Story by Taylor Nichols
18-year-old Giovanni Galarza, a student at Whatcom Community College, sat in the Syre courtyard Sept. 25 informing students of two issues which he is passionate about – the captivity of cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises), and the yearly slaughter of dolphins in Taiji, Japan.
Galarza said that he is a big supporter of conservation societies like Orca Network and Sea Shepherd, who aim to protect cetaceans. He has been passionate about anti-captivity and fighting whale and dolphin cruelty since he was in 6th grade, but the orca whale has been his favorite animal since he was 3 years old.
These animals aren’t meant to be put in captivity,” Galarza said. “They’re so powerful and so much like us, literally the only difference is in appearance and a language barrier.”
Galarza said that orcas born in captivity usually don’t live more than eight years due to stress, disease and inter-animal aggression, and dolphins and whales from different global populations don’t speak the same language and therefor can’t communicate with each other, which causes them to assert themselves using force and develop social order in this way.
Each year in Japan, hundreds of dolphins are captured from September to March.
“Less than one percent of these animals will be ripped away from their families and sold to aquariums,” and the rest are killed for consumption, Galarza said.
This was brought to light in 2009 by a documentary called “The Cove.”
Marine mammal specialist Ric O’Barry, the original dolphin trainer for the T.V. series “Flipper,” and his team made the “undercover documentary that goes into revealing the secrets [of] the captive dolphin industry and the dolphin slaughters that take place annually in Taiji,” Galarza said.
The film focuses on the number of dolphins killed each year in Taiji and the methods used to kill them. Dolphins are herded into the cove and then stabbed with harpoons and knives, called drive hunting.
Galarza called O’Barry one of the most influential members of the anti-captivity movement, and said that he had been arrested for things such as freeing captive dolphins and trespassing.
The documentary was “very on-the-fence with the Japanese government,” and the filmmakers set up underwater cameras and cameras disguised as rocks in the cove where much of the footage was taken, Galarza said.
“Dolphins are essentially the closest thing to humans you can get in terms of intelligence and social complexity,” which is part of the reason why Galarza said he is so passionate about this topic.
Dolphins are considered non-human persons in India, and it is illegal to capture or kill them.
Aside from ethical issues in the dolphin industry, the sale of dolphin meat poses a health threat as well. Galarza said that dolphin meat, heavily consumed in Japan, is highly toxic and that the levels of mercury can cause birth defects, cancer, other disease and even death.
Taiji officials announced this month that they are planning a park where visitors can watch marine mammals and even swim with wild dolphins, and also eat dolphin and whale meat.
In a mini-documentary called “The Cove: Mercury Rising,” produced by the same group who made “The Cove,” the effects of mercury poisoning are further investigated. The team went to Minamata, Japan, which is where the mini-documentary said most of the research on mercury poisoning is done, to speak with researchers there.
Dolphin meat is so laden with mercury because whales and dolphins are at the top of the marine food chain – they eat smaller organisms which absorb mercury from the water, so large amounts of the chemical build up in their tissue.
“Cultures change for the better, for the ethics. I just don’t think captivity belongs in the 21st century,” Galarza said. “We’ve learned all we can from captivity and now that we’ve learned about the complexity of these animals – it’s the equivalent of imprisoning a human to a life of slavery.”