Dolphin Hope Died in an Aquarium – Scared and Alone – Was That Humane?

‘Hope’, the Chinese White Dolphin injured by a boat propeller in January, was euthanised on February 10th after its bodily functions started to shut down overnight. Hope was first sighted by university students on January 16 with large wounds on its back that were so deep they exposed the marine mammal’s vertebrae. The spines above its fluke was completely severed.

Bowing to intense public pressure and activist lobbying, ‘rescuers’ located and caught it 18 days later at Lantau’s Shek Pik area. He was then handed over by the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department to Ocean Park’s rehabilitation facilities, where he was given fish, tubing fluids and antibiotics and where a vet cleaned the wounds.

Initially there were some signs of slight recovery as carers attempted to help him regain the loss of more than 20 percent of his body weight (up to 50 kg), after at least three weeks of limited feeding, by hand feeding him fish .

But his condition only deteriorated overnight (10-11th of February) and it failed to respond to treatment. He began regurgitating his food and his breathing became weak. His body temperature started to drop and he lost buoyancy.

A necropsy and a virtopsy will be performed to investigate the extent of Hope’s wounds, internal organ damage and infection to allow park staff to as much as possible for the care of any future injured dolphins. 

 As mentioned in my previous post on Hope’s capture, Ocean Park and almost every other captive dolphin facility have a pretty poor record at keeping even healthy dolphins alive, let alone rehabilitating them (successes are the exception that prove the rule).
But activists and the general public were not satisfied with this or the prospect of the dolphin simply dying in the sea, so the animal was ‘rescued’ and transferred to a sterile, featureless and alien environment (tank) in a operation that would have increased stress levels, where it was then completely alone without even the possibility of acoustic contact with other members of its own species. The chances, as Ocean Park’s vet in charge even said, were always slim for such severe injuries. So faced with the highly likely death of the dolphin – it was decided it should die all alone – scared and stressed – in addition to its painful and fatal injuries.

Many people harbor feelings of passive misanthropy – a latent hatred of humanity, because we all know humans are screwing up the environment. The result is a desperate need to ‘fix’ the situation. Consequently, scientific opinion is frequently dismissed and even attacked, if it advises the public to not act. In the case of Hope the dolphin, HK’s leading expert on local dolphins  Dr Samuel Hung was publicly criticised and his reputation damaged because he advised leaving the dolphin alone. Scientifically that was the right call. But most people did not want to hear that. People like to humanize dolphins and that is good in some ways, in fact it helps their conservation to some extent. But the humanising of animals serves primarily human emotional needs to love and care for another living being. The side effects can be both positive and negative. 

The ‘rescue’ of Hope was dubbed a ‘humane act’, but if you think it through the vast majority of humans, if we could chose the setting of our own death, would want to die in familiar surroundings with family and friends present. The prospect of our final moments being born out in a clinical, chlorinated prison cell completely alone except for the watchful eyes of the group of aliens who removed us from our homes and put us in the cell. This sadly is how Hope met his end.

What is interesting, too, is that the same activists who insisted on putting this dolphin in a marine-themed amusement park facility, also adamantly campaign against this dolpinarium facilities at the same time.  This indicates to me that there is not a rational reason behind the rescue, but more of an emotional one.

So there we have the even sadder end of an already sad tale. Sometimes ‘rescuing animals’ can be the worst thing to do.

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