safer world for all cetaceans.