CAPTIVE DALL’S PORPOISES: A HISTORY

Very, very few Dall’s porpoises have been taken into captivity; they are notoriously difficult to keep alive, with only one lasting a few months. In addition, information on these captures and individual porpoises is very difficult to find, so shout out to ginkotoothed for scanning photos and helping me find info.

The US Navy and Marineland of the Pacific attempted to keep Dall’s porpoises in captivity at one point.

The first two photos are of the porpoise at Marineland of the Pacific. This male was kept in a tank with pacific white-sided dolphins, with whom he sought companionship from. He ended up beating himself against the side of the tank and died a day later.

In the 60s, the Navy captured several different Dall’s porpoises and tried to train them. The third photo is of the capture method used to catch the swift porpoises. They captured their first porpoise off Point Mugu in California. Like the porpoise at Marineland of the Pacific, it tried to throw itself against the side of the tank; a worker had to fasten a harness around it and hook it to a leash to prevent it from beating itself to death on the walls. However, it died the next day due to internal hemorrhaging it had sustained from attempting to swim through the floors and walls.

The Navy tried again; this time, it was slightly more successful. This porpoise did not beat itself against the tank like the first one. Rather, it swam in figure eights around the tank. At one point it sank to the bottom of the tank, and employees quickly jumped in and assisted it in swimming. On the second day it even ate squid; by the end of the poor porpoises first week of confinement, it consumed 22 pounds of fish and squid per day. 

Dall’s porpoises rapidly shed their outer layers of skin on a frequent basis in the wild by swimming at the high speeds, which they are so famous for. But in captivity, they are unable to swim at normal speeds, so the skin builds up on their bodies and makes them look rough.

The Navy’s third attempt at keeping Dall’s captive was the most successful. They captured one male and one female. The female porpoise died after 26 days, but the hardy male survived an astonishing 21 months in captivity. 

Named Marty, the irritable male was a challenge for Deborah Duffield; Deb was not a formal animal trainer, but she had been chosen to train Marty. Marty did not like learning new behaviors, and found them adverse. Also, Marty did not seem to know how to slow down; he was constantly zipping around the tank and it took Deb a great deal of time to teach Marty to reduce his speed to the point where she could work with him. Marty became nervous and aggressive if held against his will or when pushed too hard during training; he would swim quickly away from trainers or even push them roughly with his flukes.

Marty died on January 2nd, 1967; he had lung abscesses, and many ulcers in his stomach. 


June 17 | 3:51 | 51♥
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