A sadly preventable tragedy occurred at an abandoned marine park near Tokyo, in Japan. Honey the bottlenose dolphin, who made headlines back in 2018 for being left alone in a small, murky tank, has died.
The Plight of Honey the Dolphin
Nicknamed “the world’s loneliest dolphin”, Honey was one of the animals left behind at the Inubosaki Marine Park Aquarium that closed down in 2018. The park closed due to Financial struggles after a series of earthquakes and tsunamis in 2011. Also still left in the park are 46 penguins and hundreds of fish and reptiles. There is now just one employee tasked with feeding the remaining animals. (1, 2, 3)
Left alone in a small pool with nothing to stimulate her, Honey swam listless circles of her tiny, dirty tank. (1, 2, 3)
When Honey’s situation was discovered, she quickly gained worldwide attention as well as a large movement in Japan to rescue the dolphin. The Dolphin Project, a dolphin welfare, rescue, and rehabilitation organization based out of California in the US, made several attempts to rescue Honey. Unfortunately, they were unable to strike a deal in time and Honey died alone in her tank on March 29, 2020. (1, 2, 3)
The Dolphin Project
Sadly, the situation in which Honey lived out her remaining days is not an isolated incident. The Dolphin Project has found many dolphins like Honey in the United States, Haiti, South Korea, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Indonesia, Brazil, and Columbia. Founded by Richard O’Barry on Earth Day in 1970, they work hard to rescue and rehabilitate these animals. In some cases, they are taken to a sanctuary, in others they can be successfully reintroduced into the wild. (1, 2, 3, 5)
Their mission is to end dolphin exploitation and slaughter and to educate the public about dolphin captivity. Over the last 50 years, they have (5):
- Rescued and reintroduced countless dolphins back into the wild.
- Successfully pushed Mexico to pass a law in 2002 banning the capture of dolphins for dolphinaria.
- Built Camp Lumba Lumba, the first permanent dolphin rehabilitation and release center in Kemujan, Karimun Jawa, Indonesia.
- Forced the closure of Marine Park Dolphinaris in Arizona.
- Shut down Indonesia’s traveling dolphin circus.
Click here to read more about the history of The Dolphin Project.
In 2003, The Dolphin Project went to Japan to take on the cruel and controversial drive hunts that take place in Taiji. It is during one of these hunts that Honey was captured. (1, 5)
The Taiji Drive Hunts
During these hunts, pods of dolphins are driven into a cove from where they can’t escape. They are then either captured alive for captivity in aquariums and marine parks, or they are slaughtered for meat. They have been monitoring these hunts ever since and are still working towards making them illegal. (5)
The Dolphin Project was part of the documentary The Cove, an exposé that brought global attention to these horrific hunts. The film won the 2010. Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. (5)
Read more about the Taiji Dolphin Drive hunts here.
Dolphin Captivity Controversy
Dolphins are highly intelligent, sentient creatures. They are also highly social. They are playful creatures who live in pods or families. They are not meant to be kept in small pools, and definitely not meant to be left alone. (4, 5)
According to The Dolphin Project, there are many reasons why dolphin captivity is so cruel:
- Pods of dolphins swim up to 100km in a day in the wild. In captivity, they have limited space to roam, which also can cause aggression amongst the group.
- In their pods, or families, who they usually remain with for life, they have a signature whistle. When they arrive in captivity they are placed with dolphins they don’t know and therefore can’t communicate with.
- Pools and tanks are completely bare, leaving little to stimulate the dolphins’ minds. Many captive dolphins are regularly given ulcer and anti-depression medications to combat the mental stress of their captivity.
- Many dolphins develop depression and begin to practice self-harm, float listlessly around their pools, and purposefully “beach” themselves on the pool deck because of a lack of will to live.
- Dolphins are kept hungry enough so they will do as the trainers instruct during a performance or a swim-with-the-dolphins experience.
- When they are fed, a captive dolphin must get used to eating a diet of dead fish, as opposed to the live ones they are used to eating in the ocean.
- Tanks are not deep enough for the animals to deep-dive, so they have too much sun exposure. Despite the zinc oxide applied to their backs, they still end up blistered and sunburnt.
- Many tanks are heavily chlorinated. This is irritating to the dolphins’ eyes and results in permanent damage.
What You Can do to Help
Thanks to the dedicated marine animal activist groups around the world like The Dolphin Project, awareness, and, most importantly, change is happening. That being said, the more of us who get involved to help these causes, the sooner dolphin and other marine life captivity can be a thing of the past.
There are a few things you can do now to start making a difference right away:
- Educate yourself and others. Read and share articles like this one to increase awareness around the globe of this cruel industry.
- Boycott marine parks and any business that uses animals as entertainment.
- Donate to a rescue project.
- Petition your government to change the laws.
- Volunteer with a local organization if you have one.
If we work together, we can end dolphin and marine life cruelty and captivity.