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Watching Dolphins And Working With Communities

Irresponsible tourism can hamper the fragile coastal ecosystem. Unethical dolphin-watching practices adversely affects the conservation value and the wildlife experience. Photo: Sunil Chauhan

I moved to Goa almost six years ago when I joined the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations (FIAPO) to run their campaign to ban the establishment of dolphinaria in India. In a bid to boost tourism, state governments of Delhi, Maharashtra, Kerala, Gujarat and Goa were planning large oceanariums, which would hold captive dolphins on display, much like the Sea World in the west.

I had recently completed an M.Sc. in Biodiversity, Conservation and Management from the University of Oxford as a Commonwealth Scholar, and had actually been building up an interest to work on human-elephant conflict management. However, a new job and relocation opened up a window into our oceans and coasts, which had thus far, been a completely unknown zone to me. Having grown up in Bengaluru, coastal visits were limited to holidays, and I knew very little about marine ecology and conservation challenges. At FIAPO, when we began planning the campaign, along with inputs from ecologists studying cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) in India; I was fortunate enough to learn from Dr. Lori Marino, a neuroscientist and expert in animal behaviour and intelligence, formerly on the faculty of Emory University, U.S.A. Internationally known for her work on the evolution of the brain and intelligence in dolphins and whales, she is especially recognised for her ground-breaking 2001 study that offered the first conclusive evidence for mirror self-recognition in bottlenose dolphins.

Another marine mammal scientist, Dr. Naomi Rose had also published several papers about the impact of captivity on cetaceans. As I learnt more about these amazing mammals, their emotive and cognitive abilities, their complex social structures, their incredible bonds with one another and their habitat use, I was disturbed to realise the physiological and psychological trauma they experienced in captivity, due to our exploitation of these intelligent, sentient beings in the name of entertainment education and profit.

We, in India, know much too little about our oceans, much less about...

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