The subject of 'captivity' is a sensitive issue. However, for many species to breed and survive in these challenging times, 'captive' breeding offers a glimmer of hope and often a refuge from environmental degradation issues.
More than 20 dolphins have been born at Sea World and several of our animals are well over 30 years old which is older than many wild animals live to. We believe this indicates the animals are living comfortably and thriving in their environment. It is imperative for Sea World to maintain its dolphin population in order to continue to learn, educate and foster the care for, and well-being of, these precious mammals.
Over the past decade, many marine parks in Australia have closed and some park owners have considered euthanising their marine animals which have included dolphins, seals and sea lions. Where Sea World has been made aware of these issues we have stepped in placing their animals under our care. Dolphins have been transported from as far as NSW, South Australia and New Guinea.
Animals housed at Sea World reside in natural sand bottom lagoons. The water is pumped in from the body of salt water- the Broadwater - which borders the entire western side of Sea World. SW has set new trends and benchmarks in relation to new zoological exhibits for all animals in the areas of technology afnd spatial aspects as can be seen by the provision of very large dolphin lagoons for our animals to give the feeling of space as in the ocean.
The animals respond positively to this natural environment as well as the positive reinforcement that is used at Sea World. If negative stimuli were used, you would not see the animals interacting with the trainers and guests at all. The cetaceans that participate in our show and interactive programs do so for less than 90 minutes per day. The remaining animals are involved in passive education and breeding programs. The majority of time for all our animals is spent socialising with animals of their own kind and interacting with their carers.
The care of animals in marine park environments is governed by strict standards. Sea World is an accredited member of the Zoo and Aquarium Association and partakes in the accreditation approval process of many other institutions within Australia.
Accreditation is a process in which certification of competency, authority, or credibility is presented. Accreditation seeks to provide assurance that contemporary animal welfare thinking is embodied in operational practices and revolves around shared responsibility for the welfare of animals by Association members
Sea World is aware of the dangers facing marine life and is actively involved in protecting these animals and their environment through public education and research. People are more likely to appreciate and protect an animal if they have had the opportunity to 'experience' it up close.
Marine Sciences staff and volunteers are on call 24 hours a day, 365 days per year. Over the years we have attended hundreds of strandings of dolphins and whales, released thousands of birds and turtles from fishing lines, nets and crab pots where no other organisation either had the interest, the expertise or the man power to do so. Each injured animal brought into Sea World is given full veterinary care and 24 hour observation until it is out of danger.
Unfortunately dolphins die just as any other living creature and every person who has cared for them is deeply affected by each loss. Scientifically though, the combined information that is gained by the animals in our care and the information gathered by researchers through SWRRFI, has ultimately saved many other animals' lives.
Knowledge and skills have been increased, equipment and facilities improved. In 1991, a 30 tonne Humpback whale was rescued off Peregian Beach. At Seal Rocks in 1992, Sea World led the rescue of 37 False Killer whales. In 1994, a Melon Head whale was rescued and released from Caloundra as was a Bryde's whale from the Manning River, N.S.W. A Humpback whale was freed from Fraser Island and towards the end of 1994, a team from Sea World flew to Vanuatu where a successful operation saw the rescue of 34 Spinner dolphins. Two dolphins caught up in discarded nets were successfully released off South Australia.
Each rescue comes at a significant cost and while we receive no funding from the Government we are supported by well respected corporate partners and generous members of the public. Sea World however, has committed itself to the wellbeing of all marine animals and so willingly gives time and funds.
Leading International Authority on Whale and Dolphin Biology, Retired Professor Michael Bryden, of the Department of Veterinary Anatomy, University of Sydney, reinforces the vital contributions made by Sea World:
"Oceanaria like Sea World provide a valuable, and in some respects, unique opportunity to study dolphins at close quarters in a controlled manner. Objections to cetacean research in marine parks ignore the serious limitations of research (of benefit to the welfare of species) in the wild environment. The welfare of all animals, including Cetacea, is dependent to a large degree on scientists' efforts to learn, educate and share new understanding about them with the wider community."
Sea World makes a major contribution to marine research projects through the Sea World Research and Rescue Foundation Incorporated (SWRRFI). The Foundation, approved by the Federal Government, is a non-profit organisation established to provide funding for quality research projects, aimed at protecting and preserving the marine environment.
The Foundation is also called upon to help provide funding for projects only partially funded by governments. One example is turtle research being carried out by the Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage. Through further study and continual research, we can be instrumental in the prevention of tragedies befalling these wonderful creatures in the wild that are being threatened every day. We believe it is irresponsible not to consider that the survival of whales and dolphins may well be endangered if we are unable to continue to learn from those in a marine park environment. Research and experience with marine mammals at Sea World has provided vital knowledge to assist conservation efforts for animals in the wild, as well as paving the way for many successful rescues of stranded marine mammals.
Observations and studies that are constantly revised at Sea World, combined with the information that researchers gain, speed up the process of data collection on these little known animals.
To ensure healthy animals for future generations it is important to have the right breeding stock to prevent birth deficiencies. Studies have been done over the past forty years on wild populations in America. They found that of all the births in a year, 50% died before they were one year old. Of the remainder, a further 50% died before maturity. Average age of death then, is 7 - 9 years and average living age is 17. Many of our animals are already well over the average life span of wild dolphins, including Amity, our Indo Pacific Humpback dolphin who is over 50 years of age.
One ray of hope for the future survival of dolphins and whales in the wild is through the research, education and public caring provided by institutions such as Sea World. Every day at Sea World, people see dolphins for the first time in their lives. We provide a first hand, personal connection with these animals; a direct living experience. This unique, interactive experience provides the very foundations for peoples' understanding of these precious creatures and in turn, their desire to care for them and protect them
Some questions that have been asked about animals in a protected environment under human care.
1. Do you think it is bad for marine animals to be born in captivity?
It is not 'bad' for marine animals to be born in captivity; in fact it is to the contrary. The pregnancy and the actual birth is much easier on the female as she does not have to worry about predators, bad weather conditions or finding food to nourish the little one.
Constant medical attention is on hand 24 hours a day and the growth of the baby is monitored throughout the pregnancy via ultra sounding and blood tests. If there are any complications during the birth, veterinarians, curators and trainers are on hand to assist.
Those animals born in human care cope extremely well with life in general. To them, life is normal and they enjoy following mum and participating in training sessions and shows. If anything, they are probably more cheeky than those not born in the park.
2. What is your opinion on capturing marine animals from the wild and sending them to marine parks?
Since 1994 it has been illegal to take dolphins and other marine animals from the wild or even import the animals themselves or any biological material without the most stringent of governmental requirements being met. Approval is only granted for bonafide and ratified cases such as animal strandings. Sea World opposes drive fisheries and has called for the practice to be halted. Sea World has also signed many zoological partitions condemning the practice.
3. What benefits do animals in captivity have over those in the wild? And those in the wild over those in captivity?
Animals in human care have a greater chance of a longer life and a higher quality of life. There are no predators, no worries about bad weather or lack of food and medical assistance is on-hand if required.
Animals held years ago may have been less fortunate than those in the wild because their carers did not know enough about their needs and the enclosures may have been small and sterile. Today however, Sea World pools are interconnected to allow more freedom and social interaction. They are also (and have always been) sand bottom pools creating a very natural home.
It is difficult to say what benefit those animals in the wild have over those in our care. We could possibly relate their lifestyles to that of humans. At one time we were a nomadic race free to move about the land as we liked. Today we are not. Our ways are very different but the majority of us would not revert back to the old ways - we are happy with what we have.
4. Is it bad to release dolphins/whales/seals into the wild after a long period of time in captivity?
Sea World believes the answer to be 'yes'. Atlantas, Western Australia rehabilitated and released five dolphins after years of training. Three of the dolphins eventually returned to the park and it is unclear if the remaining two survived.
There have been other attempts throughout the world to release animals all with various levels of success. Each case is different and cannot be judged by the same criteria. Therefore it is difficult to give a black and white answer. When more information has been gained about these animals it may be possible to successfully rehabilitate them back to the wild.
5. How do you think it affects animals performing tricks and interacting with humans every day?
Firstly, you must qualify the types of animals who are interacting with humans. Even in the dolphin and whale family, many species would not be suitable to hold in human care. These may include larger species such as the Humpback or even smaller animals such as Common dolphins. The Bottlenose dolphins we have at Sea World, like those in the wild, are extremely gregarious, social animals that have interacted with humans over thousands of years.
Secondly, these animals do not perform "tricks". Everything that our dolphins and sea lions do at Sea World, can be seen out in the oceans. They jump, tail lob, somersault, spy hop, swim at high speeds and breech. Therefore they are better known as performing behaviours.
The animals at Sea World enjoy performing. They are natural performers. Sometimes if one is not included in a play session, a training session or a show, they elect to join in of their own accord because they enjoy the interaction and the stimulation. The animals are never forced to complete any behaviour and it would not be possible to make them complete a show against their will. If they do not do a particular behaviour or seem disinterested, it is up to the trainers and announcers to move onto something else to maintain a positive attitude.
It has been will documented throughout time that certain animals enjoy interaction with humans. A perfect example is the number of animals that have been domesticated. Pets enjoy their human friends and in many cases, when treated correctly will do anything to please and protect them. Many dolphins have a very similar bonding relationship with their trainers
In our interactive programs, the dolphins have a large area where they can be by themselves and where no guests are allowed to go. However, it is rare for them to retreat to this space for any length of time as their behaviour indicates a preference to be with the participants.
The dolphins who are involved in the show only 'perform' for approximately 45 minutes each day. The remainder of the time they are socialising with the other animals, playing with the trainers or resting.