Why we should not keep dolphins in aquariums | Taison Chang | TEDxXiguan

Why we should not keep dolphins in aquariums | Taison Chang | TEDxXiguan

Translator: Hélène Vernet
Reviewer: Denise RQ “There are no walls in the ocean.” This is what Bailey tells
her friend, Destiny, in the movie “Finding Dory.” And this is where my story begins. My story is about dolphins and aquariums. Although dolphins live in water,
and we don’t have much chance to see them, there are a lot of stories
between dolphins and people. I bet that many of you have seen
a dolphin before, and you will all agree with me
that dolphins are cute and intelligent. Besides cats, and dogs,
and other domesticated animals, dolphins are already described
as our good friends. Dolphins keep surfers safe from sharks. Dolphins help people who fall into water. Dolphins seem so different
from us, yet, so similar that the government of India,
actually, accepts the claim that a dolphin is a long human person. I’ve worked in the Wild Dolphin Research, and therefore,
I’ve seen how a wild dolphin behaves. There are the dolphins
you can see in Hong Kong: the Chinese white dolphins are also called
the Indo-Pacific humpbacked dolphins. I’ve worked with them
for almost four years, and they continue to surprise me
every time when I see them. Sometimes, they are feeding. Sometimes, they are
socializing with friends. Sometimes, they’re just resting,
or chilling, playing. Many people may think
that they all look the same. Indeed, but at a closer look,
every dolphin has a unique character. Some of them are more playful,
some of them are shier, and they’re emotionally
complicated, as well. Sometimes, they want to get close
to our boat and play around us. But sometimes, they just slap their fluke
on the water surface, almost like saying, “Go away! Don’t bother me anymore!” Every time, when they get close
to our boat, I realize they’re looking at us. And from the look in their eyes, I’m sure
they are thinking something about us. I like to imagine
dolphins are thinking about myself, something like, “Hey, it’s you again!
Why not come down and play?”, or like, “Hey, you weird human being! I hate you so much! Don’t dare you
come down, or I’ll bite you!” (Laughter) But the above is not only
from my imagination. Although their intelligence is still
controversial among scientists, we basically agree
dolphins’ IQ is comparable to a 6 or 7-year-old human kid. And that is using our standard. So very possibly, we are still
underestimating their intelligence. You can see a much folded cerebral cortex, which means that their brain can process
a lot of information at a time. And that results in different culture
and complex social structure in different dolphin populations. Here, I have to introduce
one of my friends to you: she’s Ropey, or CH34. We first discovered her in 1997. And you can see there is
Ia permanent injury on her dorsal fin. That’s the result
of entanglement in a fishing net. She gave birth to two calves before, but, unfortunately, both of her calves
died because of an unknown reason. During the death of her second calf,
she was so depressed! She couldn’t really accept the fact
that her calf was dead. She kept the carcass of her calf floating, and she hoped her calf
would breathe again. She didn’t let go for a week,
and she gave up eating because she had to keep an eye
on the dead body. Despite not being physically injured,
she became so skinny. We were afraid that she would die
because of starvation. Finally, after a week, she let go
of her baby, and her life moved on. It is always for me,
a very sad story to tell, but we were amazed that dolphins
also grieve for their loved. And this behavior is only found
in a few species of animals including elephants, some primates (Laughter) and myself, like all of you here,
human beings. Dolphins are facing a lot of threats
from every corner on this planet, because of us, because of our activities. They have to live with threats
like pollution, boat traffic, and also, coastal development. But every time when I see a dolphin, I believe the most important element
in their life is basic freedom; the freedom to do
anything they want to do, the freedom to go
anywhere they want to go, and to live as elegant and lively
as the predator they’re born to be. When I was in primary school,
I met my first dolphin in my life, like most of you here, maybe, I met my first dolphin in an aquarium,
the Hong Kong Ocean Park. And I remembered I was the lucky one who was allowed to touch
the flipper of a dolphin. That passion has driven me,
and I finally was employed as staff in Hong Kong Ocean Park. (Laughter) But after I started working there, I realized things
were not quite as I expected. Dolphins there, are not happy
as the Ocean Park is telling us, and what they’re doing is not
real education and conservation. Can you imagine
if someone put you in a room with no door, for the rest of your life? I’m sure life will be miserable
if you cannot go anywhere you want to go. Dolphins always have to listen
to loud music during day time, and also loud voices of people. (Music) This is what dolphins always hear,
every day, during day time. For an extremely acoustic animal
like dolphins, long time exposure to noise
will result in stress, hearing damage, or even psychological disorder. They are always starved. As trainers, we will never
feed them enough, because otherwise,
they may not listen to orders. They use a lot of energy
to perform acrobatics, movements that are not natural to them, like high jumps, tail walking, or even tugging a small boat
to satisfy the desire of visitors. For us, it’s entertainment,
but for them, it is all hard work, and it will cause fatigue and frustration. Then, after a long day,
they are left unattended at night. No one cares about what they need. And what they only have is a tank.
Like a bathtub size for them. For Chinese white dolphins, we’ve recently
found out that they’re more active and produce a lot of sounds at night. That proves that we’re still missing
a lot of information about dolphins. So what if captive dolphins, actually,
need more attention at night? But sadly, what they can do in their tank
every night is swimming in circles, or floating motionlessly in their tank which scientists call stereotypical
behavior or meaningless behavior. It is only found in captive animals
because they are so bored. They are psychologically unhealthy. Do you know how captive dolphins
are captured from the wild? Most of the dolphins you can see
in an aquarium in China, are captured from Japan and Russia. They use the method called
“drive hunting’ to capture them. They spot a group
of dolphins in the ocean. They follow them with motor boats, bang on metal rods
to drive them into shallow coves. Then, trainers from all over the world will come and examine
the captured dolphins to see which are the most suitable
for performing, which are usually young females. After the prized show, dolphins are taken. The rest of them will be
slaughtered and sold for meat. Because of this, every dolphin
you can see in an aquarium, each costs the life of hundreds
of other dolphins in the wild. This will possibly affect the sustainability
of some wild population. A recent study shows dolphins
also have long term memories, and they can remember their friends
even if they are apart for 20 years, by recognizing the unique whistle
of different individuals. For the captured dolphins,
the sole survivors of their community will carry this heartbreaking memory
for the rest of their life. They also develop other health issues. Chronic stress weakens
their digestive system, and they don’t get enough nutrients because all they can get for food
is a few species of frozen fish. Then, as a result, they have
to take a lot of medicines like antibiotics, and supplements,
like vitamins, to support their health. They also develop teeth problems
because they always chew on walls or other objects in their pool,
which is another stereotypical behavior. All these health problems suggest the reason why captive dolphins usually
have shorter lives than wild dolphins. The average life span of the dolphins
in the Hong Kong Ocean Park is less than three years, compared to their counterparts
in the wild, bottle-nose dolphins that usually live up
to 30, 40 years, or even longer. The portrayal of the lives
of captive dolphins which the Marine Park
creates for the visitors, is a misrepresentation of the lives
dolphins have in the wild. And that’s why,
captivity industry always fails to educate and to promote conservation, because the story they’re telling you
is not the story of wild dolphins, but only a fictional story
of the captive dolphins which only tells us what we want to hear. Because the industry consumes
the cruelty in this sugar coating, but with the very act of capturing
and confining them, aquariums will never be the best classroom
for kids to learn about animals, because it is contradictory
to the purpose of wildlife conservation. Wildlife conservation is to preserve the life of animals
and their natural habitat. The notion that seeing
the animals in captivity will help the dolphins
in the wild is wrong. How can cruelty end cruelty? But then, my friends ask me, ‘Without aquariums, how should we learn
about marine animals?” The easiest way will be going online, see some documentaries,
and read some books. And here are more alternatives
to dolphins captivity: the facility itself, like the pool,
can be turned into a sanctuary to keep injured dolphins
or life-threatened dolphins. The main objective of keeping
the dolphins is to rehabilitate and reintroduce them back
into the wild after they recovered, but not keeping the animals
in the facilities for entertaining the masses. The other area of aquariums
can become a museum-like facility to show carcasses of marine animals. The best part of doing this is that people can still see
the real animals in front of them. It’s very much like
when you go to a museum to see the fossils of dinosaurs. Kids will always
fall in love with dinosaurs, even if they will never see a real one. Because there are no live animals there, everything the industry can tell
to their visitors is true, and they can carry out
what they claim they are doing to educate the public
and to promote conservation. They can also try to use virtual reality to let their visitors have
an underwater experience. Virtual reality has become
very popular in recent years, and people can feel they’re submerged
in the ocean to see different creatures. This also doesn’t require
any live animals. So they don’t have to always replace
the animals in the exhibits. The only cost is the expense
of the maintenance of those high-tech facilities. So now, what do you think about aquariums? When I look back, I realize, on the day
when I saw my first dolphin, I didn’t know what type she was. I didn’t know where she lived
in the ocean, and I didn’t build
any connection with her. But yet, through these years,
I found the key to end this cruelty. We are the source of demand
for this industry and we are paying money to buy tickets that will eventually go
into the hunters’ hands. So, we have the power
and responsibility to end this cruelty. So from now on,
don’t go to any of the aquariums that keep dolphins
and other marine mammals. And also, tell your friends
and family not to go! You can also write letters
to the industry (Applause) or even the government to tell them
what you want them to do. With all of our help, we can solve this problem
and break all walls for the dolphins. Let me end my part with a quote
from the movie “The Cove,” “We are their greatest threat,
and their only hope!’ Thank you and enjoy your day. (Applause) (Mandarin) Host: Thank you, Taison.
May I ask you a question in Mandarin? T.C.: Yes, please. Host: An aquarium was
recently opened in Guangzhou. But then, the focus of the society
has shifted onto a polar bear which is deemed the most sorrowful
polar bear in the world. T.C.: Yes. Host: You may have heard
of comments on the bear, like, “It lives in such
a terrible environment!” Besides not visiting aquariums
as you suggested in the talk, what actions can we take
as concerned citizens? T.C.: I think the core of the issue
is modern education, because– Excuse my poor Mandarin. Host: You are welcome to use Cantonese. (Cantonese) T.C.: Oh yeah, I forgot
Cantonese is allowed in here! (Laughter) I think education
is the core of the issue. The young generation is
comfortable with the idea of keeping sea animals in aquariums. But could an impact be made
on the way they see aquariums? Yes, and it can be done
by educating the next generation; if they want to learn about sea creatures,
an aquarium is not the right place. As for our generation, we were OK with aquariums being
a great place for wildlife education. and we are too lazy to change. In order to change this mindset
we have had for years, we need to take the message
back to our community and talk to kids. That will be one
of the most effective ways to change people’s
perception on aquariums. (Mandarin) Host: Thank you, Taison. (Applause)

11 thoughts on “Why we should not keep dolphins in aquariums | Taison Chang | TEDxXiguan

  1. We still not have universal basic income for humans. I agree with all of this, but if we cannot even see humans as people, how are we going to respect dolphins.

  2. I do hope Taison that you make a similar presentation in Cantonese! The entire World needs to listen to ​your message! Thank you!

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