IN THE NEWS: On JAN 28, 2018
DID YOU know that dolphins understand the English language?
This is just one of many fascinating facts I learned from Action for Dolphins founder and CEO Sarah Lucas.
Apparently, if we change the order of a sentence, our marine friends can still understand what we're saying.
"Here's a better one," she smiles.
"If a pregnant woman swims with dolphins, they can hear the baby's heartbeat. So don't be surprised if they lean their heads towards your belly – they're fascinated."
Over the years, we've heard heartwarming stories about dolphins, from saving lives at sea to forming lifelong bonds with humans and other animals. Take JoJo, for example.
"JoJo was friends with a diving instructor in the Turks and Caicos Islands for 20 years," says Sarah.
"They swam together every day."
Originally from Australia, Sarah spent her childhood on her father's sailing boat meeting dolphins and humpback whales in their natural environment.
She founded animal charity Action for Dolphins in 2012 after witnessing a very different side of dolphin life.
Perhaps you have seen Blackfish, the harrowing documentary about Tilikum the whale. But it was The Cove (revealing the Japanese dolphin hunts) that first caught Sarah's attention.
"At the end of the film, you see dolphins being driven into a cove and slaughtered. The water turns red," she says.
"I just had to help, so I volunteered to monitor the Japanese hunts with the Dolphin Project."
Sarah's job was to watch the hunts and count how many dolphins died – a difficult task for any animal lover.
On her return from Japan, Action for Dolphins took shape.
"The mission of AFD is to stop cruelty to dolphins," she says. "Dolphins don't get the international legal protection that most animals have."
The charity focuses on two main areas: dolphin hunting in the wild and dolphin captivity.
"Those two issues are linked. Aquariums often pay for animals captured by the hunts."
Sarah adds that about 2,000 dolphins are killed in the Japanese hunts every year. Another 10 to 20,000 are killed in Peru, and there are about 300 dolphins currently in captivity around the world.
In some of the countries that dolphins are mistreated, there are strict animal welfare laws. Sadly, they're often ignored, so AFD brings legal action to enforce them and create new ones to keep dolphins safe.
"They take time and money, but they pay off in a big way," Sarah says. "We've won three legal actions already."
It's not surprising that many of us have never heard about dolphin hunting or about what's happening in marine parks. That's why The Cove and Blackfish have helped AFD to make an impact.
"SeaWorld has lost over 80 per cent of its profits and in Europe, multiple countries have banned dolphin captivity," Sarah says.
"Blackfish generated an awareness that dolphins really suffer in captivity."
Scientists have found that dolphins and whales could have higher social and emotional intelligence than we do, so to have their family members stolen or killed doesn't bear thinking about. In captivity, they suffer from disease and live much shorter lives than those in their natural habitats.
"Dolphins are their own worst enemy in a sense," Sarah muses.
"Their mouths are turned upward to catch fish, so it looks like they're smiling. It's understandable that people don't realise that they're suffering."
If dolphin hunting wasn't enough, whales are in peril, too. Pilot whales are hunted in the Faroe Islands, minke whales are killed in Norway and Japan hunts in the Antarctic.
What's the impact of all this? We don't really know.
"What we do know is that hunts have decreased and that's because there are fewer dolphins to catch. They've destroyed those ecosystems."
What can we do to help? "First and foremost, stop visiting marine parks so dolphins are saved from captivity then donate to AFD. Your money will help fight the dolphin hunts in Japan and, hopefully, shut them down altogether.
"We're building a sanctuary in Australia to look after all the animals released from captivity," says Sarah.
"They'll have a humane life before returning to the wild, if possible."
It's not just Australia taking action – there will be sanctuaries in Greece and America and the charity has created a new base in the UK, where dolphin captivity ended in the 90s.
Apparently we are huge supporters of Sarah's cause and we want to capitalise on that. More notable supporters include celebrities such as Richard Branson and Olivia Newton-John, and bath and body brand Lush.
"Lush gave us a grant to put up a billboard in Japan last year," Sarah says.
"They sell products with dolphins on and donate some of the profits to us."
Sarah's ultimate goal is to stop dolphin hunts around the world – and she's pretty positive about it.
"It's going to start moving quickly," she says.
"Public opinion is changing. We just need a few more years of pushing, speaking up and signing petitions. Dolphins will be free."