Strong arguments exist for keeping dolphins in captivity

Posted on 31 August 2011

Therefore, you need to apply emotions to destroy them.

By Belmont Lay

About 1,000 animal lovers showed up at Hong Lim Park on Aug. 28 to form the shape of a dolphin to campaign against Resorts World Sentosa's decision to keep dolphins in captivity for an interactive programme.

Recently, a friend of mine asked if opposition political parties in Singapore can pull some weight in helping animal rights activists with the dolphin issue at Resorts World Sentosa (more about this issue spelt out below).

I thought about it for a long time, about 15 minutes to be exact, and came to the conclusion that civil society would be in a better position to deal with this particular issue.

Here’s why:

1. Haven’t we in Singapore been fed up by the consistent intervention on the Goverment’s part to lord over us? Aren’t you sick of the Government having to tell you who you can marry, what you can smoke, where you can smoke, how many children you must have and which party or president to vote for?

2. If that’s the case, why would I want an opposition party to pull their weight and tell a legitimate business entity what they should be doing or how they should be running their business BEFORE they even get to parliament? What happens when they eventually get into parliament? PAP version 2.0?

So, no. After considering the situation, I told my friend that as much as I think political parties can stand up and make a case for something or other, there must be limits.

Anyways, subsequently, I more or less forgot about this issue until Aug. 18.

In a column that day which promotes his philosophical musings, columnist-wordsmith Andy Ho, the senior writer at The Straits Times, chimed in with his thoughts on this ongoing debate in his little missive titled, “Of animals, rights and moral agency”.

The issue (here we are getting to it) is regarding 25 dolphins to be shipped to RWS some time soon to be held in eternal captivity for the purpose of pleasuring humans through an interactive programme. (The dolphins are bottlenose dolphins by the way, and I really don’t want to know how they interact with humans.)

Leading the angst against RWS is animal rights group, Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres), which has gathered something like one million signatures of protest from around the world (through the Interweb, I presume).

So, according to the resident philosopher at this nation’s broadsheet, is Andy taking aim at the activists with what he wrote? What arguments did he use to discredit the thinking of activists? What is his stand?

Andy’s primary question is: Would freer animals indeed be happier?

This I must add, is the primary motive that Acres is pressuring RWS. They want the dolphins back in the wild where they are freer to roam and happier.

So, to the conclusion first. Andy’s stand is pretty straightforward: The hard sell comes when Acres has to convince people (like normal non-eco-vegan people) that animals in captivity are indeed subjected to cruelty.

Because Andy himself can hardly see how bad it is for dolphins to be wandering around aimlessly in a tank. Hey, he says, the dolphins are in the company of five vets. It can’t be that bad? No pain for them, right?

His entire argument, therefore, is premised on pain and whether animals suffer from it. Well, he says, yes, animals do feel pain and are likely to suffer.

But we as humans cannot assure pain and suffering doesn’t befall upon animals. Ever.

Moreover, as humans, we can’t access the animals’ mind and we can’t see it from their point-of-view. So, to pretend we can feel their pain is ridiculous. We shouldn’t try.

Besides, Osama bin Laden, who was a human (but ask an American and it will beg to differ), being able to feel pain was no reason not to kill it, right?

So animals have no special protection from pain or suffering because, hey, even Osama took one in the gut (actually, above the left eye).

So, to Andy, the killing of animals, which do not have moral agency or come with rights, and hence, do not have responsibilities, is categorically different from killing humans, who come with rights and responsibilities as moral agents.

But if humans are not spared some times, what more for animals?

But going by nature, dolphins can also be some other animals’ lunch when they’re roaming wild. Which means there will be pain and suffering and that is something no one can prevent from happening.

Moreover, it is perfectly fine for animals to kill animals because that’s what animals do. Because animals have no moral agency unlike humans.

So, philosophically speaking, if humans slaughter humans, like what that loser Anders Behring Breveik did in Norway to 91 people one fine day because he felt like it, it is inappropriate to compare it to the slaughtering of animals for food in McDonald’s or Kentucky Fried Chicken. (That’s what rocker Morrissey said on stage recently and he shouldn’t say it again because he just committed a philosophical faux pas with that statement).

Because once people are accorded rights, they cannot commit senseless killing. To kill another human is to take away the rights, responsibilities and agency of that person. Which would be wrong.

Therefore, murdering someone is wrong. Except in cases such as Osama’s.

But this mass killing does not apply to fast food animals and is not considered senseless as they have to die because people need to eat, so it’s ok, plus animals don’t come with that kind of rights and moral baggage like people do.

And this is where things get a little grey: Andy only says we are required to treat animals humanely, because as human agents, human morality dictates that that is what we have to do.

This means we need to know where to draw the line: And here’s where I’m guessing. Stabbing a bunny for fun to stain its white fur pink is not ok. But to kill a chicken in a controlled environment to make sure it dies swiftly and using its flesh for food would probably be ok. We just need to take care in doing so.

Therefore, back to the dolphin issue. Left out in the wild, dolphins can roam freely and this makes animal rights activists warm and fuzzy inside. But going by nature, dolphins can also be some other animals’ lunch when they’re roaming wild. Which means there will be pain and suffering and that is something no one can prevent from happening.

Based on Andy’s reasoning then, that’s why he is saying it is ok for dolphins to be in captivity as long as they are treated ok.

Leaving them out in the wild is an alternative, but you can’t assume it is an overwhelmingly better alternative.

Going by the arguments so far, the eco-vegans are down about four-nil now. So what else can we use to bring the score back to a tie?

This is where Andy exits, and where I come in.

I guess we need to ask the important question then: Do animals out in the wild live longer than animals in captivity? If you ask animal rights activist, they will probably insist it to be the case as captive animals suffer stress and die prematurely.

I thought about this pretty long as well, about 15 minutes to be precise, and I can only rebut and conclude as thus: Sometimes baby dolphins get born, and they get eaten by a walrus and their life span amounts to about 20 minutes.

Sometimes they live to a ripe old age of about 50 years old. And they can also appear in Hollywood movies.

But because scientists and aquariumistas do not have access to the cemetery of dead dolphins, it might be hard to find an average age that they live up to. The dead dolphins would have exited the sample and you can’t reason based on survivorship bias.

So this question about how long dolphins can live in capitivity compared to the wild is void.

Nonetheless, here’s the point of today’s missive: I hate the idea of dolphins in captivity for purpose of pleasuring people.

I hate the idea that the dolphins have to do all kinds of funny things with hairless apes. That’s sick!

Let them go RWS, damn it!

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  • Jolene Tan

    While animals do not have the same moral rights as humans, I’m glad that Andy and you agree that it is important to treat them humanely. The definition of ‘humane’ is the crux of the argument for freeing the dolphins into the wild. It is not true that we are not able to assume that leaving dolphins in the wild is a better alternative. The argument that treating them humanely only requires providing food and shelter, away from the dangers of the world is akin to a parent telling his teenager that there is no need to leave the home because it’s safe and everything he needs is at home.

    You might protest, “Dolphins are not people!”. But they are.

    “Dolphins have large, sophisticated brains, elaborately developed in the areas linked to higher-order thinking. They have a complex social structure, form alliances, share duties and display personalities. Put a mirror in their tank and they can recognize themselves, indicating a sense of self. When trained, they have a remarkable capacity to pick up language. [..] They get syntax. Some tantalizing studies even suggest dolphins share their own language.” (From http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2011/02/seti-dolphins/)

    For more strong arguments AGAINST dolphin captivity, read:
    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/science/article6973994.ece

    • Belmont

      Thank you for adding to this discussion.

      I believe, the most difficult task, is to show that animals in the wild is a much better alternative. But i also think this is too great a burden of proof to be expecting of anyone, scientist, philosopher or otherwise. What i am cheekily suggesting is for animal rights activists to use both hard facts and heuristics to get their point across. And the heuristics part shouldn’t be limited to gore value, which is traditionally the case whenever there are exhibitions about the cruelties of smuggling or animal products harvesting.

      • Observer

        Animals in the wild is certianly a much better alternative than a hubris teaching others not to be a hubris. There is no burden of proof.

      • 104,095 TKL Supporters

        Animals in the wild are certainly a much better alternative than a hubris trying to teach others not to be a hubris. This is not too great a burden of proof. A shark is a shark and cannot wear a dolphin skin.

      • 104,095 TKL Supporters

        Animals in the wild are certainly a much better alternative than a hubris trying to teach others not to be a hubris. This is not too great a burden of proof. A shark is a shark and cannot wear a dolphin skin.

      • 104,095 TKL Supporters

        Animals in the wild are certainly a much better alternative than a hubris trying to teach others not to be a hubris. This is not too great a burden of proof. A shark is a shark and cannot wear a dolphin skin.

    • Evolution

      I believe Jolene completely lost all credibility (or her marbles) when she says dolphins are people… And to point out further, her above description of the intellect of dolphins can also be said for dogs and cats. Animal activists of all people should know that household pets were once wild animals that have simply become domesticated after generations of captivity under humans. If they so strongly believe that domestication of animals is wrong, they too should show support by not keeping pets. Let them adapt back to the wild and allow nature to take its course