Capitalism and captive marine mammals go hand in flipper

Click image for theme song

Kathleen Stachowski Other Nations

Dillard’s department store has raised my ire. Again.  And again, swimsuits figure in.

The first time–several years ago now–a swimwear sale ad blew me out of the water with its sexualized portrayal of a six-year-old girl. The swimsuit itself was OK…well, except for the two big flowers printed strategically on the chest of the swimsuit top. That, combined with the exotic dancer pose the child was photographed in, and I was e-mailing Corporate Office in a hurry and a fury to suggest that their advertising department sorely needed some awareness-raising and sensitivity training.

This time, a quarter-page ad trumpets “Swim Day,” a swimsuit promotion running in conjunction with Discovery Cove in Orlando. Come in and try on a swimsuit! Register to win the Grand Prize and you could find yourself swimming with dolphins, snorkeling with rays, and hand feeding exotic birds. In the background behind the swimsuit model, four captive dolphins leap from the water in a synchronized stunt.

Dillard’s won’t get a letter from me this time (I don’t shop there anyhow) any more than Mattel did for SeaWorld Barbie–you can’t fight every battle, right?–though this particular Barbie manages to combine an unrealistic body image with animal oppression in an exploitation two-fer.

Click image for ALL of Barbie’s careers

In case you missed SeaWorld Barbie’s appearance, ad copy from the Shamu Store website at SeaWorld (parenthetical snark is added) reads: “Show your little girl you support her dreams (to exploit captive wild animals for profit) with our signature SeaWorld trainer Barbie. Dressed in a realistic SeaWorld wetsuit, this Barbie comes complete with her own pool (suitably small for extreme confinement) and three adorable aquatic friends, a seal, dolphin and baby Shamu (whose natural lives as sentient individuals are of no account so just fuhgeddaboudit). Just add imagination (and domination) and it’s show time! Not for children under 3 years old due to possible choking hazard (ALL ages susceptible to moral hazard of speciesism).”

Feminists–and mothers of girls–have long criticized the negative message Barbie’s impossible proportions send girls about their real-life bodies. At one mom’s blog, the author laments the fact that her small daughter loves sea animals but she (mom) won’t purchase SeaWorld Barbie for her because of the body image thing. Sadly, the animal oppression thing isn’t anywhere on her radar. (Quick, send that woman a copy of Sister Species!)

How like our species–it’s all about us, right?–to romanticize swimming with dolphins, to turn their tragic circumstances into some kind of spiritual high without ever stopping to consider what this means for dolphins. According to one-time “Flipper” trainer-turned-anti-marine-mammal-captivity-advocate Ric O’Barry,  “Dependent on sonar/sound to navigate their vast ocean homes, dolphins and whales are in constant state of distress living in cramped pools, bombarded by noise, stressed by food deprivation and forced to perform.”

The dolphin captivity industry—and, make no mistake, it is a very lucrative industry—imprisons dolphins and places them in small concrete tanks or artificial lakes, depriving them of freedom, of their families and, all too often, of their lives.

In many cases today, captive dolphins are coming from horrendous drive fisheries in places like Taiji, Japan and the Solomon Islands. The aquarium staff actually works with local fishermen to pick out the best ‘show-quality’ animals for captivity, while the rest of the dolphins are butchered with unimaginable cruelty, usually for their meat or teeth. Some swim-with-dolphins programs will claim that their captive dolphins are “rescued” animals from strandings that cannot be released or were in-bred during captivity. In reality, only a fraction of captive dolphins were brought in through these means. ~From “Don’t Swim With Captive Dolphins

As if dolphins don’t have enough on their plate (that is, when they aren’t actually on the plate themselves…), the World Trade Organization just last week ruled that America’s “dolphin safe” tuna label discriminates against Mexican fishermen. Said a spokesperson for the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office in defense of the label, “(Dolphin safe) provisions…seek to contribute to dolphin protection by helping ensure that, when consumers favor tuna products that are dolphin safe, the U.S. market does not contribute to fishing practices that are harmful to dolphins.”

Of course, those fishing practices are definitely harmful to tuna, but one fish is food while another “fish” is friend.  And how like our species to exploit even our friends and call it entertainment–perhaps even a spiritual immersion. Talk about your choking hazard.

7 Responses

  1. Good article and to the point, unfortunately most won’t care as the attitude is that we humans are superior and non-human animals are food.

  2. The Discovery Cove ad is such a scam, Kathleen. It suckers innocent, gullible, animal-loving children into pestering their parents to swim with the captive dolphins. And, voila, here comes the moulah pouring into their cave — oops, I mean their cave. Their pirate’s cave.

    And no doubt the same little girls clamoring to kiss dolphins are now bugging their parents to buy SeaWorld trainer Barbie. If only they could watch, not the fraudulent Discovery Cove, but the real Cove, the film documenting the slaughterfest in Japan, from where these cute dolphins came.

    They would then see with their own eyes that, behind the deceptive dolphin “smile” is immense sorrow over lost families and lost freedom, and immense suffering from being forced into slavery.

    The most recent Christmas card a long-time-but-far-away friend sent me was a photo of her swimming with a dolphin. I believe she called it the highlight of her year. Or one them.

    I wish I’d had the courage to write back and tell her that for the dolphin, every second spent swimming with strangers instead of riding the ocean waves with a pod of free-living friends and family is a lowlight.

    I wish I’d told her that, as with any other animal-exploiting enterprise, her idea of heaven is a Discovery Cove dolphin’s hell.

    Maybe this Christmas I will mail her a DVD of a certain movie. Should I admit in my accompanying greeting that I didn’t have the heart to watch it myself?

  3. Misogyny and speciesism on the high seas! Ummm… I mean in concrete water prisons. What a farce to link the “sexy” one with the oppressed other. It’s infuriating for sure.

    I live about 35 minutes from Sea World – When guests come to visit it’s always difficult to explain why I don’t recommend spending good time or scarce money there. But I do. The tell about the stolen ones. The killed ones. The confined ones. The sad, endless days these once free beings must endure to “entertain” us all. I get the rolling eyes. The sighs (groans) and reluctant “polite” promise to “do something else”. Since I’m not one much for going… I never know if they add lies to all that and go to seaworld anyway… Or Bush Gardens or Arabian Knights all just minutes from each other.

    Yep! Central Florida a vacationer’s paradise… If animal exploitation is your thing it’s like Vegas is to gamblers. I love my home… I just despise what vile, monstrous trappings surround it.:/

  4. BUA–I haven’t watched The Cove, either. Or Earthlings. And I, too, got regaled with a picture and story about getting a “kiss” from a captive performing whale. I smiled and said nothing. I don’t think it’s lack of courage that prevents you–or me–from speaking up…maybe weariness is more like it. To feel a disconnect even with friends is demoralizing.

    Provoked, sounds like you’re in the thick of it and All Roads Lead to SeaWorld. Kudos to you for giving your guests the lowdown in spite of the eye rolling and heavy sighs.

    Dogsarefurry, you’re probably right. Kinda like preaching to the converted here.

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