Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Releasable vs Non-Releaseable

What makes a rescued rehabilitated dolphin releasable or Non-releasable? According to NOAA's release guidelines (page 19 of PDF) certain things should be considered before a dolphin (or any marine mammal) is released back into the wild. This post will touch on these critira's.
Release potential is characterized and categorized based on a thorough assessment of the health, behavior, and ecological status of the animal, as well as the release plan. It is critical that detailed historical, medical, and husbandry records are maintained and reviewed. Based on the findings from the Assessment Team, the attending veterinarian provides a recommendation on releasability to NMFS or FWS. The Agencies will review and consider this information as a part of the release determination review process.
(NOTE: The Assessment team and attending Vet, are people who belong to the facility that the animal is held at. NMFS or FWS does not actually look at the animal, only a report that the facility provides them)

Historical Assessment

  • is there an ongoing epidemic among other wild marine mammals in the area
  • any environmental events such as an Alga bloom, Hazardous waste spill, acoustic insult or special weather condition
  • Has the animal stranded before
  • was the animal exposed to any other wild or captive animal will at the facility
Developmental and Life History Assessment
All rehabilitated marine mammals must have achieved a developmental stage wherein they are nutritionally independent or released with their mothers. Nursing animals should not be released in the absence of their mothers.Young animals must prove they can hunt and feed themselves.
Important questions to be addressed include:

1. does the species depend on a social unit for survival or does it exist solitary in the wild,
2. has the animal developed the skills necessary to find and capture food in the wild,
3. has the animal developed the social skills required to successfully integrate into wild societies,
4. is there knowledge of their home range or migratory routes,
5. does the animal have skills in predator recognition and avoidance.

Behavioral and Ecological Assessment and Clearance

  • demonstration of normal breathing
  • swimming and diving with absence of aberrant (i.e.,abnormal) behavior
  • auditory, and/or visual dysfunction that may significantly compromise survival in the wild and/or suggest diseases of concern.
Medical Assessment and Clearance

The medical assessment includes information related to any diagnostic testing, treatment, and response to treatment. The attending veterinarian should perform a hands-on physical examination upon admission and
prior to the release determination. The attending veterinarian should review the animal’s complete history including all stranding information, diagnostic test results (i.e., required by NMFS or FWS), and medical and husbandry records.

Release Logistics
All marine mammals are required to be identified by markings and tags prior to release. If animal is to be released, a release site must be determined. The site will very depending on age and sex of the animal. Considerations such a environment, predator threat, food source, and if their is a population of the species being released.
So what does this all mean?
 Well in my opinion it means the life of the dolphin is truly in the hands of the facility that "rescued" it. There are many organizations out that that truly have the animals well being in mind. Many want to save the animal and get it back home as soon as it can. But, there are some, that will benefit from these animals being labeled Non-releasable, and with these guidelines, its not hard for them to see to it, that an animal is non-releasable.
 First off the attending Vet and team, are normally on the payroll of the facility that the animal is being housed at. They are the ones that writes the report for NMFS. NMFS never looks at the animal, just the report the facility provides them. Then you look at what makes an animal releasable or not. Any facility that wishes, can suggest every dolphin is non-releasable given these guidelines. If the dolphin is young, they can say the dolphin can not hunt for itself, even if no attempt is made to prove either way. Dolphins are social animals and even though you will see a lone dolphin or a pod of just a few dolphins in many areas, the facility can claim that the dolphin is non-releasable due to the fact that dolphins are social and needs a pod to survive. If the dolphin showed signs of depression or anxiety while in captivity, and the facility put it on medications, the animal could be deemed non-releasable due to "needing" these medications. And of course, given the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, any dolphin stranded in this area could be deemed unreleasable due to uncertainty of its environment. Thus, if a facility doesn't have the animals best interest in mind, they can pretty much find a reason to keep any dolphin rescued from the wild.
 These guidelines MUST be changed. The point of rescuing animals is to help them. Deeming them non-releasable, and sentencing them to work for either the US Navy or entertaining mindless humans, is not helping...its called SLAVERY! A dolphin or any marine mammal, should only be deemed non- releasable after every attempt possible has been made to release them. If an animal is truly non- releasable they should be placed in a huge (and I mean huge) sea pen. It should be fed fresh fish and not be required to work for its meal, after all, if the animal was given a choice, I am sure it would rather be released only to die, then to be forced to do something unnatural, like eating dead fish and dragging people around by its dorsal fin!
 The facility, though can make a suggestion, should not have anything to do with making this decision. A Vet and an evolution team should be made up of people appointed by NMFS or NOAA, and should have no ties to captive dolphins at all.

 Recently, in the Netherlands, an Orca was found swimming in shallow waters. The young female, that was named Morgan, was in very bad shape when found, and rescuers worked hard to save her life. The whale, who is now doing great, was deemed non-releasable, without a single attempt to release her.  Instead of housing this young whale until her pod  could be located and then trying to release her, she has been sentenced to life in captivity. Why? Is this really best for her? Who are we to decide this for her? Now SeaWorld has stepped in to offer advise on the Orcas care. Some would say, "That is kind of SeaWorld to be concerned about her!" and your right, it is. But consider this...Seaworld is the leading facility of Orcas in captivity, with the most "successful" breeding program in the world. But with limited whales, their breeding lines run close. Morgan offers a new breeding line for SeaWorld. Even if Morgan stays in The Netherlands, she can be artificially inseminated (more then likely with Tilikum's sperm, since that's all SeaWorld sees poor Tilikum as these days) with the offspring being sent to Seaworld. But, I see poor Morgan making the long flight across the ocean and joining the SeaWorld breeding factory in the US. Either way, because of the selfishness of her rescuers, Seaworld, and every single person who pays to see these animals in captivity, another amazing creature has now been sentenced to a short life of pain, suffering, and heartache.
So, what about those that are considered releasable? Well, they seem to not always be so lucky. Fact is, that even Marine Mammals deemed releasable are up for grabs for marine parks and other facilities that house marine mammals. But how can this happen? If a animal is deemed releasable, how can it possibly still be denied the right to freedom?
   On March 5 2010, IMMS submitted a request to obtain 8 RELEASABLE sea lions for public display. These animals would not be taken from the wild, but from a rehabilitation center. The request stated they would consider non-releasable animals, but would prefer releasable ones. I encourage you to read the request, it is 20 pages long, but well worth it. It gives the general public a look into how these people justify keeping animals in captivity. The reasons are outrageous. For an organization that is supposed to be rescuing, rehabilitating, and practicing conservation, this document tells a different story. The goal of rescuing and rehabilitating is to release as many animals back into the wild as possible. Not to keep them for selfish reasons. But this is what is happening, with reasoning being  "If released the animal might be attacked and killed by a predator, something that would not happen in captivity."
    I want to take a few seconds to argue the "If released the animal might be attacked and killed by a predator, something that would not happen in captivity."  point that was stated in the request by IMMS. Although a marine mammal in captivity may not have to worry about sharks or orcas, it appears they still may not be safe, from the reckless actions of their caretakers. IMMS  President, Moby Solangi, lost 5 sea lions and a harbor seal when he abandoned these animals, as a Major Hurricane was heading towards his facility. These animals would have never been there if they were NOT in captivity, or if he (Moby Solangi) had removed them from harms way, but he didn't. Need another example? In 1984, at Gulfarium, in Ft. Walton Beach, Fl. a 7 month old Sea lion, named Sushi (sadly enough), died after being attacked by a facility guard dog. If Sushi was not in captivity, this would have not happened. Those are just two examples, I am positive if I took more time, I could come up with many more.  So, I feel this argument of what may or may not happen if these animals are released, is ridiculous, to say the least.

 Bottom line is this. Its time that we, humans, make a change. We can not allow these animals fates to be decided by those who will profit from them. We must work together and fight to change not only the guidelines, but the way these guidelines are enforced. We must demand that these animals are given a fair chance at a normal life. Just because one saves the life of an animal, does not give one the right to that animals life.

1 comment:

  1. If you were given the choice, what would you do?

    "Your family might be out there in the world somewhere. You can take your chances to set out and find them. You can take the chances on finding love and friendship or you can stay here and be a slave for the rest of your life."

    What choice would you make? The sad thing is, they have no choice. It's up to us to make the choice for them, by not buying tickets to marine parks and not engaging in swim-with-dolphin programs.