Dolphin projects were started in the late 20th Century by marine biologists to save dolphins from anthropogenic destruction and misuse. A dolphin is a friendly sea mammal that is reputable for its human-friendliness. Dolphins are able to interact with human beings on shores and beaches. Swimming with dolphins is the most reported cases where dolphins have formed a close relationship with man (Davidson). This closeness of dolphins to man was the motive behind establishment of dolphin projects in two ways. One, this closeness was counterproductive. Excessive interaction of human with dolphins was harmful to biodiversity. Marine animals are wild and their natural habitat is wild aquatic. However, this interaction drew dolphins from their natural habitats to beaches and sea shore where they could interact with people. Additionally, this interaction was likely to cause transmission of parasitic zoonotic diseases (Fayer et al 534). If humans transmitted infections to dolphins, this could be the beginning of an aquatic cycle of infection that could lead to the deaths of other marine animals like whales and seals. Furthermore, this closeness prompted people to domesticate dolphins as pets, again disturbing the marine biodiversity. Domestication of dolphins reduced the aquatic population and greatly affected the breeding patterns of these valuable sea mammals. The other method through which dolphin friendliness motivated their conservation was deep regard for the animal by humans. Some people noted that their human-dolphin interaction was having negative effects to the ecosystem and decided that it was time to save the dolphins for the future. It has been three decades since the inception of the dolphin projects. A close evaluation of the project proves that much have been done towards saving the dolphins. However, reported cases of death or misuse of dolphins indicates that there is still more to be done in achieving the goals of the project.
The dolphin project has made remarkable strides in saving the dolphins around the world. Among the achievements of the dolphin project are ending slaughter of dolphins, prevention of close human interaction with dolphins through swimming and feeding them, prevention of experimental use of dolphins and prevention of zoonotic diseases through active vaccination of dolphins. These activities have been done through multi-sectorial collaboration between different stakeholders like the dolphin project, US marine conservation agencies and country specific government and non-governmental conservationists.
In Japan, there was an ancient culture in which people hunt and kill dolphins for slaughter. The slaughter seasons began in early September and went through to December. The dolphins were captured in numbers and slaughtered to be sold as meat in different butcheries around Taiji in Japan. However, the certain interested parties in collaboration with the dolphin project started a campaign in 2015 dubbed The Cove to bring this activity to a stop. The Cove was looking for a million signatures to press the White House and the Japanese government to take a proactive role in the conservation of dolphins (The Cove). Since then, dolphins have not been hunted for slaughter any more. The awareness created through the campaign made the dolphin hunters to neglect the hunting culture in varying degrees.
Currently the Ric O Barrys dolphin project is collecting signatures to petition the Congress to illegalize capture of dolphins for recreational purposes. The program dubbed the End Swim-With-Dolphin is masterminded by the dolphin project pioneer Ric O Barry. In the petition, Ric loathes of how the cetaceans are starved to prompt them to interact with humans to get food (O Barry). Further, the dolphins are taken through a rigorous and apparently awful training program to enable them to master the tricks of swimming with humans. This petition has done much to create awareness to the people on the dangers of capturing dolphins for profits.
Another remarkable achievement of the dolphin project is vaccination. In 2006, the U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Program in collaboration with relevant stakeholders developed a vaccine targeting a dolphin mobilivirus that is fatal to dolphins. The vaccine which was in its trial phases was inoculated into six Atlantic dolphins which developed long term immunity against the deadly virus (Vaugen et al 211). These are just some of the activities that have been undertaken by the dolphin projects throughout the years. A myriad other initiatives were developed in the 1980s and 1990s.
Apparently, the measures undertaken throughout the world have not succeeded in preventing the deaths and misuse of dolphins. There are people who are earning a lot of money through dolphins by capturing them for swimming. Furthermore, the campaigns for conserving the dolphins have not reached many parts of the world, and rural fishing communities are still killing dolphins because they feed on smaller fish. In addition, some people have rejected the international call to save dolphins had have continued with practices that threaten or endanger dolphins. Still, vaccination has not been able to prevent all bacterial and viral diseases infecting dolphins in their natural habitat.
In 2013, hundreds of dead dolphins were washed ashore on the United States coast after they succumbed to measles-like viral infection. The virus which killed more than 700 bottleneck dolphins in the 1980 killed more than 300 dolphins in 2013 (Newitz). This statement underlines the need to for extensive scientific research to determine the prevalence of viral and bacterial diseases in dolphins across the world water bodies. This research will enable the conservationists to design a method of mass vaccinations that will target dolphins in the water. In the shores of Costa Rica, a deadly bacterial disease claimed the lives of thousands of dolphins (Gabriela et al 1430). The infection called neurobrucellosis is zoonotic. It is possible that it was transmitted from people in South America who might have contracted it from drinking milk from infected cows. It was also reported that the infection was similar to another found in other species of dolphins inhabiting the same water bodies (Gabriella et al 1433). It is therefore necessary for the dolphin project to create awareness of zoonotic transmission of diseases from human to dolphins.
Sea pollution is a threat not only to dolphins but to entire marine life. However, there is still widespread pollution of water bodies by oil ships and other forms of environmental pollution. A study carried out on marine life in polluted waters indicated high level of immunotoxicity in dolphins (Desforges et al 131). The dolphin project has not been very vocal in advocating for a stop to sea pollution. Is should take the frontline in campaigns against this vice. Marine poaching is still at large. Whales, dolphins, sharks and seals have continued to be hunted for meat, fat and other industrial and domestic use. It is upon the dolphin project to stand up against any form of activity the poses a threat to the existence of dolphins including poaching.
In summary, dolphins are very friendly animals. They have been used for recreation in the beach and entrepreneurs have been fetching money through these animals. The human love for dolphins motivated special interest groups to start campaigns against capturing and hunting of dolphins around the world. Despite the popularization of campaigns, there are still anthropogenic activities that pose a threat to the existence of dolphins today. Ric O Barry dolphin project has been the most vocal project in conservation of dolphins. The project has collaborated with the government of Japan to stop illegal poaching of dolphins in Taiji. It has also petitioned the Congress to illegalize capture of dolphins for swimming. The US marine authority has also taken part in the conservation of dolphins through vaccination against mobilivirus. However, the dolphin project efforts have not fully succeeded in the conservation of dolphins. There have been cases where dolphins have died due to zoonotic infections meaning that human are still interacting with dolphins. The increased pollution of water bodies has resulted to death of dolphins but the projects have not aggressively spoken out against the vice. It implies, therefore, that there is still room for improvement and the dolphin projects need to rise to the occasion and occupy this room.
Davidson, H. Lonely dolphin making human friends, but experts ask swimmers to stay away. The Guardian (2014). Accessed on 4/5/2016 from http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/jan/07/lonely-dolphin-making-human-friends-but-experts-ask-swimmers-to-stay-away
Desforges, Jean-Pierre W., et al. "Immunotoxic effects of environmental pollutants in marine mammals." Environment international 86 (2016): 126-139.
Fayer, Ronald, Jitender P. Dubey, and David S. Lindsay. "Zoonotic protozoa: from land to sea." Trends in parasitology 20.11 (2004): 531-536.
Hernandez-Mora, Gabriela, et al. "Neurobrucellosis in stranded dolphins, Costa Rica." Emerg Infect Dis 14.9 (2008): 1430-1433.
Newitz, A. An epidemic virus similar to measles is killing hundreds of dolphins. Gizmodo.com (2013) accessed from http://io9.gizmodo.com/an-epidemic-virus-similar-to-measles-is-killing-hundred-1216952530 on 4/5./2016
O barry, R. Petition: End Swim With Dolphin Programs. Dolphin project (2016). Available online at https://dolphinproject.net/take-action/petition-end-swim-with-dolphin-programs/
The Cove. End The Senseless Slaughter In Taiji. Dolphin project (2016). Accessed on 4/5/2016 from https://dolphinproject.net/take-action/save-japan-dolphins/
Vaughan, Kerrie, et al. "A DNA vaccine against dolphin morbillivirus is immunogenic in bottlenose dolphins." Veterinary immunology and immunopathology 120.3 (2007): 260-266.
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