By Sandra McElhaney

Swimming With A Captive Dolphin

The captive experience is equivalent to jail,
except the dolphins committed no crime and have no hope of parole.

You are looking at a defining moment in my life. PLEASE read what I have to say in its entirety. Thank you.

My name is Sandy McElhaney. I hold a Master’s Degree in Counseling from the University of Maryland. For over a decade I served as Director of Prevention for the National Mental Health Association. In this capacity I helped communities across the United States adopt researched and validated programs for the prevention of mental disorders. I advised federal agencies and congressional staff, served on the planning consortium for Healthy People 2010, the Nation’s Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Objectives and also as a member of President Clinton’s White House Conference on School Safety. I have authored numerous publications in my field.

In January 2008, my world was rocked with the diagnosis of breast cancer. There was a kiwi-sized tumor in my left breast. What followed was a hellish year…five surgeries….eight rounds of chemo…28 days of radiation. During treatment I was stripped of most of my choices and much of my dignity. I can’t tell you how many medical personnel had their hands on what was left of my breasts or how many times they attempted to draw blood from veins that had been nearly pumped dry. The worst was the crowded chemo suite where I would sit, hollow-eyed and bald, alongside the other cancer patients, tethered to IV’s for hours on end. That room was the definition of despair. How on Earth did I end up there? All I wanted was my life back. I lived in constant fear that I wouldn’t see my sons grow up. I wondered if there would ever be a time that I would feel normal – much less – joyous again.

After a grueling year, I was pronounced cancer-free! Now it was time to walk shakily away from the nightmare. Our family planned a Caribbean vacation. Along with much needed beach time, a friend recommended a place called Dolphin Cay. We were going to swim with dolphins!

It was expensive: $130.00 per person for 30 minutes. We donned wetsuits and waded into the shallow water. “Our” dolphin was a calf named Bimini. Bimini’s job was to slap her tail and pose for pictures. She wanted NOTHING to do with it. She just wanted to do what kids do: She wanted to play. After a while, the trainer sent her off. In her place, came Cherie. One by one we lined up to kiss her.

My turn finally came…I was eye to eye with her…then I saw the look…the same look that I had seen so many times in 2008…at the oncologist’s office…in the chemo suite…and in the mirror. The look of complete despair…of hopelessness…of a soul trying to find a life she once had.

I came home and absorbed everything I could about marine mammals in captivity. I watched The Cove, A Fall from Freedom and the 2010 Congressional Hearings. I have followed Sea Shepherd’s Cove Guardians, who have been are on the ground in Taiji to shine a light on the cruel dolphin drive hunt, since September 2010. I have viewed almost every available piece of footage on dolphins and whales taken into captivity. I can tell you with great certainty that none go willingly. There is NOTHING humane about the process of being netted and hoisted from the sea, from one’s home, from one’s family, from one’s life. There is no humanity in this process and there is certainly no dignity afforded to those souls who will spend the rest of their lives in captivity.

The captive experience is equivalent to jail, except the dolphins committed no crime and have no hope of parole. In the wild, they go wherever they want, swimming for miles on end in whatever direction they please and with their extended families. In captivity, they are torn from their families and forced into a finite (and often chlorinated) space. Wild dolphins catch and eat live fish. Captive dolphins eat dead fish that is typically stuffed with anti-depressants, antacids and other drugs to address the numerous health issues that plague them. Ultimately, the lifespan of a captive dolphin is significantly shorter than its wild counterparts.

I am here to say emphatically that the capture, transport, display and captive breeding of dolphins is the very definition of inhumane! Wild dolphins belong in the wild. Dolphins, beluga whales and orcas are not here to entertain us. They aren’t “smiling” because they are happy – they are smiling because that is the way their faces are built. They aren’t kissing you and posing for dumb photos because they love you, they are doing so because they won’t be fed otherwise. Dolphins are wild animals; they belong to the oceans. They do not belong to humanity.

Once you know better, you have a moral obligation to do better.
Sandra McElhaney