False alarm: This dolphin did not die; however, the officials at Ocean Park say that this is normal behavior for this individual dolphin since her capture. Obviously this is not ‘normal’ behavior and something is very wrong here regardless.
Seeing this picture does bring up a good topic of discussion. Suicide in captive whales and dolphins is actually not new and some will dare to say it is common. Some of the famous suicides were done by today’s popular cetaceans.
Hugo is known well for being the whale that Lolita shared a tank with at the Miami Seaquarium and then ultimately ending his own life by ramming himself headfirst into the side of their tank. It was reported that he has done this on several occasions, even breaking the aquarium glass at one point.
Or otherwise known as one of the Flipper dolphins. While she was a cast member in this much loved TV series, Cathy really gained her fame after her death through the memory of her former trainer Ric O’Barry who, directly after her death, decided to fight captivity and to stop the Taiji dolphin slaughters.
Cathy ended her life by taking her last breath and sinking to the bottom of her pool, right in front of her former trainer, changing him and the face of captivity forever.
Aside from these two very sad tales there have been several cases where it is thought that dolphins and whales have committed suicide while being held in captivity. Through scientific research it is said that whales and dolphins are conscious breathers. They are not like humans where we breathe without thinking, every breath for them is a conscious effort. If they wanted to end it all all they would have to do is close their blowholes.
There are some people who dismiss that whales and dolphins are conscious thinkers. They say that they are programmed to survive and don’t have the intention to end their own lives. Some scientists say that despair is not something that marine mammals feel. This is where other scientists and many advocates have to disagree. It is common knowledge that even cats and dogs can feel despair so why would it make sense for something as intelligent as a whale or dolphin, who have been proven to have empathy levels higher than humans, to not feel these same intense emotions?
We are past the days when anthropomorphizing whales and dolphins is unreasonable. They have proven to us that they feel the same despair in the death of a family member as we do and they have also proven to us that, like us, they do not do well being locked up. Something that officials for whatever reason continue to overlook is that the average life span of a killer whale in captivity is less than half the life span of orcas in the wild. Killer whales in the wild can live between 50-80 years on average (males living the least amount of time and averaging around 50 years) which would mean that on average captive whales die before even entering adulthood by orca standards. It’s a very sad realization that has gone ignored for so long. What is even more sad is being able to look at Lolita and know that she is a miracle whale, but also realize that she could literally go downhill any day now. What is sadder than that? She is only middle aged.
It is a clear indication that, “Hey, something is wrong here.”