Subject: Captivity issues

Caroline DeLong (
Wed, 21 Apr 1999 11:22:04 -1000

At 12:12 PM 4/19/99 -1000, you wrote:
>To Whom it May Concern,
>        My name is Jennifer Fraker and I am a junior at the University of
>Vermont.  I am writing a few different papers on marine mammals in
>captivity and the welfare issues that are involved with these animals.  I
>would aprecciate it if I could ask you a few questions about the issue.
>I was woundering what your feelings are about marine mammals
>that are kept in captivity?
>Do you think that there are some reasons that can justify marine mammals
>being kept in captivity?
>Do you feel that certain marine mammals are better off in captivity then
>in their natural environment?
>These are just a few questions that I would like to get your opinion on.
>If you have any other information that you want to share with me it would
>be greatly aprecciated.  All insight that you can share, will help
>Thank you for your time.
>Jennifer Fraker

Hi Jennifer,

The question of whether marine mammals should be kept in captivity is a
sensitive one and there are many and varied opinions.  I can only present
you with my opinion.  Others might share a different perspective and if you
are really interested in the topic you might want to ask a variety of people.

Since I am a scientist working on animals in captivity, you might guess
that I am in favor of keeping marine mammals in captivity.  But only under
certain conditions-  (1) when there is a good, defendable reason to do it
(e.g., when intelligent research is being conducted properly, or when the
animal is sick and needs care), and (2) when there is excellent care being
provided to the animals by trained staff.  Marine mammals require good vets
that can accurately diagnose and treat them, keep good records on their
growth, eating habits, and physiological measures, and be able to respond
quickly in emergencies.  Marine mammals also require trainers who are
attentive, train properly (punishment is not used, only positive and
negative reinforcement), and are able to coordinate other staff members and
guests and teach them how to behave in the right way around the animals.  I
am fortunate in that my lab has all these things.  We have an excellent
trainer and great medical care for the animals.

As far as justifying keeping marine mammals in captivity- there was a
debate on MARMAM recently (Marine mammal electronic discussion group) on
just that topic recently (it went from July to September).  You might want
to check it out.  If you subscribe to MARMAM you can request back logs.
Basically, it was pointed out that research, in some cases, can assist our
conservation efforts by providing us with invaluable information on such
things as marine mammal sensory systems, thermoregulatory, cardiovascular,
and energetic biology.  What we learn about marine mammals in captivity can
help us learn how to protect them better. For example, conducting
controlled experiments on how loud sound has to be before it causes a
temporary threshold shift (temporary hearing loss that doesn't hurt the
animal) in the animal can tell us about how loud noise has to be before
permanent hearing loss would set in (let me emphasize that the experiments
do NOT cause permanent hearing loss). Then, researchers can make that
information available to industries or agencies that send sounds into the
water and they can adjust the level (i.e., volume) so that it doesn't hurt
the animals.  These experiments, made possible by animals in captivity,
help animals in the wild.

I hope that helps.

Caroline DeLong
Marine Mammal Research Program 
Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology
P.O. Box 1106
Kailua, HI  96734