In January 2013 Rachel Carbary visited Taiji, a small Japanese fishing village notorious for its annual dolphin massacre.
Between September and April each year fishermen undertake the cruel ‘tradition’ of driving pods of dolphins into a small ocean cove at Taiji to face a brutal selection process. Those deemed most attractive are nominated for life in captivity, while others are viciously slaughtered for their meat which contains toxic levels of mercury.
Volunteering her efforts Ms Carbary journeyed to the village to document the brutal hunt, witnessing first-hand the ties that bind the captive industry with the synonymously red cove. Inspired by her journey, Rachel vowed to give a voice to captive cetaceans, founding Empty the Tanks in the hope that “a multiple location protest on a single day would bring some attention to the issue.”
Five years on the annual anti-captivity event provides a peaceful platform for activists to stand together and speak out against an industry that exploits captive dolphins and whales.
This year there are 54 registered events spanning across 21 countries from the United States to European nations such as England and Russia to Dubai, South Africa, and Japan. In Australia, there are events scheduled at dolphinariums on the Gold Coast and Coffs Harbour.
In Coffs Harbour the death of baby dolphin Ji-Ling, who spent the first two years of his life in a chlorinated tank at Dolphin Marine Magic before dying of a fatal heart attack after trainers attempted to remove metal and leaf litter from his belly, is still fresh in the minds of activists. Meanwhile, the same park continues to exploit Bucky, an elderly male dolphin who despite having suffered from a cancerous ulcer is still made to participate in presentations, giving dolphin kisses to cheering audiences.
In Australia 35 dolphins are currently held in captivity, according to Ceta Base, the captive cetacean database. Sea World on the Gold Coast is home to 30 Offshore Bottlenose Dolphins alone. Defending its captivity program Sea World states, “The majority of our dolphins have been born at Sea World as part of our managed breeding program which has been in place for many years. Some animals are third generation and others were transferred to Sea World many years ago when other facilities in Australia and New Guinea closed.”
Known for their conservation efforts, Sea World’s good intentions seem somewhat insidious when you consider that some of their tanks were designed for entertainment purposes. Any marine park that keeps cetaceans and defends itself with the rescue and rehabilitation mantra should be investing tourist dollars into sea pens, instead of into displays of greed and obedience.
Over the years, Sea World has made an effort to distance itself from the drive hunts in Taiji which are fuelled by the demand for performing dolphins saying, “Sea World does not support Taiji or any other drive fisheries and no animals at Sea World have been sourced either directly or indirectly from Taiji.”
Ms Carbary has other ideas about what Sea World is doing, even going as far as to call the marine park “hypocrites.”
“You cannot support dolphin and whale captivity while also opposing the Taiji dolphin slaughters. Those slaughters take place every single year because of the demand for captive dolphins. It is a fact we all know, but that the captivity industry tries to ignore,” Ms Carbary said.
Dolphin Marine Magic in Coffs Harbour, which is home to 5 Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphins, maintains a similar opinion expressing on their website, “Dolphin Marine Magic deplores the drive catches and senseless slaughter of dolphins in the 'Cove' at Taiji and fully supports the efforts of brave volunteers in Taiji who attempt to record the horrific slaughter, bringing attention to the world through peaceful and law abiding means.”
Empty the Tanks was founded in 2013, the same year acclaimed anti-captivity documentary Blackfish premiered, and there combined impact has been unmistakable. The American string of SeaWorld parks, not affiliated with Sea World on the Gold Coast, saw a loss of more than $80 million in 2014 which led CEO Jim Atchinson to resign.
Since then SeaWorld’s profits have plunged 84 per cent and last year the companies’ stocks hit an all-time low. Tourists are hesitant to visit the park following claims that orcas are severely mistreated.
Despite the cost to business, SeaWorld refuses to acknowledge the impacts of Blackfish or the shift in public opinion. SeaWorld has, however, announced the end of their breeding program, which will eventually lead to the wind down of the theatrical orca and killer whale shows.
Last year it was announced that SeaWorld San Diego would end their theatrical orca shows in 2017, and in Orlando and San Antonio the shows would be phased out by 2019. Publicity garnered by protests such as Empty the Tanks have encouraged many to classify themselves as anti-captivity supporters and this is changing the industry of marine parks, for the better.
Rachel Carbary says the industry is finally waking up to what people have to say.
“The message of ending marine mammal captivity is growing worldwide and I think we will see the end of the captive industry in the coming years,’ Ms Carbary said.
While anti-cap protesters are passionate, Empty the Tanks is in no way an extremist movement. Instead they acknowledge that while some cetaceans might be suitable candidates for release, others should be retired into sea pens.
May 13 marks Empty the Tanks Worldwide day, which is hosting a slew of protests across the country. If you’re interested in hosting an event, please email Rachel Carbary at email@example.com or you can check the website to find your nearest event.
May 13th 10:30am – 2pm at Dolphin Marine Magic, 65 Orland Street, Coffs Harbour, New South Wales. For more information please click here.
May 13th 11am – 2pm at Sea World Seaworld Drive, Main Beach Goal Coast, Queensland. For more information please click here.