[MARMAM] Response to the International Journal of Comparative Pscyhology's special issue on captive marine mammal research

Naomi Rose nrose at hsi.org
Thu Nov 3 05:30:09 PDT 2011

Dear colleagues:


As readers of MARMAM may recall, a two-volume special issue of the
International Journal of Comparative Psychology (IJCP special issue) was
produced last year, focused on the value of captive marine mammal
research. The editor of the special issue, Stan Kuczaj, stated in his
introduction that "[t]he idea for this special issue resulted from the
publication of the Humane Society of America's [sic] recent edition of
The Case Against Marine Mammals in Captivity" (CAMMIC) in 2009. CAMMIC
was a white paper from The Humane Society of the United States and the
World Society for the Protection of Animals in support of their policy
position that marine mammals, particularly cetaceans, are inherently
unsuited to public display. It was not peer-reviewed nor meant to be
objective and did not even focus on captive research specifically. Yet
as editor of the IJCP, Dr. Kuczaj responded to it by compiling a
two-volume special issue on the value of captive marine mammal research.


After reading several of the special issue's contributions, we found it
overall to be a valuable exercise and, had it not contained (in Dr.
Kuczaj's introduction and several of the papers) specific and pointed
references to CAMMIC, would have accepted it as a timely means of
summarizing the current state of play of captive marine mammal research.
However, aside from Dr. Kuczaj's reference to the genesis of the special
issue, in his introduction he also noted that "Although the authors of
[CAMMIC] acknowledged the possibility that some research with captive
animals might have been important in the past, they also suggested that
research with captive marine mammals is no longer necessary" (p. 225).
My co-authors and I felt strongly that this latter characterization of
our position, as well as comments on CAMMIC in some of the other papers,
were inaccurate and therefore we submitted a reply to the IJCP. 


Dr. Kuczaj, who is also the general editor of the IJCP, after sending
our reply out for review, rejected it. In his email to us, he stated
that "the two-volume special issue of IJCP was not an attack on the HSUS
white paper. In fact, [CAMMIC] is only mentioned a handful of times
throughout the two issues. So a 'rebuttal' of the special issues makes
no sense." We note again Dr. Kuczaj's introduction to the special issue,
in which he states "The idea for this special issue resulted from the
publication of" CAMMIC and goes on to offer a paraphrase of CAMMIC's
position on captive research. Also, despite one of the three reviewers
agreeing that allowing a reply from us was "justified" (albeit with
major revisions), Dr. Kuczaj nevertheless said in his email that "none
of the reviews favor[ed] publication" of our reply. 


His refusal to allow a reply to what we perceived as a
mischaracterization of our position - to avoid what he called a "he
said-she said cycle of rebuttal and re-rebuttal" - is troubling to us,
as these kinds of exchanges in the published literature, however lively
they become, are an accepted and common element of the scientific
process. We were open to edits of our reply, of course, and the same
reviewer who acknowledged that a reply from us was justified offered a
number of suggested revisions that we found useful. However, two of the
reviews recommended outright rejection (one review was highly
unprofessional and personal in tone, in our view), and Dr. Kuczaj chose
to follow the latter recommendations. He suggested that instead we draft
an entirely separate paper, a clarification of our position on captive
research, and submit it anew for consideration to the IJCP, with a
separate review.


We acknowledge that a clarification of our position on captive research
may be warranted (indeed, we even suggest it might have been appropriate
for Dr. Kuczaj to have solicited such a clarification from us for the
special issue itself - we note that we knew nothing about the
compilation of the special issue until it was published) and we will
keep this in mind in future editions of CAMMIC. However, our purpose in
replying to the special issue was to address characterizations of CAMMIC
that we felt were inaccurate, which Dr. Kuczaj's suggestion for a new
submission expressly precluded. As we are unable to correct the record
in the IJCP, we beg the indulgence of the MARMAM community and do so
here, in the interest of open, collegial debate on a topic relevant to
this community. (If you would like a copy of the original submission to
the IJCP, which has additional text and references that were cut for
space here, please let me know.)



We believe the special issue's editor and some of its contributors
fundamentally misread our position on captive research. We never
suggested that "research with captive marine mammals is no longer
necessary." Rather we stated that "There may be some research questions
that the study of captive animals can answer most directly (such as
questions regarding cognition or the impacts of human-caused noise on
hearing)" (p. 14 in CAMMIC) and "Research on captive animals can only be
justified in circumstances where it is necessary to resolve critical
questions to benefit the animals themselves or animals in the wild" (p.
15). Clearly we recognized that some captive research could be justified
by critical welfare or conservation needs - these statements we made are
far from claiming that "research with captive marine mammals is no
longer necessary."


We did claim that "research programs that are not part of the
entertainment industry could address those [critical] questions" and
"Dolphinaria are not essential to continued research on marine mammals"
(p. 15 in CAMMIC). We made a distinction between commercial
entertainment facilities (which we referred to as dolphinaria) and
dedicated research facilities. The editor and some of the contributors
to the special issue failed to make a similar distinction when drawing
comparisons between their work and our claims. 


The most notable example of this was in the paper by Hill & Lackups, in
which the authors assessed the cetacean literature to see, inter alia,
how many publications focused on free-ranging cetaceans and how many on
captive animals. Making specific reference to CAMMIC, they claimed to
have refuted our findings that only about 5% of marine mammal studies
use captive animals. They found that roughly 30% of the more than 1,600
published articles they examined presented results from captive cetacean
research. However, while our sample included all cetaceans and also
pinnipeds, sirenians, polar bears, and sea otters, they restricted their
sample to literature focused only on cetacean species routinely held in
captivity. This of course would lead to a greater percentage of captive
studies being represented in their sample. 


In CAMMIC, we were trying to determine the extent to which marine mammal
work from captive settings was being presented in scientific media and
forums. Hill & Lackups sought to determine the extent to which research
on cetacean species that could be studied in captivity was in fact being
done in a captive setting. These are separate goals using different
sample sets; therefore, since the results from Hill & Lackups can't be
directly compared to ours, they can't be used to refute them.


Indeed, Hill & Lackups actually noted that there was a relative paucity
of publications using captive cetaceans, calculating that "captive
research with Tursiops represented 18.1% of all articles and captive
research with Orcinus, only 1.2% of all articles" (p. 431). This seems
generally in line with our calculations looking at marine mammal
publications overall (keeping in mind that we did not restrict our
evaluation to cetacean species routinely held in captivity), yet Hill &
Lackups stated that "Although research with captive populations is not
published, or perhaps not conducted, as frequently as research with wild
populations, it is nowhere [near] as sparse as suggested by [CAMMIC]"
(p. 432-433). They also suggested that there is a "large need to conduct
research with captive populations" (p. 431, emphasis added), despite the
fact that the entire premise of the special issue was to support the
argument that research on captive marine mammal populations is already
significant and is essential to our understanding of these species. 


Marine mammals have been held in captivity for many decades. For at
least the past 30 years their public display has largely been justified
with the claim that these exhibits contribute significantly to research
and conservation. It is therefore telling that a literature review
conducted expressly to support this claim determined that in fact there
is room for a great deal more research to be conducted on captive
animals. It is hardly a rebuttal of the arguments in CAMMIC to state
that "Research in captivity involves overcoming many competing demands
(e.g., availability of animals, training time, and monetary support) and
working within the goals of the facility (e.g., education, animal
interaction, and entertainment)...[which] pose major obstacles for
researchers interested in captive populations and make experimental
paradigms very challenging" (p. 434 in Hill & Lackups, emphasis added).
This conclusion is virtually identical to ours; CAMMIC stated that "The
requirements of providing the public with a satisfying recreational
experience are often incompatible with those of operating a research or
breeding facility" (p. 4). Here the special issue goes beyond being a
rebuttal in search of an argument - these authors are actually making
our arguments for us, while claiming to refute them.


A critical discussion in CAMMIC addressed the ethical considerations
raised by continuing to maintain species for public display that science
has shown to be highly intelligent, socially complex, and wide-ranging.
Ironically much of this science has come from studying these species in
captivity, yet many of the researchers looking at these questions too
often choose, as Perelberg et al. stated in their special issue paper,
"not [to] address the ethical aspects of holding a wild intelligent
animal such as the bottlenose dolphin in captivity" (p. 636). There is a
growing debate as to whether the research and education benefits of
displaying captive cetaceans outweigh the ethical concerns (see, for
example, the April 2011 article in Science by David Grimm) or indeed
human safety concerns[1]. So the special issue ignored a central
argument of CAMMIC and focused instead on a (non-existent) claim that
"research with captive marine mammals is no longer necessary."
Nevertheless, in several of the special issue papers, arguments were
presented that in fact did not differ all that greatly from ours
regarding the deficiencies in captive research.


The special issue as a whole not only failed to address the distinction
CAMMIC made between dolphinaria and research facilities, but we believe
its editor mischaracterized our position on captive research overall. We
urge researchers utilizing captive marine mammals to react less
defensively and more thoughtfully in future when confronted with
opinions that may differ, especially when only in degree rather than
kind, from their own.



Naomi A. Rose, Ph.D.
Senior Scientist, HSI-Wildlife
nrose at hsi.org <mailto:nrose at hsi.org> 
t +1 301.258.3048     f +1 301.258.3082

Humane Society International
700 Professional Drive    Gaithersburg, MD 20879    USA
hsi.org <http://www.hsi.org/> 

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[1] Trainer Dawn Brancheau was killed by Tilikum, SeaWorld of Florida's
oldest and largest male killer whale, on February 24, 2010; this
incident led to the U.S. House of Representatives holding an oversight
hearing on April 27, 2010 to address the issues of the educational value
of public display, worker and public safety, and captive cetacean
welfare (see 
362>  and http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/293204-1). 

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