“Everyone Loves the King of the Sea”: How Media Representations of Dolphins Shape Popular Understanding and Treatment

 

by Anisah Spahn

University of Colorado, Boulder

 

Abstract: Popular media has an unrivaled ability to shape how people perceive other animals, particularly dolphins.  In this paper, I expand on existing research on the representation of dolphins as peers to humans, as symbols of harmony with nature, as innocent, naïve creatures, and as superior to humans. I will also add a fifth representational theme: dolphins as cultural commodities. I will articulate how understanding dolphins in narrow anthropocentric manners removes their animality, turning independent beings into simple caricatures.  Changing exploitative representations is vital for creating a mutually beneficial relationship between dolphins and humans.

 

 

The role of animals in popular media, from literature to film and television, is a complex and fluid one, with animals being viewed as mindless machines, highly moralized creatures, or blank slates for human projection. Common representations of dolphins in popular media are highly anthropomorphized, depicting dolphins as caricatures rather than autonomous beings. Popular media constitutes an essential aspect of the human-animal relationship because it provides “virtual capital,” which is “the large stock of knowledge and images assembled from sources such as television, film and advertising” that people have about animals (Beardsworth and Bryman 2001: 99; Curtin 2006). This stock of knowledge is usually a “highly processed” representation that rarely matches up with the animals’ reality, a fact that is true in the case of dolphins (Beardsworth and Bryman 2001: 99; see also Curtin 2006: 120). An exploration of the virtual capital on dolphins reveals that they are frequently depicted as harmless, human loving creatures rather than autonomous beings. In the wild, “dolphins form relatively permanent social groups” but in most popular media, dolphins are portrayed as alone in a tank surrounded by people not other dolphins (Shane, Wells, and Würsig 1986: 34). Inaccurate depictions of dolphin norms has consequences beyond mere representation; people’s perceptions of animals impact their treatment in the real world. If people see dolphins as only docile and loving while ignoring their other qualities, it becomes difficult to understand that dolphins exhibit a wide range of behaviors that are not limited to mere complacency. Thus, the linkage between popular media and treatment of real dolphins is inextricable. The relationship between humans and dolphins is further complicated by the paradox that exists between real dolphins and those created by media. Even the term “real” is laden with intricacies regarding the role literature and other forms of cultural representation can play in people’s understanding of these animals as well as what makes a real dolphin, as opposed to the idea of a dolphin as presented in fiction.

In this paper, I explore the distinction between the real and the represented animal and address the consequences of anthropomorphizing dolphins rather than accepting and embracing their animality. Because addressing the cultural impact of centuries of anthropomorphism is beyond the scope of this paper, I begin by situating the representation of dolphins in media with the advent of the animal rights period of British Romanticism. I then explore the implications of Romanticism’s construction of animals, specifically anthropomorphism and personification, on modern representations. Next, I address the four popular themes of dolphin representation in media as laid out by John Fraser, et. al.in their 2006 Society & Animals article. They posit four themes: “1. dolphin as peer to humans, 2. as representative of peace, 3. dolphin as naïve or innocent; and 4. dolphin as superior to humans” (Fraser et al. 2006: 327). This essay adds a fifth theme, dolphin as cultural commodity, through drawing on the story of Winter, the injured, orphaned dolphin in the Clearwater Marine Aquarium whose story blurs the distinction between real and fictional animals.

The fictional animal is important to study as it provides a fundamental and significant form of virtual capital for the public. It follows that it is crucial to promote a more accurate understanding of dolphins that recognizes their animality and individuality. Failing to recognize dolphins’ animality causes cultural acceptance of subjugation in captivity for human amusement rather than allowing them to live autonomously without existing to serve people. While research supports the problems with highly anthropomorphizing dolphins, little suggests any social change. This essay concludes with suggestions for changes that literature, television, and movies should on dolphins.

ANIMALS AS “BLANK SLATES”

For centuries, literature and popular culture portrayed animals as little more than machines, a viewpoint promoted by Descartes’ belief that animals have neither reason nor emotions. In this view, no abuse of animals was considered too terrible because they had “no central consciousness in which the pain could be felt” (Perkins 2003:3). If animals were ascribed any emotion at all, they often had the label of “bundles of lust, greed, and ferocity” thrust upon them (Perkins 2003:3). These negative terms were commonly associated with animals because they easily became blank slates on which to project any human desire or thought. This view of animals as a blank slate has caused animals to be imbued with whatever qualities people choose to thrust on them at any given time without having any correlation to the animal whatsoever. Consequently, animals often stand in for humans in literature by stripping away their animality. Thus, animals in literature–and in society–are seen as malleable objects. The entire process of representation is controlled by humans for human amusement, and the lack of accurate representation in literature only decreases human respect for animal autonomy.

The British Romantic Era

The British Romantic period, from roughly the 1750s to the 1830s, saw a shift in the common views of animals by moving from a machine-like and harsh representation to understanding animals in a more accurate sense. The Romantic period was characterized by a desire to find unity among humanity, nature, and other animals through art, music, and writing. The catalyst for this movement can be traced, at least in part, to industrialization and urbanization, which cast the natural world in an entirely new light. As people began to interact with the natural world less frequently, the desire to understand it in idealized and fictionalized forms increased. Many poems and stories written during this era attest to people’s changing views of the harm done to animals by human hands “and [their] protests against” such actions (Perkins 2003: x). Literature of the Romantic era was often concerned with people’s relationships with other animals through critiques of badger baiting and consuming meat amongst others. In 1822, British Parliament passed the world’s first animal protection law, The Cruel Treatment of Cattle Act, at the same time that poetry advocated for a more humane society. Poems including Robert Burn’s poem “To A Mouse” often suggested the need for a  “fellowship with all living things,” not just people, signaling a shift in popular opinion that was common in the era.  (Perkins 2003: 7).

British Romantic literature was arguably the first body of Western literature with a focus on animal rights. Thus, it set the groundwork for media representation of animals for decades to come and acted as a springboard for much modern writing on animals. During this period, animal representation in literature underwent a dramatic shift from the Cartesian understanding of the animal as a creature to be abused to becoming the most noble of creatures held in the highest esteem. Romantic literature imbues animals “with moral virtues” that elevates their status from mindless brutes to rational and sentient beings (Perkins 2003: 3). Many animals were given a particular characteristic that exemplified their perceived best qualities. Romantic authors applauded the fighting cock for “dauntless courage,” the dog for “fidelity,” and the robin for exemplary “parental care” (Perkins 2003: 3).  While all these terms focus on positive aspects of animals, they nonetheless fall into the trap of “sentimental anthropomorphism” (see Irvine 2004). The phrase “dauntless courage” is certainly associated with humans, as is “excellent parenting” (Perkins 2003: 3). The use of these terms in accordance with non-human animals adds a very different element to the human-animal relationship by ascribing human qualities and ideas to other animals to which they otherwise would not apply. In his analysis of the Discovery Channel’s show Wild Discovery, David Pierson describes the show’s use of “morally judgmental terms” in calling baboons “’criminals, beggars, and victims’” as though they were people committing crimes (Pierson 2005: 703). Using morally judgmental descriptions to anthropomorphize animals removes the baboons’ animality, and instead forces them to fit within the confines of human social understanding. Similarly, to commend a robin’s parenting skills is to create an animal hierarchy, which assumes that one species is better than another on a purely human scale that relates in no way to the species in question. When anthropomorphized this way, the animals turn into characters with a role to fulfill, oftentimes that of the loving mother or dangerous criminal, not animals in their own right.

The Talking Animal

Although sentimental anthropomorphism did not begin with Romanticism, the Romantic influence remains evident in contemporary representations of animals. When animals serve as human stand-ins, their animality is stripped away, removing every aspect that makes them wild, autonomous beings and turning them into mere story telling tools. David Perkins argues that is the case with Romantic writing on animals, that “the animal is just a metaphor, with little character or life of its own that the poet values” (Perkins 2003: 147). Similarly, Steve Baker describes the role of most animals in fiction as that of “talking animals” (Baker 1993: 120). The talking animal is a composite construction that functions as a blank slate for the projection of a human identity. This often means that animals walk on two legs, wear clothing, and behave no different from a human. Baker explains that this type of writing can have a “certain awkwardness” as it straddles the human and non-human animal division without any clear-cut boundaries (Baker 1993: 125). Talking animals are hardly animals; they function as humans and often even look more like people than animals.

Baker details this phenomenon through a study of Rupert the Bear, a popular comic series about a highly anthropomorphized bear created by Mary Tourtel in 1920. At one point in Rupert’s adventures, when another character wants to shove him in a captive holding area with the other non-human animals, he declares that he is not “that sort of bear!” (Baker 1993: 128). Such an exclamation begs the question of what role animals play in literature. Are they to be read as animals or just as human stand-ins? Rupert is impossible to pin down; as Baker explains, he is “a bear who is a boy who is a bear who is ‘not that sort of bear’” (Baker 1993: 128).

Even before Rupert the Bear straddled human- animal boundaries, Jack London wrote in a style characteristic of the anthropomorphic tradition that prospered during the British Romantic period. London’s seminal work, Call of the Wild (1903), is told from the perspective of a dog, named Buck, whose thoughts the reader is privy to. After being beat by people, Buck spends a night “nursing his wrath and wounded pride” as though he were a person who lost a fight (London 23). He is described with human qualities and thoughts, essentially a talking animal.

The tradition of describing non-human animals with human qualities continued through the 20th century with the advent of film. Historian Gregg Mitman provides a thorough analysis of the significance of animal representation in film in the book Reel Nature: America’s Romance with Wildlife on Film (1999). In the book’s foreword, William Cronon describes several of the earliest American documentaries centering on Teddy Roosevelt’s hunting exploits, including Roosevelt in Africa (1910) and Colonel William Selig’s film Hunting Big Game in Africa (1909). Roosevelt in Africa was “visually uninteresting and narratively boring” and thus was not a commercial success (Mitman 1999: xiii). Conversely, Selig’s film was widely popular with “vaudeville-inspired scenes and an actor impersonating Roosevelt,” so though it was a documentary, the program was highly dramatized (Mitman 1999: xiii).These documentaries were key in inspiring fictional animal tales including the 1933 movie King Kong (Mitman 1999: xiv). By the late 1950’s, wildlife documentaries and dramas had become popular in America with the creation of shows including Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, Lassie and Flipper.

Flipper aired in the United States from 1964 to 1967 and featured a dolphin named Flipper who befriended a human family and always appeared at the right place and time to solve issues that arose in their Florida Keys community. The show followed the release of two movies about the playful dolphin in 1963 and 1964, which had such a strong cultural impact that they inspired another Flipper movie and television series in the 1990s.

The lyrics for the Flipper theme song highlight the problem with anthropomorphism: that it removes all genuine identity from animals, even if it focuses on positive qualities. The song begins with the line: ”no one, you see, is smarter than he,” following the Romantic tradition of projecting the best of human qualities onto other animals, as no human is smarter than Flipper (Vars 1964). The dolphins on Flipper were considered to be highly intelligent because they were able to perform the tricks laid out by their trainers. As Ric O’Barry, the primary trainer on the show, writes in his book Behind the Dolphin’s Smile (1988) the character Flipper “was more imaginary than real” because he was “an illusion, an elaborate fabrication, the work of hundreds of talented people” who created his character and behaviors so much so that most of what he did was not innate to dolphin behavior but created by people. Thus the intelligence that characterizes him is the ability to perform the tasks asked of him (O’Barry 2010: 124). Viewers do not learn how dolphins behave in the wild, but are instead taught how they can follow orders (O’Barry 2010: 124). Flipper is also described as “ever so kind and gentle,” which is a very popular perception of dolphins. As wild animals, dolphins are not always what people consider to be “kind and gentle” at all, making it quite clear that this projection of unwavering kindness is unfair to the dolphin as it creates an image of dolphins that is impossible to uphold. As Lori Marino explains, despite the cultural desire for dolphins to be mere friends of humans, “the reality is that dolphins, even those born in captivity, are wild.” She argues that, although parents would never allow their child “in a cage with a lion or an elephant,” many have no concern about Swim with Dolphin programs or trips to SeaWorld because of the misconception that dolphins are jovial and always happy to be around people. Dolphins are not cheerful caricatures, but can be quite dangerous. Marino reports that “injuries ranging from a ruptured spleen to broken ribs and near-drownings” have been recorded at Swim with Dolphin facilities.

Aside from presenting problematic anthropomorphism, the Flipper theme song claims that he “lives in a world full of wonder,” a projection of human awe onto Flipper’s experience of his habitat. The following line claims that dolphins often like to perform “tricks” for the “children,” thus reducing a wild dolphin to nothing more than a plaything. When surrounded by such inaccurate virtual capital, people’s perception of dolphins is skewed. This representation of dolphins problematizes the human-dolphin relationship because dolphins are not understood accurately, but instead as a caricature cast in a positive light, as extremely loving with no other qualities or identity outside the limited range created for them.

The representation of Flipper aligns with Fraser et. al.’s (2006) four main positive themes in popular media representations of dolphins. The four themes are:

  1. Dolphin as peer to humans, of equal intelligence or at least capable of communicating with humans or helping humans;
  2. Dolphin as representative of peace, unconditional love, or an idealized freedom in harmony with the natural order;
  3. Dolphin as naïve or innocent, in which they are subordinate and vulnerable
  4. Dolphin as superior to humans, associated with a higher power or intelligence.

(Fraser et. al. 2006: 327)

Their comprehensive research provides an excellent starting point. In what follows, I suggest that some of their themes overlap in the same examples, and I highlight the adverse effects of purportedly positive representations. I then contribute an additional theme, which sheds further light on the virtual capital people bring to their encounters with dolphins.

The theme “dolphin as peer to human” encapsulates several facets of Flipper’s appeal (Fraser et. al. 2006: 327).  Throughout the show, Flipper acts primarily as a “loyal assistant or protector of humans” (Fraser et. al. 2006: 327). Yet, he also has abilities that cast him as their superior. For example, in the show’s pilot, “300 Feet Under,” a shark prevents the human characters from retrieving a blood transfusion box that one of them desperately needs after a shark bite. The people cannot grab it themselves, but Flipper steps in, or rather swims in, as “protector” to fight off and kill the shark and prove he is a “loyal assistant” by retrieving the box and delivering it aboard the ship (Fraser et. al. 2006: 327). This theme repeats with slight variation throughout the series. Flipper serves an identical role in the third episode, “S.O.S. Dolphin.” In this instance, Flipper leads the human characters to the submarine of an injured man, allowing for his rescue.  Since it first aired, Flipper was the quintessential example of the dolphin as protector, saturating American culture with that ideal.  This trope goes far beyond assistance into servitude, however, as Flipper’s sole role in the show is to serve the people around him.  Thus, the themes combine to offer an excellent model for understanding aspects of the human-dolphin relationship. The way Flipper’s superior skills allow him to assist humans to the point of servitude reveals the very difficult position of representing dolphins as having only one dimension.

As documented by Fraser et. al., a similar instance of dolphin as naïve and vulnerable appears in the children’s book, Story of a Dolphin (1993), by Katherine Orr.  In this tale, based on actual events, a wild dolphin gradually befriends the owner of a dive boat. As the dolphin becomes friendly with the man and his young daughter, he loses his fear of people. As more people interact with him, his dolphin ways cause trouble. An expert comes in to teach the community to interact safely with the dolphin, explaining that the dolphin apparently was not aware that he could cause harm.

Whereas the explicit moral of the story involves the power of understanding to overcome conflict, another reading leaves the dolphin lacking any sort of agency. He is not allowed to feel frustrated with people or express any sort of attitude that is not friendly. Although perceiving dolphins as submissive and always interested in helping people is common, it only reinforces the idea that dolphins require human help and guidance as they never intend to be malicious or harsh. This constitutes a common theme in children’s books and television. It makes it appear as though dolphins cannot survive without people, and that people should take on a caretaker role for weak, innocent dolphins. Stories for kids about dolphins very often have a focus on “lessons on the principles of care-taking making humans part of the solution” (Fraser et. al. 2006: 332). There is an issue inherent in that concept, as giving humans the role of caretaker means “the animals become infantilized, incapable of personal agency and in need of human dominion” (Fraser et. al. 2006: 332). Though this is not always obvious at first glance in children’s literature, this frequent underlying theme can cause skewed perceptions of these animals. Since most popular media regarding dolphins also subtly infantilizes dolphins, it can be difficult to create an understanding of dolphins as autonomous, wild beings and thus attempt to understand them as they truly are.

The 2011 movie, A Dolphin’s Tale, is a family film that utilizes a dolphin as a tool for teaching a lesson. It focuses on a dolphin who gets her tail caught in a trap. She is rescued and taken to Clearwater Aquarium’s Marine Hospital, where her tail is amputated. A team of human saviors creates a prosthetic tail to allow the dolphin, now named, to swim normally. Due to the nature of her prosthetic, Winter can never live on her own in the wild but requires human care, which means life in a tank. The more problematic facet is that she becomes a highly commercialized as a “thing,” not a being, existing to increase the revenue of Clearwater Aquarium. Winter is thus denied every semblance of normal life, as she has a camera trained on her at all times for visitors to the aquarium’s website to be able to watch her. Further, people constantly participate in “dolphin encounters” and “trainer for a day programs,” with her which limits her ability to live in any way like a wild dolphin. Her story, as popularized by the film, removes every trace of animality, as Winter is docile enough to let children swim with her and is put on display for human amusement.

The role Winter plays in this film makes her less of an animal and more of a symbol. According to the film’s website, “See Winter,” she “serves today as a symbol of courage” for “millions of people,” who can purchase Winter dolls with removable prosthetics. The result is a hardly subtle transformation in Winter from wild animal to “symbol,” as the website admits. She has become little more than an object for human consumption and revenue while she floats in circles for hours at a time. Her story depicts her as naïve and vulnerable, as Winter appears to be an animal in desperate need of human help. This conveys a sense of human superiority in this relationship where the dolphin is utterly powerless. It makes dolphins seem like malleable objects that can be molded by people in whatever manner they choose.

Taken together, these five themes provide insight into human understanding of dolphins. They reveal that people often see dolphins more as characters and symbols of love, happiness, and understanding than as real, complex, living beings.  Dolphins lose their animality along the way; they are not understood as predators with autonomous desires, but as cuddly friends for people.

If audiences see the dolphin in Flipper as living a solitary life and helping people out of every difficult situation, that virtual capital is projected onto how they expect every wild dolphin to act, regardless of the fact that bottlenose dolphins rarely live alone or stay in the same area near people at all times.  The practice of creating dolphins to be mere toys for children has severe repercussions for a sustainable, functional understanding of dolphins. The result is a lack of a positive and mutually beneficial relationship between people and dolphins.

IN SEARCH OF THE REAL ANIMAL

Reductive ideas about dolphins and other animals in media have led to a highly contested debate about what comprises a real animal. In 2001, Steve Baker argued that a great schism has been created between animal advocates and scholars. He wrote that advocates posit themselves as working to protect animals and their habitats, while scholars work only in the theoretical realm, seemingly “more concerned with exploring fancy theories of representation than with addressing the real plight of the represented animals” (Baker 2001: 193). The rigid distinction between academia and advocacy is overly simplistic and thus problematic. These two groups are influential in determining our cultural understanding of animals and both have long been necessary to effect any change for animals. Those who write about animals are not “self-indulgent scholars,” but crucial to reshaping the human-animal relationship (Baker 2001: 193). On the other hand, John Simon argues, “we cannot separate the facts of cruelty to animals from the arguments about literary criticism” (Baker 2001: 193). The two are far too intertwined to separate in any meaningful way. Examining writing and other creative endeavors focused on animals is essential, as “the critical work of representation undertaken by such artists may be more important than ever in a world where popular entertainment fabricates its own animal realities.” (Baker 2001: 196). With most virtual capital about dolphins coming directly from media representations, and increasingly through film and literature, paying particular attention to these fabrications reveals the meaning and social definition of dolphins.

Our understanding of dolphins and other animals needs to shift to a more accurate portrayal, primarily through a change in the popular media. By altering the popular media surrounding dolphins to represent them as they truly are, it is possible to understand dolphins as unique beings, not as storytelling tools. The current cultural understanding of dolphins does not distinguish between the characteristics of a fictional dolphin and a living wild dolphin, as wild dolphins are often observed through the lens of virtual capital that presents them as objects for consumption. It thus becomes impossible to separate the supposedly real animal from the fictionalized one. Such a lack of distinction is highly problematic, as people begin to consider the fictional dolphin no different from a real dolphin, conflating imagined with living beings, which harms dolphins and limits human understanding. This pitfall is most pronounced in the aforementioned movie A Dolphin’s Tale. The film turned Winter into a famous icon, a symbol for people with a physical disabilities, which resulted in a lack of appreciation for her animality. In 2014, Tourism Economics reviewed the impact of this film on tourism to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. The release of the film resulted in an “80% increase in visitation numbers” to the aquarium between 2010 and 2011 (Corton et. al. 2014: 1). This great increase in visitors is attributed to the success of the film as inspiring people to want to see Winter in person, as it were, reinforcing her status as a symbol, not a being.  Such a high increase in tourism hints at the significant effects of virtual capital on determining peoples’ perceptions on dolphins as well as their interactions with these animals. In this way, it is becoming impossible to separate the “real” animal from that created by fiction. Often, the two are indistinguishable, as Winter has become a near mythic fiction through her representation in the film.   Since the representation of dolphins so heavily influences their reality, changing that virtual capital is key. Winter is a real, living dolphin who suffered greatly by being separated from her pod and held captive in an unnatural manner, but these crucial aspects of her story are often ignored in favor of turning her into a blank slate upon which to paint characteristics of bravery, courage, and hope. If the reality of Winter’s story and animality were illustrated, it could change the virtual capital in a vital way. The current presentation of Winter entirely ignores the dolphin and her welfare in favor of creating an object for human entertainment and inspiration.  To take away all animality and turn her into a “thing,” not a being, complicates the attempt to employ her image as one of hope and joy considering the dire circumstances into which she has been forced.

Toward an alternative

Representations of dolphins in literature, television, and movies clearly wield great power over people’s understanding. This influence has been used almost entirely to present dolphins as sweet and cuddly beings devoid of any animality or individuality. It is crucial for this type of representation to change to understand dolphins as they are and treat them as autonomous beings rather than pets

Popular media has a unique ability to shape how the public sees dolphins. For example, a rise in swim with dolphin programs and “dolphin-ariums” paralleled the growth of Flipper’s popularity. In the U.K. alone, only four marine parks existed before the show aired. By the time it ended, in a period of just four years, there were 25 “dolphin-ariums” operating, suggesting an association between media portrayals and dolphin treatment. In contrast, the recent documentaries The Cove (2009) and Blackfish (2013) highlight the problems of dolphin captivity and reveal the effect that stories about dolphins have on their welfare. Though neither film offers a narrative surrounding dolphins in the same manner as Flipper or A Dolphin’s Tale, they still maintain several of the elements that make the fictionalized accounts of dolphins successful. Both documentaries contain strong messages of hope and the possibility of a brighter future, yet the hope is not solely for the people involved but also for the dolphins. Their welfare is taken into account, with both documentaries proposing solutions for a better relationship between dolphins and people through the termination of captivity programs. Thus, dolphins are presented more accurately, as the wild and autonomous creatures that they are, positively shifting the virtual capital surrounding the animals.

The Dolphin Diaries, a children’s chapter book series by Ben M. Baglio, offers another positive representation of dolphins and relationship with them that is unusual compared to most popular media surrounding the animals. The series centers on Jody McGrath, a girl who travels the world and studies dolphins with her marine biologist parents. The series does not fall prey to many of the pitfalls of childrens’ media centering on dolphins. The family does not visit marine mammal parks, rather they only observe wild dolphins from their boat. In the first book in the series, Jody thinks that the “dolphin seemed to be smiling at her,” which at first appears to be a common description of bottlenose dolphins frequently used as justification for captivity and unjust dolphin treatment (Baglio 2000: 43). However, the Dolphin Diaries extends beyond such a simplistic understanding of dolphins, as Baglio continues by stating that “Jody knew this was just the shape of the beak and mouth– all bottle-nosed dolphins look as if they’re smiling, even when they’re unhappy” (Baglio 2000: 43). The Dolphin Diaries serves as an excellent model for better dolphin representations, as the books describe dolphins as truly wild creatures, not simple mirrors for human behaviors and attitudes.

CONCLUSION

This paper aims to clarify the complex topic of representation and illuminate the need for a revised cultural understanding of dolphins that describes them more accurately. I argued that the virtual capital surrounding dolphins makes an accurate understanding of these animals unlikely because fictionalized descriptions have so greatly saturated popular culture. Given the unique power of the media to shape knowledge, it is essential to create new forms of representations. Without changing the societal presumptions about dolphins, it is impossible to change our treatment of them; such is the influence of the media creations. The view of dolphins as docile and unconditionally loving makes it appear as though their captivity and use for human entertainment is perfectly acceptable and suited to their nature, when this is hardly the case for wild, autonomous beings.

Further study on dolphins should include research on how to recognize and respect animality and represent animals as animals. However, animality must not be imposed by humans on other species. Changing the scholarly and popular depiction of dolphins from playthings to wild beings is crucial in reconfiguring the human-dolphin relationship to reflect the autonomy of both parties. Doing so could lead to a better understanding of dolphins based on new virtual capital and even a world devoid of captivity, in which dolphins exist as dolphins, not as loyal assistants or naïve and incapable beings. Such a change is within the grasp of popular media. It could entirely reshape a highly dysfunctional relationship.

 

References

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