A deceptively realistic robotic dolphin, made headlines recently, causing people to ask whether robots like this could provide an alternative to the cruelty of keeping dolphins in tanks for human entertainment? It’s an interesting question so let’s explore...
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While criticism of holding whales and dolphins in captivity is growing, alternatives are being invented. Virtual reality and animatronic technologies have improved massively and this robotic dolphin has been created by an engineering company in the US. It is two and a half metres long, weighs 250 kg and its skin is made from medical-grade silicone. It resembles a bottlenose dolphin so closely that we would be hard-pressed to tell the difference from a distance – it’s quite incredible! And the price? A staggering $26 million.
WDC supports alternative solutions to the display of whales and dolphins. A life in a tank, let alone the capture and transport, is extremely stressful for these intelligent and social mammals.
But is it as simple as just replacing live captive dolphins with robotic ones? Presenting these ‘techno-dolphins‘ in their natural environment and using them to demonstrate dolphins' natural behaviours could be an extremely powerful educational tool, whereas encouraging people to interact with a robotic dolphin in a featureless pool environment somehow just perpetuates the myth that dolphins belong in tanks and risks encouraging people to want to swim with real dolphins.
The suffering of dolphins in captivity needs to end and we welcome all innovations that will help us get there. One solution is the creation of ocean sanctuaries like the beluga sanctuary that we’ve created in Iceland in partnership with the SEA LIFE Trust. This world first project allows captive belugas to live in a natural ocean environment where they no longer have to perform in shows and have much more choice as to how they live their daily lives.
More sanctuaries are needed for other species in other locations but this won‘t happen overnight and in the meantime, we need to change the image of dolphins that still prevails in some parts of our society. Whether real dolphins or robots, instead of watching them jump in tanks and interact with humans we should be learning about their natural behaviours, social structures and their need for protection in the wild. These incredible robotic dolphins and other advances in technology have the potential to help enormously with this and we are excited to see where this goes. But let’s not put them in tanks.
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