This dolphin release project was called INTO THE BLUE and operated by a consortium of animal rights groups and organisations including: the Born Free Foundation (UK), Bellerive Foundation (Switzerland) and the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA).
The three dolphins released were bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus). "Rocky" caught in the Florida Panhandle in 1971 and maintained at Marineland in Morecambe in the north of England; "Missie" caught off Biloxi, Texas in 1969 and maintained at Brighton Aquarium in the south of England; "Silver" believed to have been caught waters of Taiwan in 1978 and also housed at Brighton Aquarium.
Rocky the dolphin prior to his move to the Caribbean
Photo: Peter Bloom, BSc
|Caicos Conch Farm which at that time was owned by Chuck Hess|
The conch farm lagoon was made available by Chuck Hess to the groups to serve as a rehabilitation centre prior to the release of the animals. Here they were to learn how to eat live fish, etc.
"Rocky" was transported to the conch farm lagoon from the UK on February 11, 1991; "Missie" and "Silver" on March 19, 1991.
The animals were moved from the conch farm to a floating sea pen off West Caicos Island on September 7, 1991. They were released from this to the wild at 1.30.pm on Tuesday, September 10, 1991. All three animals had "freeze branding" on their dorsal fins.
The three animals were seen a day after release at this location. However "Missie" and "Rocky" have not been seen since this time by project staff; all sightings after this point were second hand by fisherman and tourist."
Silver" was seen after the release from September 16 - 29 by project staff. He appeared to have some weight lost and health problems (an infection on his rostrum) and was given both food (a total of sixty pounds) and antibiotics by project staff in the wild over this period.
He was also associating with a wild "friendly" dolphin that swam in this area called "Jojo". After this time all "Silver"s sightings were also second-hand by tourists and fishermen.The only known photograph of any of the three dolphins released in the Turks & Caicos Islands by the Into the Blue project was taken in September 1991, less than two weeks after the release. This photograph of Silver, a male Pacific bottlenose dolphin, shows a noticeably emaciated dolphin with the shoulder bone of the right pectoral fin clearly visible.
A photographic competition for local Turks and Caicos fisherman in January 1992, with a $500 cash prize, failed to produce photographic evidence of the animals continuing to survive in the wild.
The ultimate fate of these animals seems to remain unknown.
If anyone has any further information regarding the actual fate of Rocky, Missie or Silver I would be interested in hearing from them at: firstname.lastname@example.org
THE BROADCASTING COMPLAINTS COMMISSION
Adjudication on the Wildlife Showcase broadcast on BBC2 on 9 July 1992 entitled Into the Blue
The Broadcasting Complaints commission have considered a complaint about Into the Blue, an edition of Wildlife Showcase shown on BBC2 in July last year. The programme, which the BBC bought from Silverback Productions, told the story of the return of two dolphins to the Caribbean after years of captivity in Britain. The complainants, who managed or had worked in dolphinaria, alleged that the programme had been unfair.
They complained that text and images in the programme had been emotive, inaccurate or misleading. The Commission find that the programme was unfair in this respect in six of the twelve instances claimed by the complainants. In the other six instances, the Commission find that the programme used reasonable dramatic licence and that textual inaccuracies did not amount to unfairness.
The Commission accept that the BBC could not give the complainants a right of reply within the "ready-made" programme. However, the decision to add some commentary at the end of the programme provided the BBC with an opportunity to qualify the committed polemical stance taken by the programme-makers and to rectify any deficiencies in standards of accuracy in research and scripting. The absence of any balancing commentary here was unfair.
Complaint from Dolphin Services (Bloom UK) and Mr Alan Eastcott - Adjudication
The edition of the nature series Wildlife Showcase broadcast on BBC2 on 9 July 1992 was called Into the Blue. This thirty-minute programme, produced by Silverback Productions, was about the return of two dolphins to the sea after years of captivity. It followed the events surrounding an operation mounted in early 1991 by a project named "Into the Blue" to move these dolphins, Missie and Silver, from Brighton Aquarium and Dolphinarium to Caribbean waters off the Turks and Caicos Islands to join Rocky, a dolphin moved there two months earlier from Morecambe Marineland.
At the time the programme was broadcast, there were only two public displays of captive dolphins in the United Kingdom. One of these was at Windsor Safari Park. The other was managed by Dolphin Services (Bloom UK) at the Dolphin Centre at Flamingo Land in North Yorkshire.
The Broadcasting Complaints Commission initially received complaints about the programme from Mr Peter Bloom (the curator of the Dolphin Centre at Flamingo Land), Mr John Dineley (an employee of Dolphin Services (Bloom UK) who normally works with marine mammals at Woburn Wild Animal Kingdom) and Mr Alan Eastcott (a former curator of Brighton Dolphinarium). These were subsequently combined into a joint complaint from Dolphin Services (Bloom UK) and Mr Eastcott that the programme had been unfair to those involved in the husbandry of captive dolphins.
Dolphin Services (Bloom UK) and Mr Eastcott complained that text and images used in Into the Blue had been emotive, inaccurate or misleading. They also complained that the BBC had not given those involved in the husbandry of captive marine mammals any opportunity to respond to the contentious statements made in the programme.
The programme had not been an objective documentary: it had been made by Silverback Productions in association with two of the three organisations which made up "Into the Blue"; and it had been written by a member of "Into the Blue". With the exception of a closing update added by the BBC, the programme had been identical to a video film which was on sale to raise money for the Born Free Foundation, an umbrella organisation for "Into the Blue" and other groups. The inclusion of the programme in a highly respected BBC Natural History Unit series had given it a stature and scientific credibility which it had not deserved.
Dolphin Services (Bloom UK) and Mr Eastcott said that the language and film used in the programme had been unfair in twelve instances:
- It had been inaccurate for a contributor to say that Brighton Doiphinarium had been the home of Missie and Silver for "over 30 years". In fact, the two dolphins had been brought to Brighton in 1969 and 1978 respectively.
- It had been misleading for the narrator to say that the conservation movement had produced "... a veritable avalanche of evidence to convince the public that the dolphins were, quite literally, dying to entertain them". There was no significant difference in survivorship between captive and wild dolphins.
- It had been misleading for the narrator to say that the overriding image that remained in the public mind was one of highly intelligent and altruistic animals being held against their will in squalid concrete prisons". In 1986 Dr Margaret Klinowska and Dr Susan Brown had concluded in their report to the Department of the Environment, A Review of Dolpharia, that "in general, many of the concerns about the physical and mental welfare of the animals were either not well-founded, related to particular incidents, mainly in the past, or would require extensive research to-establish". Moreover, UK dolphinaria had to meet new standards by 1993.
- It had been misleading for the narrator to say that captive dolphins had been dying from "... such predictable causes as infected water, chlorine poisoning, heart failure attributable to stress, attacks by other dolphins due to overcrowding and suicide by ramming the walls of the pool". In the mid-1970s in the UK there had been two isolated incidents in which a total of eight captive dolphins had died from water contamination. There was no record of deaths in the UK from the other causes cited by the narrator.
- When the narrator had referred to dolphins committing "suicide by ramming the walls of the pool", the accompanying film had been a close-up shot of a rust stain on a pool wall. Viewers might have believed that the stain was blood.
- It had been misleading for the narrator to say that as the dolphins continued to die . . . increasing numbers of people began to vote with their feet and desert the marine circus for good". The reduction in the number of dolphinaria in the UK had been due not only to concern about animal welfare but to the recession and to the requirement to improve facilities by 1993. Dolphin displays remained popular. At Flamingo Land attendances had continued to rise, reaching over one million visitors in both 1991 and 1992.
- The programme had included film of the efforts of an "Into the Blue" team to remove Missie from the pool at Brighton Dolphinarium. Viewers might have thought that workers in dolphinaria also treated animals in an unprofessional way.
- It had been inaccurate for the narrator to say that Rocky had been in "solitary confinement" for 19 years. In fact, Rocky had had pool companions for many years.
- It had been incorrect for the narrator to say that Rocky had been "long regarded as suffering from mutism in captivity". The animal had not been mute while in captivity.
- It had been misleading for the narrator to say that Missie, Silver and Rocky were "now swimming free in the open ocean’. The dolphins had been released into the sea on 10 September 1991 and there had not been a confirmed sighting of any of them by key workers of the "Into the Blue" project since the end of that month. Sightings of the animals since September 1991 had all been unconfirmed second-hand ones by fishermen and scuba-divers. It was unclear whether the dolphins were still alive.
- Viewers would have been left with the false impression that film sequences at the end of the programme had been of Missie, Silver and Rocky swimming in the sea. In fact, the film had been of the three dolphins in a fenced-off lagoon weeks before their release into the open sea or of a local wild dolphin swimming in the sea.
- The closing commentary added to the film by the BBC had referred to the dolphinaria which had housed the three dolphins as "cold, dark, noisy". The implication of this comment had been that captive dolphins were maltreated. Since 1982 all UK dolphinaria had been subject to the Zoo Licensing Act.
The BBC’s response
In their written response the BBC said that the series Wildlife Showcase was devoted to "bought-in" films. The emphasis was on films which told a fresh and interesting story and which did so in a style different from that of conventional documentary. In choosing films for inclusion in the series, the series editor consulted colleagues within the Natural History Unit. He had preferred Into the Blue to other films because it had related to a subject of wide interest -the ethics of keeping wild animals in captivity for entertainment purposes - and because it had focused on a pioneering rescue operation based in the UK. The premise of the programme had been that it was unnatural and cruel to keep dolphins in captivity.
At the hearing before the Commission, the BBC elaborated their written responses. They said that Into the Blue had not been an investigative documentary on the keeping of dolphins in captivity or a critique of the doiphinaria industry. Into The Blue had been an account of the way in which two captive dolphins had been returned to the wild.
In response to the twelve points made by Dolphin Services (Bloom UK) and Mr Eastcott, the BBC commented as follows:
- Although the contributor’s comment had been inaccurate, it had not been unfair. The point was that Missie and Silver had been in captivity for many years.
- There was a difference in survivorship between captive and wild dolphins.
- It was the case that captive dolphins were imprisoned and held against their will. Whether dolphinaria were ‘squalid was a matter of judgement but, in the EEC’S view, it had been a fair description.
- Although information was available on the number of captive dolphins which had died in the UK, it was difficult in most cases to obtain details of the cause of death. According to international data, however, inanition, aggression, stress and stereotypical behaviour were among the factors involved in the deaths of captive dolphins.
- The programme makers had originally intended to use film of an incident in 1989 in which an orca had bled to death after being rammed by another orca. They had thought, however, that viewers would find this film upsetting and they had instead included film of a rust stain meant to be construed as blood. There were recorded cases of dolphins killing themselves by ramming pool walls.
- Since 1985 many dolphinaria had closed while interest in wildlife programmes on television and concern about environmental issues had been growing.
- The "Into the Blue" team had handled Missie and Silver in a professional way.
- It was true that Rocky had not been in solitary confinement for all of his 19 years in captivity.
- From the time he had become involved in the "Into the Blue" project until the arrival of Missie and Silver in the Turks and Caicos Islands, Rocky had been mute to human ears and to recording equipment.
- Since the release, there had been more than 30 confirmed sightings of the dolphins. All three animals appeared to have returned successfully to the wild.
- The film had indeed been of Missie and Silver being released from a medical pen to join Rocky in the lagoon. The programme-makers had exercised some licence in including film of a local wild dolphin swimming in the sea. However, this had not been unfair.
- The narrator had been describing the artificial environment in which the three dolphins had been confined. There had been no implication that the dolphins had been maltreated.
Evidence considered by the Commission
The Commission had before them five letters relating to the complaint (two from Mr Bloom, two from Mr Dineley and one from Mr Eastcott), a statement from the BBC in answer to the complaint, a response by Mr Bloom, Mr Dineley and Mr Eastcott to the BBC’s statement, the BBC’s comments on that response and further written observations from Mr Bloom, Mr Dineley and Mr Eastcott, together with numerous supporting documents, correspondence and press cuttings relating directly to the complaint and also to the wider debate about the well-being of dolphins in captivity and in the wild.
The Commission read a transcript of the programme and viewed a recording of it. They also viewed a recording of the Into the Blue video film.
A hearing was held. It was attended by Mr Bloom, Mr Dineley and Mr Eastcott and by representatives from the BBC and Silverback Productions (who were accompanied by Mr Doug Cartlidge, an initiator of the ‘Into the Blue" project). Dr Klinowska attended the hearing under section 145(2) of the Broadcasting Act 1990 as a person able to assist the Commission.
At the hearing Dr Klinowska gave evidence in relation to three of the matters (as numbered earlier) instanced by Dolphin Services (Bloom UK) and Mr Eastcott as giving rise to unfairness:
- In her experience there was no significant difference between the annual mortality rates of captive and wild dolphins as indicated by the available statistics.
- To her knowledge there had been only isolated incidents in which captive dolphins had died from any of the causes cited by the narrator. Such incidents had attracted publicity precisely because of their rarity.
- She possessed sound recordings of Rocky which she had taken with underwater megaphones during his time in captivity at Morecambe. There was no question of his having been dumb.
The Commission’s findings
The complainants’ grievance was, essentially, that Into the Blue had had an axe to grind. They said that it presented as fact - in the BBC's highly respected Wildlife Showcase series - what in some cases had been no more than contentious allegations and that, given the nature of the uncountered inaccuracies and misrepresentations, the programme was unfair to those involved in the husbandry of captive dolphins.
In their written evidence to the Commission, the BBC said that the programme was ‘‘ related to . . . the ethics of keeping wild animals in captivity for entertainment purposes" and that the premise of the programme was that it was "unnatural and cruel to keep dolphins in captivity". In elaborating their position at the hearing before the Commission, the BBC said that the programme had not been a documentary containing a critique of the dolphinaria industry but "a strongly-felt story of the transfer of dolphins from Britain to the Caribbean
The Commission note that the BBC did not commission Silverback Productions to make this programme but, having seen the film, bought the rights to show it in the Wildlife Showcase series. In the Commission’s view, the programme was more than a simple narrative of the operation to move two dolphins from Britain to the Caribbean. The commentary was certainly uncomplicated, reflecting the views of the writer, who opposed the keeping of wilds animals in captivity, and giving, as it did, a somewhat sentimental account of a risky and difficult project to return the dolphins to the sea. The Commission accept that the BBC could hardly have asked the programme-makers to re-edit the programme in response to the requests from the complainants for a right of reply within it. However, the decision by the BBC to add some commentary at the end of the programme provided them with an opportunity to qualify the committed polemical stance taken by the programme-makers and to rectify any deficiencies in standards of accuracy in research and scripting. In fact, the brief piece they added did no more than implicitly endorse the programme’s general theme - that the keeping of dolphins in captivity was in principle abhorrent.
The absence of any balancing commentary here was, in the Commission’s view, unfair.
As to the detailed elements of the complaint, the Commission find some script points to have been unfair. In their view, the words "literally dying to entertain" were unwarranted, no convincing evidence having been presented to support the contention that the mortality rates of dolphins in captivity were higher than in the wild, or the implication that suicide or self-inflicted violence was a regular occurrence. The Commission do not accept that it was accurate for the narrator to say that Rocky had been "long regarded as suffering from mutism in captivity" as there was clearly evidence that the dolphin had not been dumb while in captivity at Brighton. The suggestion that deaths of captive dolphins from unnatural causes had led to declining attendances at doiphinaria in Britain and the references to doiphinaria as "squalid concrete prisons" and "cold, dark, noisy" were matters of opinion rather than fact and should either have been so identified or suitably countered.
On the remaining points of concern to the complainants, the Commission find that there were minor inaccuracies in the programme regarding the length of time that the dolphins had been in captivity and that Rocky had been in solitary confinement. They do not however consider that the difficulties clearly experienced by the campaigning "Into the Blue" team in removing Missie from the pool at Brighton Doiphinarium will have led viewers to regard workers ordinarily employed in dolphinaria to care for captive dolphins as unprofessional. The Commission recognise that the reliability of sightings of the dolphins since the release is in dispute, but they do not regard as misleading the narrator’s comment that the dolphins were ‘‘now swimming free in the open ocean": the comment could be taken to relate to the-time shortly after the release-of the animals into the sea. The rust stain shown in a close-up shot which accompanied the narrator's reference to captive dolphins committing "suicide by ramming the walls of the poo1’ was acknowledged by the BBC to be meant to be construed as blood and was a reasonable use of dramatic licence, as were the recordings of release into the lagoon to represent the actual release into the open sea. In none of these respects do the Commission find unfairness.
16 September 1993
The Broadcasting Complaints Commission is now incorporated into the: Broadcasting Standards Authority, 7 The Sanctuary, LONDON, SW1P 3JS, United Kingdom