Hawaii dolphins lived, by Steven C. Sipman

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, November 1994:

It has been brought to my attention that an otherwise excellent and infor-
mative article in the September 1994 issue of ANIMAL PEOPLE in which my
name was mentioned contains a few errors which should be corrected. The article
unfortunately omitted documented facts regarding the release of two bottlenose dol-
phins from a University of Hawaii research station in 1977. The article stated,
“One vanished; the other was killed within 24 hours when waves dashed her
against a coral reef. Her chances of survival were dubious to begin with.”
Neither dolphin vanished. Puka, the first dolphin, simply swam away.
The other, Kea, was not killed, as was reported. Witnesses confirmed that she was
slightly roughed up in a bungled recapture attempt by inept volunteers.
Both dolphins have been reported together and in the company of other
dolphins by University of Hawaii scientists, professional divers, lifeguards, and
Harbor Patrol employees, days, weeks, and months after their release. Such evi-
dence has been entered into court under oath.

Five days after their release the dolphins were positively identified swim-
ming together about 25 miles up the coast by the very same people who were trying
to recapture them.
Two and a half months later they were seen 45 miles from their release
area by more people who knew them from the university facility.
There have been numerous other reports on the elusive dolphins, some
more believable than others. Some people were reluctant to come forward with
positive sightings, for two reasons. First, when all the “experts” had pronounced
the dolphins dead, witnesses were hesitant to argue with them. Second, there were
those who did not want to see the dolphins hunted down like escaped convicts, who
came forward after the fact, if at all. Both factors may have worked in the dol-
phins’ favor.
It is important to point out the tactics used by those who would prefer to
keep dolphins at their disposal in captivity. It is the same mentality that promotes
keeping women “barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen.” The rationale is almost
always that without the protection of those who keep them, they couldn’t survive.
When that excuse fails, they boast of the educational and conservation
benefits of captivity. When all else fails, they bring in impaired children for the six
o’clock news photo opportunity.
In 1977, when the two dolphins were released, the recent hit movie Jaws
had put the fear of the “watery jungle” into the hearts of many a native landlubber.
Spielberg made a killing.
Preying upon the public’s hydrophobia were the spokespersons for
cetacean incarceration. They found the perfect smokescreen to hide the facts and
cloud some very threatening ethical questions. Fear created “fact” out of fiction.
It was clear from the beginning that the best way to protect themselves
from the moral issues involving the use and abuse of dolphins was for the captors to
pair a negative stimulus with any suggestion that it is wrong to detain dolphins for
our pleasure or profit. So the public was repeatedly told, “the dolphins are proba-
bly, nearly, almost certainly dead, the victims of sharks or starvation.” Such dis-
information takes on a life of its own.
On the same day that the local newspaper published a long, eloquent,
threnodic “Requiem for Two Dolphins,” Puka and Kea were spotted again in
Waimea Bay many miles from their release spot. The same person responsible for
the article about their deaths was at Waimea trying to recapture them. When I
arrived at Waimea, I found they were feeding the dolphins’ call tone into the bay
through a hydrophone. This may not have been such a good idea. Children were
swimming in the bay. Past attempts to use call tones in the open ocean by Sea Life
Park were believed to be responsible for the arrival of sharks. At any rate, the dol-
phins were not interested in anything their would-be captors had to say.
Bottlenose dolphins are extremely adaptable. From a practical and bio-
logical standpoint, they are excellent candidates for survival after release, with
catholic tastes, able to feed themselves on a wide variety of marine organisms.
The longer we study the feasibility of letting a given dolphin or whale go
free, the less likely it will be successful. The reason for this paradox is that old
excuse about how the experts don’t agree. They do, after all, make their livings
off us by disagreeing with each other. Pull their strings and like talking dolls they
repeat, “A breakthrough is coming, but for now the situation needs more study.”
What oceanariums need are less breakthroughs and more breakouts.
But I’m not writing all this just to defend what Dexter Cate, Ken
LeVasseur, Steve Sipman, and the others did back in 1977. More importantly, I
want to defend the rights of all those marine mammals now in captivity who are up
for early parole: let’s give them back what’s left of their natural lives before we
study them to death.
––Haliimaile, Maui, Hawaii
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