Capitalism and captive marine mammals go hand in flipper


Click pic for Flipper theme song

Dillard’s department store has raised my ire. Again. And again, swimsuits figure in.

The first time–several years ago now–a swimwear sale ad blew me out of the water with its sexualized portrayal of a six-year-old girl. The swimsuit itself was OK…well, except for the two big flowers printed strategically on the chest of the swimsuit top. That, combined with the exotic dancer pose the child was photographed in, and I was e-mailing Corporate Office in a hurry and a fury to suggest that their advertising department sorely needed some awareness-raising and sensitivity training.

This time, a quarter-page ad trumpets “Swim Day,” a swimsuit promotion running in conjunction with Discovery Cove in Orlando. Come in and try on a swimsuit! Register to win the Grand Prize and you could find yourself swimming with dolphins, snorkeling with rays, and hand feeding exotic birds. In the background behind the swimsuit model, four captive dolphins leap from the water in a synchronized stunt.

Click pic for ALL of Barbie’s careers

Dillard’s won’t get a letter from me this time (I don’t shop there anyhow) any more than Mattel did for SeaWorld Barbie–you can’t fight every battle, right?–though this particular Barbie manages to combine an unrealistic body image with animal oppression in an exploitation two-fer.

In case you missed SeaWorld Barbie’s appearance, ad copy from the Shamu Store website at SeaWorld (parenthetical snark is added) reads: “Show your little girl you support her dreams (to exploit captive wild animals for profit) with our signature SeaWorld trainer Barbie. Dressed in a realistic SeaWorld wetsuit, this Barbie comes complete with her own pool (suitably small for extreme confinement) and three adorable aquatic friends, a seal, dolphin and baby Shamu (whose natural lives as sentient individuals are of no account so just fuhgeddaboudit). Just add imagination (and domination) and it’s show time! Not for children under 3 years old due to possible choking hazard (ALL ages susceptible to moral hazard of speciesism).”

Feminists–and mothers of girls–have long criticized the negative message Barbie’s impossible proportions send girls about their real-life bodies. At one mom’s blog, the author laments the fact that her small daughter loves sea animals but she (mom) won’t purchase SeaWorld Barbie for her because of the body image thing. Sadly, the animal oppression thing isn’t anywhere on her radar. (Quick, send that woman a copy of Sister Species!)

How like our species–it’s all about us, right?–to romanticize swimming with dolphins, to turn their tragic circumstances into some kind of spiritual high–without ever stopping to consider what this means for dolphins. According to one-time “Flipper” trainer turned anti-marine-mammal-captivity advocate Ric O’Barry, “Dependent on sonar/sound to navigate their vast ocean homes, dolphins and whales are in constant state of distress living in cramped pools, bombarded by noise, stressed by food deprivation and forced to perform.”

As if dolphins don’t have enough on their plate (that is, when they aren’t actually on the platethemselves…), the World Trade Organization just last week ruled that America’s “dolphin safe” tuna label discriminates against Mexican fishermen. Said a spokesperson for the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office in defense of the label, “(Dolphin safe) provisions…seek to contribute to dolphin protection by helping ensure that, when consumers favor tuna products that are dolphin safe, the U.S. market does not contribute to fishing practices that are harmful to dolphins.”

Of course, those fishing practices are definitely harmful to tuna, but one fish is food while another “fish” is friend. And how like our species to exploit even our friends and call it entertainment–perhaps even a spiritual immersion. Talk about your choking hazard.

This post also appears at animal law blog Animal Blawg, where comments are accepted.