Saturday, 28 September 2013

On 'captivity'

A dolphin born among humans, living a meaningful life, touching and playing with humans every day in a marine animal rehabilitation facility
Recently, several persons in online postings about human-dolphin interactions described me as "pro-captivity".

This is not correct.

If you want a label for me, say I am:
'pro-understanding the challenging situation we have with dolphins who live among humans'.

My work is dedicated to understanding this situation and to bettering the conditions under which they live

I oppose capturing dolphins for any reason other than to help them survive.

I seek the best possible care for dolphins wherever they may be. That includes those living among humans.

To respond to the inaccuracy, I will address the topic in some detail. It is a complex topic, and deserves no less.

To begin, a definition of ‘captivity’ will help clarify the discussion.

Dictionaries make a distinction between humans and animals, in regard to 'captivity', as if there is a difference. I don't think there is:  humans are animals too.
Dictionaries state that a human who has been captured is a captive, or ‘in captivity’. 
They also say that any non-human animal who is confined is a captive, or ‘in captivity’. 

Using one word to refer to two different conditions is one way the concept of 'captivity' has become a confused issue.

At what point in a relationship between a human and another animal is there 'captivity'? Are our cats captives? When is an animal unequivocally a 'captive'?

I find the word to be vague, ill-defined, and less than helpful in understanding the complexities of our relations with other animals. I don't accept ‘captivity’ as being an appropriate description for all circumstances in which a non-human animal is in a constructed fact I find it nearly useless.

Nevertheless, I have dedicated much of my life to understanding 'captivity' in all its complexities.
It is not a simple, single condition.

Horses in paddocks are confined so they cannot wander. Dogs on leashes are 'confined' to movements dictated by the person on the other end of the leash. Are these 'in captivity'? 

I think that they are at liberty to express innate capacities, with various restrictions on their movements, created by caring humans who seek their safety and wellbeing and that of others.

An elderly visitor to the dolphins, making contact, sharing a moment
Now to the topic of dolphins.
The ‘captivity’ of dolphins is a reality.

What I mean by saying that 'captivity is a reality' is this: the enclosure and confinement of dolphins exists and must be dealt with.
It is not going away in the foreseeable future.
Dolphins have crossed the boundary lines into human-made spaces, and will remain within them.
There is no 'going back'.

Approximately 80% of the dolphins living in dolphinariums in the developed world were either born there, or have been living among humans for over 20 years, and not 'releaseable'.

Whether we describe this as being the result of mistakes in the past, the product of legitimate curiosities and desire for scientific understandings, an outcome of economic opportunism for profit, or a part of a larger scenario in a spiritual context beyond our understanding, is open for interpretation.

Just as other species have joined humans in a relationship of companion-hood, so dolphins have joined us in our constructed world. They live among us.

I accept the situation as it is. This does not mean I like all aspects of it, or am 'pro-captivity'.
I accept it but do not condone it in all circumstances.

I work hard at understanding it, having done so for over 30 years.

I also work to make the confinement of non-human animals of all kinds to be part of the humane responses humans enact toward the living world, and not an addition to the suffering experienced by other animals. Rescues, best-practice care, release when possible, long-term committments to care, companionship, and compassion for all animals...everywhere. That is my position.

A brief synopsis of the various ethical positions regarding human/non-human relations may help to make more clear my understandings and position:

The position of 'Animal Liberation' is an extremist position, one that ignores many things. It justifies extreme actions, including the killing of dolphins "who would be better off dead than living in a pool", to quote an Animal Liberation dolphin murderer from here in Australia.

The "Empty Cages" promoted by Dr Tom Regan, Dr Thomas White, Dr Lori Marino, and many others are fantasies that are not based on animal welfare, but an abstract notion of 'The Natural World', a world in which humans and other animals live separate lives, apart from each other, leaving each other 'alone'.

The position of 'Animal Rights' has its own problems, inherent in its constructions. Rights and responsibilities are part of the same idea in the legal sense. Having one requires the other. Responsibilities cannot be required of a impossible notion, to require specific actions of non-humans. 

The other way of understanding 'rights' is to conceive of them as 'natural rights', and not legal rights. However, 'natural rights' are impossible to clearly define in a world in which all living things are part of a biosystem in which each depends on consuming others.

This leaves 'Animal Welfare' as the last of the three major pillars of human ethical theories about how to be in right relations with other animals. Some would argue that no amount of improvement of conditions for animals is enough, that all non-humans should be out from under all human care. This anti-welfare position denies human compassion, the innate response we have toward suffering. Walk on by when we come across a dolphin struggling in the surf? No, never. 

Animal Welfare pays close attention to the needs of individuals. Animal Rights and Animal Liberation pay attention to species, not individuals as unique sites of complex histories and adaptations.

Consider this: A dolphin born in a constructed environment is not a 'captive', in my view. It was not captured. It literally and actually has nowhere else to go.

A dolphin rescued and rehabilitated who cannot be expected to survive in the Ocean, and who is given a life-long opportunity to live under human care, is not a ‘captive’. It also has nowhere else to go.

There is one more 'ethical pillar', one that is less acknowledged, but important: the Ethic of Care. Developed as part of Feminism, it recognises that caring for the wellbeing of another is not part of the 'calculus of suffering' that Animal Liberationist and Animal Rights campaigners use to determine ethical behaviour. The Ethic of Care is direct in its individualized responses to the needs of others, and does not discriminate against 'otherness' in any form...including non-human animals.

A young dolphin, born among humans, full of curiosity, delight, and willingness to accept humans into her space, just as humans have accepted her into theirs.
She will have a lifetime of excellent care, no matter how long that may be.
 My position is this: We must always consider the actual individual as we work toward best possible outcomes. This is within the Animal Welfare concept. I add the concept of Animal Rights to this, partially, in the sense that I accept that we cannot know with certainty the 'natural rights' of other animals, but humans can create limits for human actions that enable other animals to thrive and not suffer under human care, as a natural right. And to this, I add the Ethic of Care, one that supports caring for any creature, just as religious traditions urge, as acts of compassion.

There are, of course, many details in this hybrid construction of my ethical stance that require more space and time to discuss than can be undertaken here.

Is this "pro-captivity"?
No, it is not.

It accepts the reality of what already is, without condoning it, and aims to continually improve how we treat dolphins who live among us. It accepts that some circumstances can bring dolphins across the species boundary, into human care, and that this is the most important part of the issue: how can humans improve their care of other animals, some of whom have joined humans in constructed environments?

Does this meet the demands of some activists who state that “captivity is captivity and it must be abolished”? No, it does not. Rather, my position suggests that we need to make clear what we oppose, what we accept, and what we can, in unity, support.


C. Scott  Taylor, Ambassador