Friday 22 August 2014

Geographies of the Liminal Dolphin: toward an understanding of the contested spaces of Dolphin-Assisted Therapy

A patient, a therapist, and a dolphin
Dolphin-Assisted Therapy at the Curacao Dolphin Therapy Center
We are delighted to announce the publication of the research project we have been doing for the past five years. It is the basis for the Doctor of Philosophy granted to me, the first PhD ever conferred for social science research on Dolphin-Assisted Therapy. Its title is:

“Geographies of the Liminal Dolphin: toward an understanding of the contested spaces of Dolphin-Assisted Therapy”.

It has been published on the University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia's Research Bank website, with a permanent link.

It can be downloaded here:

Abstract: This research explored Dolphin-Assisted Therapies that have benefitted persons with disabilities and their families, yet have been widely contested in academic and popular media. The research found that knowledge and ethical judgments about the therapies vary according to the distance from which they are produced and that these therapies highlight mutualism between species, requiring a hybrid understanding of ethics. It produced the first social science study of the many types of therapy in the field using Geographic analysis of its discourse and a case study of a clinic in Curacao based on observations and interviews with families and therapists.

For those who are not deeply interested in academic thesis development, and who want to read the parts about dolphins, therapy, and the research we did and our conclusions, we recommend reading Chapter One, then read Chapters Five thru Nine.


We have had significant challenges in the development of this research. The first was constructing a definition of Dolphin-Assisted Therapy (DAT).  Our research has developed an understanding of DAT's many varieties, highlighting 13 different types.

The next challenge was to assemble a history of DAT. No truly comprehensive history of DAT existed. We visited and interviewed key persons in its history, did extensive research in original documents and were able to construct a history that should serve to make clear the key moments, ideas, and persons who have played important roles.

Every published paper on DAT that we could locate was analysed, including papers in Spanish, Greek, Russian, Finnish, German, and English. Some were doctoral theses, some were journal articles, some were seemingly academic but published in non-peer-reviewed sources. We analysed the research of academics who oppose DAT and discovered significant flaws. We did not find opposition based on open-minded and balanced research, but found influential papers written with strongly preconceived biases. Analysis of the 'gray literature' in the DAT discourse, that is, texts that are in the public domain that draw upon science but have not been peer-reviewed, also found a lack of rigorous scientific standards. There we found clear statements made by academics demonstrating bias. What became clear is that studies that conclude that DAT has no validity do provide incentive to do better research. Critical analysis has pointed out various flaws and ways the research can be improved.

Research supportive of DAT was analysed. In doing so, a definition of DAT was developed that includes its many varieties. Some notions of what DAT is were found to not be based on evidence that was available to scientific analysis. While this poses problems for academic understanding it does bring some people to try DAT, drawn by the hopeful descriptions of non-scientific supporters. Some supportive research was well done, revealing significant positive outcomes for many families.

What was especially important to discover was the lack of field research by those who oppose DAT.  We found no significant published research critical of DAT that was based on interviews, visits to facilities, or analysis of medical records. Instead, we found a prevailing concern with the complex ethics of human-nonhuman relations as the primary driver of opposition to this field of therapies. There were few attempts to challenge the actual therapy itself, and these were found to have been done by academics without credentials or documented training for such analysis.

The Agencies of DAT:
The overlapping and distinct areas of influence in Dophin-Assisted Therapy

A significant finding in our research was the benefit to dolphins from being involved in DAT. For those dolphins who live in human care and found to be at ease in human presence and who demonstrate a willingness and enthusiasm for working alongside trainers and therapists, a life apart from the ocean and in daily contact with humans seems to provide important enrichment and social interaction. Therapists refer to the dolphins with whom they work in therapy sessions as their ‘colleagues’, a unique description for a non-human animal.

DAT flow chart:
Key factors and their relations to DAT
Among the other findings were that DAT is holistic, reaching far beyond the interactions in the spaces of dolphin enclosure. Families experienced DAT from the first determination to utilise it. Its effects are felt when their lives become focused on travel, fundraising, family adjustments, and community involvement. Several of the interviewed families described how their local community rallied in support of them, doing fundraising events and becoming much more engaged and supportive of them. DAT also reaches into the lives of providers, the therapists and dolphin trainers, causing global movement, relationship changes, career advancement, and improved lives for the therapists and trainers.

As we searched for concepts that support our findings we found the work of an early Geographer, Peter Kropotkin, who published a book in 1902 on his research that demonstrated cooperation as a significant part of relationships in nature. Kropotkin developed this theory to counter the notion put forward by Darwin and Huxley that competition was the fundamental basis of all relationships in nature. Calling it ‘Mutual Aid’, Kropotkin’s book still influences many areas of biology. Referred to as ‘mutualism’, the concept has now taken on the meaning of relationships that go beyond symbiosis into mutual benefit  based on cooperation. This describes the interspecies work going on in DAT and we used mutualism as an important concept to describe its cross-border work.

Other important work by Donna Haraway, Vicki Hearne, Bruno Latour, Nigel Thrift, William S. Lynn, J. Claude Evans, and Michel Foucault were influential in our work. Among those whose work on DAT has been of special importance to our research are David Cole, Dr. Steve Birch, Dr. David Nathanson, Marco Kuereschner, and Kirsten Kuhnert.

We extend our heartfelt thanks to the Curacao Dolphin Therapy Center for their wonderful support of our research, and especially to the families who were willing to be interviewed, and the dedicated therapists and trainers who took time to share so much with us.
The Curacao Sea Aquarium (center), the Dolphin Academy (bottom right pools) and the Curacao Dolphin Therapy Center (top right pools)

This is the first research ever published on the social dimensions of DAT, the spaces it creates, and the affective realities in which it exists. As a contribution to the body of literature on DAT, it will serve as a milestone. We are very pleased to make it available to anyone who cares to study it.

Warm regards,
Dr. C. Scott Taylor, BSocSc (Hons); PhD
Amanda Hain

Friday 13 December 2013

A Revised Declaration of Rights for Cetaceans

In 2010 a small group of self-selected scientists and activists gathered in Helsinki, Finland to discuss the rights of cetaceans under international law. Their purpose was to formulate a declaration of rights and to garner international support for such a declaration. The conference, entitled "Cetacean Rights: Fostering Moral and Legal Change", produced a declaration signed by the 11 members of the 'Helsinki Group'.

While this declaration is well intended, certain elements in it do not represent the well-being of some cetaceans, especially those 'who have nowhere else to go'

Because the Dolphin Embassy project and the Cetacean Studies Institute have done extensive research on this expanding population around the world, and have come to recognise the very real importance of protecting their needs against short-sighted, albeit well-meaning, efforts by activist organisations, a revision of the Helsinki Declaration has been undertaken.

The revised declaration is presented here. Comments are welcome, and the revised declaration is open for further revision.
To see the original Declaration of Rights for Cetaceans, as produced by the Helsinki Group, you can see their site here.

Declaration of Rights for Cetaceans: Whales, Dolphins, and Porpoises

Based on the principle of the equal treatment of all persons;
Recognizing that scientific research gives us deeper insights into the complexities of cetacean minds, societies and cultures;
Recognizing that increased human interaction with cetaceans has produced deeper insights into their biological, social, and psychological requirements;
Recognizing that cetaceans have participated in mutually beneficial relationships with humans and have demonstrated adaptive capacity such that they manifest fully complex lives in built environments;
Noting that the progressive development of international law manifests an entitlement to life and well-being for cetaceans;
We affirm that all cetaceans as persons have the right to life, liberty and well-being.

We conclude that:
1. Every individual cetacean has the right to life, safety, clean water, and a sonic environment that does no harm.

2. No cetacean shall be taken into captivity or be removed from their natural environment unless not doing so would endanger their survival. Any cetacean taken into human care shall be returned to their natural environment when feasible, determined on both biological and compassionate grounds. If not feasible it shall be provided an enriching environment that includes socialization with other cetaceans and with humans. Cetaceans  in human care shall have the right to bear offspring, recognising this as an important part of their social and biological nature. Any cetacean born in a human-managed environment has special status with a life-long responsibility for their care by humans.

3. No cetacean shall be subject to cruel treatment.

4. All cetaceans not in human care have the right to freedom of movement and residence within their natural environment.

5. No cetacean is the property of any State, corporation, human group or individual, but may become a ward of such entities if necessary to protect and safeguard their life and well-being. Cetaceans who have come into human care, by natural circumstances or circumstances that are irreversible, shall be provided all due care for the duration of their natural lives.

6. Cetaceans have the right to the protection of their natural environment.

7. Cetaceans have the right, equal to protections provided for human cultures, to not be subject to the disruption of their cultures.

8. The rights, freedoms, and norms set forth in this Declaration shall be protected under international and domestic law as well as an international framework under the administration of the United Nations in which these rights, freedoms, and norms can be fully realized.

9. No State, corporation, human group or individual shall engage in any activity that undermines these rights, freedoms and norms.

10. Nothing in this Declaration shall prevent a State from enacting stricter provisions for the protection of cetacean rights as long as the well-being of cetaceans is foremost in such provisions.

Originally agreed and signed, 22nd May 2010, Helsinki, Finland
Revised by the Cetacean Studies Institute, Dec. 2013-Oct. 2014, Queensland, Australia

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

Monday 27 May 2013

It makes us wonder...


We recently received a letter from a movie producer who said he wants to make “the definitive dolphin movie”, asking us for information about Dolphin-Assisted Therapy, a topic which we have been studying for over twenty-five years. 
Dolphin-Assisted Therapy with a severely disabled child and two dolphins eager to interact.
As often happens, they found us through a search on the internet. And as also often happens, we gave them the information they were searching for despite their not offering to compensate us for the expertise, time, and effort we were asked to contribute. How odd it seems to us that some people who claim to know dolphins, who make a study of them, or do films about them, do not pay attention to some of the lessons to be learned from our relationships with them. Especially the lessons about cooperation, that generosity of spirit that ensures strong, healthy, and continuing bonds of trust and mutual support.

Cooperation among “dolphin people” sometimes seems to be as lacking as among any other segment of the human population. We wonder why.

Additionally, when we made an offer to be available as continuing consultants on their film project, they rejected it upon this basis:

“…unfortunately we've decided not to film any captive dolphins in the movie.  We're interested in their healing abilities but serveral of the people we've worked with on the film agreed to work together on the bases of only filming wild dolphins [sic]

How sad. Our response included these thoughts…

“It is too bad you and your cohorts are so restrictive in your thinking. We love our interactions with free-ranging dolphins, but for therapy, a safe and controlled, and easily accessible environment is necessary. For that reason, we have paid a lot of attention to those dolphins living among humans, in constructed environments.

These dolphins are either rescued or have been born among humans. Those rescued would have been dead long ago if not rescued, rehabilitated, and promised a lifetime of care. None of them have been captured, and thus are not "captive".
Calamity, a rescued dolphin. She was rescued twice, rehabilitated and released once, only to be found again, entangled and badly injured by fishing gear. Unable to survive in the ocean, she has lived among humans for over 20 years.

For people who love dolphins and want to extend themselves in service to them, the dolphins who have stranded and become dependent upon humans are the ones they can serve. Dolphins who live among humans are unique, in that they offer us a direct means to begin to understand them, to learn from them, to offer our compassion to another highly developed social species. Note that we say ‘learn from’ and not ‘learn about’. The learning is based on relationships, consistent sharing of the same space and time, often in physical contact with each other.

We refer here to the "trainers" and vets and volunteers and others who live with and care for dolphins as their mission in life. Those who stand along a shore and view them from afar sometimes think of themselves as loving dolphins so much that they will not engage with them directly, fearful of disturbing their freedom. These people do not understand dolphins except as abstractions, the subjects of the research of others.

Do you, or your people, see humans who live in facilities for long-term care as less than deserving of the care we give to other humans? Would you have them turned out onto the streets when they are able to walk if they continue to have other needs? Would you be willing to go into a long-term care facility and euthanise the patients? This is the position of those who see the dolphins under human care, after being rescued, as captive and unworthy of their loving attentions. In England, this is the law, to euthanise any dolphin who might survive only if it is cared for by humans. This law was brought into force by those that made ‘dolphinariums’ illegal. There is no place for them to live if they survive the beach but cannot go back to the ocean.

We have discussed these issues many times over the years with the likes of Ric O'Barry and others, who see all dolphins under human care as unworthy of this kind of love and care, who should be force-fed contraceptives to prevent their having offspring, and this kept up until they die. This, of course, ignores the continuing movement into human care around the world of dolphins whose plight calls upon human compassion to care for them. They will always be arriving on the shore, in need of human compassion. The goal of preventing procreation also ignores the social needs of the dolphins, to bear and care for their offspring.
One of Calamity's offspring, young Bella.
If you want to do a film that includes the whole story of our deep connection to dolphins, how can you ignore those whose sea-born freedom, their destiny, has been given into the hands of humans?

Will you also ignore the stranding organisations who pour tens of thousands of human hours and untold hundreds of thousands of dollars into caring for dolphins, some of whom will have to be given care for whatever lifetime they succeed in having? Have they created "captured" dolphins?

What are the spiritual implications of the life of a dolphin born among humans? It does not belong in the sea, and it does great service as a bridge between lives. It experiences an extraordinary life, learning, playing, sharing, singing it's musical language with other dolphins and among among humans. Is its life without meaning, or ‘inauthentic’ in some way?
This young woman was blinded in an auto accident eleven months before this picture was taken. The opportunity to swim with Bella was her 21st birthday gift. For both Bella and this young woman, this moment was a meaningful moment.
We have become friends (since her birth) with an extraordinary dolphin named Bella. She was born of a rescued father and a rescued mother. Her life is one of continuing exploration, delight in discovery, playful games, close physical contact with humans, and she serves as an excellent Ambassador between her species and ours. Is she to be ignored, force-fed contraceptives, and made to not experience the joys and lessons of motherhood?

What is freedom, in your view? Is it a condition only of the body or of the body and the spirit? Do you know any ‘free’ people who live in small flats in cities? We bet you do. How about humans who are trapped and constrained in their lives, who live in remote settings far from a city? It is a projection of humans that dolphins who live among humans are not ‘free’. They are at liberty, to experience life as best they can in the circumstances that destiny has wrought for them. While movement across great distance is not possible for them, the freedom to live, to learn, to express, and to experience relationships is no less than anywhere else.
Buck meets Tenzin, the Dalai Lama's translator.

One of the dolphins we have come to know, Buck, is 43 years old, and has lived among humans for 42 years. He is well adjusted, healthy, happy, friendly, and a beautiful example of a dolphin who is totally trustworthy, calm among people, able to do much to educate and inspire humans....and he has had unusually caring and non-harsh interactions with humans since his rescue at age 1. No strict operant conditioning, only a cooperative and fully interactive "training system" has ever been used with him.

The lesson here is that dolphins can, and will, do very well among us if we do not ask of them what would stress humans just as much. Inappropriate training systems, by people who have yet to grasp the full nature of the dolphin, has given us the impression that some dolphins are not able to thrive being among us. This is really a non-issue, based on limited understanding. It is a human issue, not a dolphin one.

I am saddened to think that you may take your opportunity to do "the definitive film on dolphins" and not be willing to look at the whole picture. If you do as you suggest, you will do no more than all the others who have done the same, ignoring the very important story of the deeper, closer, more personal and intimate relationships where we care for those whose destiny has brought them to live among us.

If Dolphin-Assisted Therapy is interesting to you, you will not be able to tell the whole story without filming dolphins under human care, where humans and dolphins benefit by working and playing together.”

A profoundly autistic child who had never looked a human in the eye, nor spoken a word. After two weeks of Dolphin-Assisted Therapy, we witnessed her speaking, looking with interest into the eyes of others...a changed life.

 We have to wonder, sometimes, how deeply the thoughts of those who 'love dolphins' have gone. Caring for them, in all of the many circumstances they find themselves in, requires a many-faceted response.

The Ambassadors

Monday 29 October 2012

Research at the Curacao Dolphin Therapy Center

The lagoons in the upper right, surrounded by walls, are where the CDTC conducts its therapy program. With wave-washed enclosures, fish freely swimming among the dolphins, and dolphins who only do therapy, added to an excellent application of widely-accepted therapeutic techniques, the CDTC stands out as one of the best in the world.

My Research at the Curacao Dolphin Therapy Center

I arrived on Curacao in late June of 2011 to begin two weeks of research. It was a wonderful experience, and has added immeasurably to my efforts to bring clarity to the understanding of Dolphin-Assisted Therapy (DAT).

As a long-time researcher on the topic of DAT (I delivered the keynote address at the 2nd International Symposium on Dolphin Assisted Therapy and Research, in Cancun, 1996), I have paid close attention to the developments of this important form of therapy. When I began my PhD research in 2010, as a Geographer studying how animals and humans share the world, my thesis topic was easy to choose: it focuses on how DAT is understood. My research aims to contribute to what often are contested ideas about what it is, how it is done, how it ought to be done, and whether it ought to be done at all. Critics of DAT have made exaggerated and unsubstantiated claims, while some DAT programs have also made claims with no basis in fact. Research into DAT has been kept to a minimum, as the critics marshal  ‘experts’ to produce unbalanced reviews of any research done. Facilities for DAT have been driven from places where they are close to large populations of potential patients, by fierce animal protectionist campaigns, while dolphin facilities continue to be established where few regulations over their performance exists. It is to the debates over the realities of DAT that my research aims to contribute, by closely examining the various positions that support and oppose DAT.

My research project is located in the social sciences. It does not evaluate the effectiveness of DAT, nor does it critically engage with the many different styles of DAT. It does aim to develop a way of understanding the differences in DAT programs, and to understand the many ways that DAT impacts the social experience of the people involved. To this end, I negotiated with the Curacao Dolphin Therapy Center (CDTC) for a two-week visit, to interview the therapists, the trainers, and the families who had brought their children for therapy. My research seeks to understand how DAT affects the lives of those involved, so my interview questions were about the life experiences, the challenges faced, the best and worst parts of the experience of being involved in DAT.

As I was searching for a place to do my research, I found an unexpected resistance among programs I had expected to be supportive. In Florida, several programs that had indicated a willingness to cooperate with my research chose to deny me access. When I approached CDTC, Marco, the Head Therapist and onsite manager was very receptive, encouraging me to make clear to him just what I needed, but with an enthusiasm for my work that was heartwarming. I did not know that he was familiar with a book I had written about the relations between dolphins and humans, and DAT. I was unaware that he used part of my book when teaching his staff! We managed to arrange for a visit that coincided with the end of one series of sessions and the beginning of a new series, so that I might access as many families as possible.

In the end, I managed to conduct interviews with 13 families, 4 trainers, and 8 therapists, an exceptional number of excellent interviews.

Marco was a wonderful host for my work. He arranged for translation when I needed it; he helped me find good (and quiet) accommodations; he enthusiastically promoted my request for interviews to the families and staff; and he went out of his way to help me have a very successful research experience.
A typical session, with an intern (on the left, just out of sight) and a trainer on the floating platform, a patient supported by a therapist, and one of the wonderful dolphins at CDTC.

I came away from Curacao feeling that I had found, by good fortune, the most advanced DAT program anywhere. The standards to which it works, the quality of the staff and its training, the way in which the therapy is delivered (with one-hour sessions in the water, as a special factor), the physical environment, and the very excellent care of the dolphins (Rudolf is a key asset to the program with his wealth of experience), make CDTC stand out as the best facility I have ever seen. I now recommend it to any one who requests my opinion, which is not infrequently!

Thank you Marco, Ms Kirsten Kuhnert (whom I interviewed in Florida prior to my visit to Curacao), and the staff of the CDTC, for a rewarding experience. My thanks to the families also, who took time away from their powerful experiences to talk with an Australian researcher.

C. Scott Taylor, BSocSc (Hon)

Exec. Dir. Cetacean Studies Institute
Queensland, Australia
PhD candidate, University of the Sunshine Coast

Monday 30 April 2012

Sites of encounter with dolphins: are they Embassies?

Do dolphins make choices? 

Should humans honour the choices they make, if they do?

The border, the meeting, the choice: whose choice is honoured?

In the language of academia, choices intentionally made are sometimes defined as an expression of 'agency'. In this article I discuss dolphin agency and how humans respond to it, and announce the publication of a scholarly article that includes a suggested way to understand and respond to interspecies encounter opportunities.

In locations around the world, from ancient times to the present, dolphins, for their own reasons, have sought out human contact. Some do so today in cooperative fishing ventures, where dolphins herd fish toward places where human fishermen stand, waiting with nets. Fish are caught in the nets, gathered up, and some let go for the dolphins to feed on. In the estuary at the mouth of the river Plata, in South America, this has been going on as long as anyone remembers. The Imragen people along the west coast of Northern Africa do the same along an ocean beach, aided by dolphins who drive fish to shore. Australian aboriginal tribes tell of many sites where dolphins drove fish inshore to be caught by humans: on Bribie Island; just north of Coffs Harbour; and at Amity Point on Stradbroke Island, among others.

And then there are the places where dolphins come for another reason: to communicate and to play. Some of these situations last only a few days or weeks, with local people enjoying a brief series of encounters. Some get more well known, lasting weeks, or months. And some, like Fungie, a dolphin who lives just outside Dingle harbour  in Ireland, stay for decades--since 1984. Fungie has been visiting the harbour there for nearly 30 years now. He has been known to have a female friend for several seasons who leaves him behind, to live alone again. His antics with divers and swimmers are legendary, having inspired films, books, healers, mystics, and activists.
Fungie and Kim Kindersley (filmmaker)

Another site where dolphins have interacted with humans for decades in Kealakekua Bay, on the Big Island of Hawaii. Here Spinner Dolphins have come daily for rest, socialising, and human interaction. Numerous scientific studies have been done at K Bay, beginning with those of Dr Ken Norris, who published two books about his research there and elsewhere (The Porpoise Watcher, 1974; Dolphin Days, 1991). A well-known dolphin interaction advocate and swim-experience leader (Joan Ocean) has lived aside K Bay for decades, writing books (Dolphin Connection, 1989; Dolphins into the Future, 1997), leading workshops, and producing various films. Terry J Walker, who wrote "How to swim with Dolphins" (1998), has lived in Hawaii most of her life, and began swimming with the K Bay dolphins in the early 90s, and has tirelessly worked to help humans understand and appreciate the dolphins there so that the interaction can continue.

Kealakekua Bay is the place where I was first drawn into the real-world challenge of dolphin-human interaction as an issue of dolphin choice versus human concerns. Humans, rightly so, have been making an effort there to avoid the problems that have arisen elsewhere, where dolphins have chosen to befriend humans. Research has shown that all-too-often these encounter sites become places of sorrow, where the dolphins suffer for their friendliness (see "Lone Rangers: a report on solitary dolphins and whales including recommendations for their protection", a report for the Marine Connection, by Goodwin and Dodds, 2008). Altho it cannot be said this always happens (see Fungie, the dolphins who visit Monkey Mia, Tangalooma and Tin Can Bay in Australia, and the Atlantic Spotted dolphins living in the waters near Bimini, as examples), there is a sad pattern to be found: the dolphins come, humans interact and all is well, then humans act inappropriately, some official entity passes restrictive rules, some humans get angry, and the dolphin is either driven away, injured, or killed.

No one wants this to happen. Efforts to understand and control these situations, with the aim of protecting the dolphins from harm, have been put in place. However, in some cases, these very rules have led to poor outcomes. Threatening signs posted on beaches, arrests for 'harassing dolphins', and huge fines for innocent interspecies play have ensued at various times.

A sign commonly found along US shorelines, warning of 
"civil and criminal penalties" for interacting with marine mammals.

One of my interests has become this issue: how to accommodate the very fulfilling, educational, stimulating, and for some, spiritually inspiring, experience of interaction with free-ranging dolphins in ways that are safe for both dolphins and humans.  To this end, I conducted a research project under the auspices of the University of the Sunshine Coast toward fulfilling the requirements for my Bachelor's Degree in Geography, under the title "The Dolphin-Human Connection: Embassy or Zoo-without-walls?". I earned a first class Honours degree for this research, which analysed various dolphin-human interaction management schemes. Based on that research, I wrote (with the assistance of Dr Jen Carter) an article for the peer-reviewed journal Geographical Research, which has now been published.  

The citation is:
Taylor, C. S. & Carter, J. (2013) The agency of dolphins: towards interspecies embassies as sites of engagement with 'significant otherness'. Geographical Research, 51 (1), 1-10.(link to journal)

The Agency of Dolphins article explores the question of choice, the intentional volition of dolphins as they come into contact with humans for their own reasons. It concludes that dolphins do have agency -- and that they make an intentional choice to approach humans-- in these situations, and that this choice  deserves to be framed as one of respectful intercultural interaction. If dolphins, and many other animals who are in contact with humans, are often referred to as 'ambassadors' of their species, it seems a simple extension of this common idea to conceive of the sites where this occurs as embassies. An embassy, by common definition, is a place where different cultures come together in a spirit of respect, where cooperation is expected to negotiate ways of communicating that can lead to mutual satisfaction. An embassy implies an 'interspecies etiquette' (first suggested by Cheney and Weston in 1999), which is a considerate stance based on empathy, intended to "create the space within which a response can emerge or an exchange coevolve".

This article is intended to open a dialog, to open an area of interspecies interaction research and subsequent legislation. It seeks to add another worldview, one that takes into account the choices of dolphins, who seem very willing, for reasons we cannot know, to befriend humans. It is up to humans to figure out how to manage human responses to these wonderful opportunities.

Serious researchers can request copies of the article. 

C Scott Taylor

Sunday 5 September 2010

On Saving Whales, on ending their lives

On Sept. 2nd a stranded dying whale was killed by Australian government officials by placing explosive charges on its head and triggering a powerful implosive blow to its brain.  This occurred at Albany, on Australia's southwest coast. The whale was described as being a Humpback, about 9.5 metres long. It had been stranded for approximately two weeks, and was visibly deteriorating. 

At first the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) had determined that no euthanasia was possible for the whale for several reasons. It was "too big to be shot" and because of its position, floating in about a metre of water, "was still strong enough to be a safety risk to humans". The whale moved, stranding itself farther up on the sandbar upon which it rested, effectively immobilising it. At that point, the Albany DEC district manager, Mike Shepherd, decided to euthanise the whale.

"Our main priority has always been to treat this animal as humanely as possible while nature took its course," Mr Shepherd said.
"In the last 24 hours the whale moved a couple of metres from its original stranding position, which was enough to stabilise the whale so that we could carry out the preparations for a controlled implosion to the whale’s cranium."
"We know from experience that predominantly only sick, injured or malnourished humpbacks come inshore, so when they strand they are usually winding down,'' Mr Shepherd said.

The implosion method has been approved by the International Whaling Commission as a humane method to be used on whales larger than 7 metres and death is instantaneous.
As a contrast, a juvenile Humpback whale, approximately 7 metres long, was rescued off the coast of southern Queensland, on Sept. 4th, after having become entangled in a "shark net". According to Queensland shark control manager Tony Ham from Fisheries Queensland, it took officers less than half an hour to free the whale, which became entangled off Surfers Paradise early on Saturday morning.

"The Marine Animal Release Team, made up of officers from the Queensland Boating and Fisheries Patrol and Seaworld, did an amazing job to free the animal," Mr Ham said."Approximately 13,000 whales are expected to be migrating along the Queensland coastline this migration season," he said.
"Juvenile whales such as this are more likely to become entangled than adults as they have less experienced and often travel on their own."
It is the first entanglement this whale migration season.
In 2009 six whales that were entangled in Gold Coast nets were successfully freed.
(To see the specialised tool used to safely cut nets that have entangled whales, and read how these were developed, see:
These incidents, two days apart, highlight the troubled relationship we have with whales (and dolphins). It is with great sympathy that we consider the terrible task faced by the DEC officials in Albany, as they faced the role they took on, bringing such human-centred values to the killing of the stranded whale. It is certain that their concerns were as stated, to "treat the whale humanely", yet we know, the moment when we take an innocent life, especially one not raised to be eaten, or hunted for food out of necessity, is difficult. Many of us reading these words will have had to do something similar when a beloved companion has come to a final, painful part of their life. We call the vet and ask for our friend's life to be ended. It is always hard.
Is the action of the DEC warranted? Would the gradual death of the whale, who was eventually so stranded it could not have been expected to refloat, and whose condition appeared to be deteriorating daily, be acceptable to witness? Was it only the suffering of the whale, assuming it was suffering and not in some state of whale consciousness that was outside our knowing, waiting in some kind of peaceful acceptance, that asked for this decision? Or was it not also the human side, the visions of suffering, the agonising sense that something must be done, something must be done to alleviate our feelings of despair, helplessness, and sadness?
On the other side of the continent a young whale wandered into the shark nets, getting caught. A team of humans, would could have risked their lives to disentangle it, were able to accomplish the task in less than 30 minutes. (See footage of the rescue here:
Who asks if this is right to do, putting human life at risk for the sake of a whale? We imagine no one does, no one pauses, raises questions, attempts to put forward the case that the whale should be left to die. Is that because the nets are human in origin, that humans have created the danger for the whale?
Some people have expressed outrage, in comments left on news sites on the internet, protesting the 'barbaric' treatment of the western whale. While the image evoked by the description of the method used to euthanise the whale is gruesome, after contemplating the issues involved, we find it hard to fault the choice made… in this case, and with the (limited) information we have at hand.
We do not uniformly accept this type of decision. However, the evidence presented by the media, unless we learn otherwise, does make a compelling case for euthanasia. In the case of the younger whale caught off Surfer's Paradise, we consider the responsibility of humans, for placing the shark nets in the ocean (which we do not agree with, as they do little to protect anyone during the winter months with few swimmers and many very young whales heading south for the first time, and do kill cetaceans, turtles, and other sea life needlessly) makes it imperative that every effort possible must be made to save any creatures caught…including sharks.
Something to ponder, these two nearly simultaneous cases.
Be well,
Scott and Amanda