Taylor McKeown's letter on her other passion

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Dear Readers,

Do you ever watch your sporting idols or favourite team compete and wonder what they do outside of their sport and what their passions are? Everyone has one, but its rarely spoken about in typical interviews. Personally, I find that most journalists are digging for a lucrative story, or ask the questions which the majority of public want to know; usually when I started swimming and why, how I feel before a big race and other swimming related questions. 

However, I am now the journalist of my own interview, and I wish to speak about my passions outside of swimming, which are not about me at all. 

I am a huge fan of high profile celebrities who use their social status, platform and profile for a good cause, whether that be donating money to charities, raising awareness for a good cause or personally going out there and fighting for whats right. Some of my idols in this regard include; Leonardo DiCaprio, for his work preventing global warming and other environmental issues, Hayden Panettiere and Jack River for their commitment to fighting for dolphins who are cruelty treated in captivity and the mass slaughter of dolphins in Taiji, Ellen DeGeneres, for fighting the illegal ivory trade and slaughter of elephants and Kevin Pietersen for his work with SORAI (Save Our Rhinos Africa India). 

Which brings me to talk about my passion outside of swimming.

I’ve been really fortunate in my travels, which has allowed me to swim with wild spinner dolphins in Hawaii, wild bottlenose dolphins in Queensland and humpback whales like these in Vava’u, Tonga, where the level of interaction is completely on their terms. 🐋 Often their natural curiosity and playfulness makes for an amazing encounter. My passion outside of swimming is about providing a voice for the voiceless and those who are suffering in silence. While there are millions of different species in need, I’m turning my attention to the whales and dolphins who are unfairly imprisoned in captivity for our entertainment who are suffering more than we have ever discovered. In the wild, dolphins rely heavily on echolocation to communicate, find prey and navigate without the need for eyesight. In captivity, their most valuable sense is taken away as they are driven into insanity when their echolocation bounces off the concrete walls all around them. They also lose their ability to hunt naturally like their wild counterparts. In the wild, they migrate and travel across oceans, meeting new pods and forever expanding their sense of the world. In captivity they are held in tiny chlorinated tanks until they are forced to perform in daily shows in front of loud music and a screaming crowd. It’s hard not to be captivated by the show, however the dolphin’s naturally fixed smile becomes its greatest downfall as it creates the illusion they are always happy. It has been scientifically proven that dolphins live significantly shorter lives in captivity, often dying from unnatural causes such as stress induced infections, suicide, collisions with the pool and other dolphins, swallowing foreign objects and viruses. Dolphins are so incredibly bored that they often find ways to entertain themselves. A common trend among all captive cetaceans is broken or blunt teeth, due to chewing on concrete parts of the tank. It’s not uncommon for dolphins to turn to other self harm activities to relive the stress of captivity such as jumping out of their pools, beaching themselves and attacking others. If you ever needed a reason to ditch the dolphin show, this is it! #captivityiscruel #backme

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When I was little, I used to love swimming in my family pool and would often play games with my best friend pretending to be different aquatic animals. I was always a dolphin or a whale. I became so captivated by them. I would always hire out large scientific informative novels, filled with pictures and diagrams from my primary school library about marine mammals. I loved watching documentaries about animals and was always surrounded by them growing up. I have become so well educated about cetaceans (the scientific group of whales, dolphins and porpoises) because of my obsession in my younger years. Now I have extended that as far as studying a Bachelor of Animal Ecology at university, with hopes of finishing my degree and obtaining work with tourism, and taking people to see these magnificent animals in the wild.

In 2009 a documentary called "The Cove" was released. Being the crazy obsessive animal nerd I was, I knew about every dolphin documentary and have seen most of them, so when 'The Cove' was released, I watched it straight away. From that moment on, my entire life changed. I was disgusted, upset, confused and felt helpless. At this time, I wasn't anybody. I was a 14 year old girl who had barely qualified for an Australian Age Group Nationals. I was one person, who cared so much about this issue, but had no way of helping. I vowed from that moment on, that if I ever was in a position where I could made a difference I would. 

Now, before I tell you about what I did, I should probably tell you about what 'The Cove' is.

The Cove is a hidden beach in the town of Taiji, Japan. Every year from the 1st of September through to the 1st of March many different species including bottlenose dolphins, pantropical spotted dolphins, striped dolphins, pacific white-sided dolphins, rissos dolphins, short finned pilot whales and false killer whales migrate past Taiji. Local fishermen have learnt that they can capture these dolphin pods and profit from their exploitation in many ways. 

Every morning, a fleet of 12 boats head out in search of dolphins. Once a pod is located, the fleet move in a formation and lower long metal poles into the water. The skipper will bang on this pole with a hammer, which creates a very disruptive wall of sound underwater. This disturbs the dolphin's sensitive sonar and hearing. They panic and try to flee from the traumatising foreign sound. They speed up and jump out of the water in a direction away from the fleet of boats, who push them towards the coast, and eventually into the cove. Once the dolphin pod is swimming inside the cove, smaller skiff boats lower nets to lock them in. They continue to push the dolphins closer to the shore by revving their motors and scaring them, tightening the nets as they move. Soon the dolphins are confined within a small space. The local trainers from the Taiji Whale Museum are then brought in on a skiff boat, to work with the hunters and select the prettiest and most suitable dolphins, destined for captivity. They will have their spirit broken, endure starvation training techniques so they will work for food, undergo vigorous training and finally, will be sold to aquariums around the world for sums up to $250,000 each. The demand for dolphins in captivity has never been higher, and this is where the hunters and trainers make their money.

In one season they had an order for 100 bottlenose dolphins!

So what happens to the remaining dolphins not chosen for a life in captivity performing circus tricks for a screaming audience in a tiny chlorinated pool? They are brutally slaughtered, under tarps which have been hung up to block the view of activists. If you have a weak stomach, skip reading the next sentence. The dolphins are pushed onto a beach, they have their tails tied so they cannot escape. One dolphin at a time, a long metal spike is shoved into their head by hand. Once the spike is removed, a wooden plug is shoved in the hole as an attempt to stop blood pouring into the water and turning it red, looking bad to the cove monitors and activists who are watching from the cliff at top of the cove. Once that group of dolphins have stopped struggling, they are dragged out of the cove, past their living family members who are yet to be killed. The whole process is barbaric, cruel, and unnecessary. The hunters receive little money for the dolphin's meat, and a lot ends up in pet food and fertilisers. 

After the Olympics in 2016, I used my time off to travel to Taiji and see it for myself. I represented Dolphin Project, and let their seasoned activists show me the ropes. Upon my first day, there was a pod of pilot whales in the cove, who had been held in there for 3 days to weaken them, making them easier to kill because they are so large. On day one, I sat at the top of the cove and looked down, filming everything. I saw babies swimming around frantically as their mothers were killed. I could see the beautiful blue water turn bright red as blood spilt into it. I heard the whales thrashing around under the tarps while screaming out to each other. I was absolutely mortified. No words can describe the horror, shock and stress I felt from day one though to day eight. I saw many captures and slaughters, all the while surrounded by police and other authorities who were waiting for me to do something wrong or illegal so they have a reason to deport me. All activists who visit Taiji are in the same situation. The moment I arrived in Taiji, I was chased down by police who made me fill out a sheet full of questions, from that moment they followed me everywhere, which is usual life for the activists in Taiji. 

I am committed to seeing this mistreatment of an animal (not so different to us) end in my lifetime. Dolphins are so incredibly smart, in ways humans do not measure intelligence. For example, they have a unique evolution of the entire limbic system, which is a combination of multiple structures in the brain that deal with emotions and the formation of memories, suggests that cetaceans have the ability to process more complex thoughts and emotions than humans.

 

So the important question is this; if humans are against slavery and racism, why aren't we against the imprisonment, mistreatment and slavery of the very species closest to us?

We have taken advantage of their intelligence and used it as a way to create profit. 

I am asking my readers to help end the demand for captive dolphins by saying NO TO THE DOLPHIN SHOW. If we end the demand, we end the wild captures, and the slaughter. Make the connection, be the difference.

Thank you,

Taylor McKeown. 

Taylor McKeown is competing in the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games. Follow her on Instagram here and read her EL interview here