I remember when I was younger, I wanted to be a marine biologist. That pull to the deep unknown engulfed me, and nothing could ever prove to surpass all the creatures that filled that vessel. 

My parents would buy me book after book on every species known in the ocean, yet as that desire was fulfilled, I would again strive to learn more. At one point, I expressed the need to become a dolphin trainer. Then, within an instant, that dream vanished when I learned about Cathy. Cathy was one of the dolphins who played Flipper in the popular 1964 TV series, Flipper. And Cathy took her own life. 

In a 1997 interview with Frontline, Ric O’Barry, the head trainer for Flipper and now ardent dolphin rights’ activist expressed, “it wasn’t until Cathy died of suicide, what I would say, and I say that word with great trepidation and lack of — I don’t know what else to call it. 

But you probably know that dolphins and whales are not automatic air-breathers. Every breath they take is a conscious effort. So they can end their life whenever they want to, and that’s what Cathy did. She chose to not take that next breath, and you have to call that suicide, self-induced asphyxiation in a steel tank at the… aquarium.” Suddenly, the novelty of the dream of dolphin training began to wear thin. No longer did I have the desire to become a member of such a malicious enterprise. However, Cathy’s death was merely the tip of the iceberg. The systematic and institutional abuse of dolphins within the world of captivity is both alarming and gut-wrenching. 

That is why when Anonymous, an international hacktivist group, infiltrated two Japanese Nissan sites last week to raise awareness about the violence against dolphins, a part of me became joyful. 

While Nissan is in no way directly complicit in the violence against dolphins, the campaign raised the alarm for the epidemic of violence against dolphins in Taiji, Japan. 

The city’s dirty little secret was revealed in the 2009 documentary film, “The Cove.” While the town puts up the facade of dolphin and whale appreciation, a select group of fishermen, with the permission of the government, are hunting the gentle and intelligent creatures to sell for human consumption and entertainment. So how do fishermen even begin to capture or kill the dolphins? 

According to the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, an advocacy organization for dolphins in Taiji, fishermen begin the hunt by waiting for the arrival of a pod. Following this arrival, the hunters gather together in a v-shape and use long metal rods to bang against the sides of their boats, alarming the dolphins with the sharp and piercing noises. The dolphins have no other choice than to swim directly into the cove to their untimely death. 

Soon, barbaric men, wielding sharp spears, drive the stakes into the dolphins’ spinal cords. The water transforms from blue to red. 

According to August 31, 2015 NBC article, the international fixation on the Taiji hunts has resulted in a marketable decrease in violence. In fact, the numbers of dolphins slaughtered decreased to 800 in 2014 as opposed to 2,000 to 2,500 in 2003. 

However, the decrease in these grievous practices should not distract the international community from combat increasing rates of violence against dolphins across the globe. In Peru, fishermen slaughter as many as 15,000 dolphins a year to be sold as shark bait in Asian markets, according to an Aug. 31, 2015 NBC News article. While the practice is illegal, it is oftentimes loosely enforced. This differs from the practice in Taiji where the government limits the number of dolphins killed yearly, a practice that while still barbaric, limits the number of dolphins killed under the law. 

An animal with this intellectual and emotional capacity, however, should never be slaughtered in troughs or confined to unnatural aquariums. In fact, the discussion of cetacean rights was brought to the world’s biggest science conference, the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Experts are calling for a Universal Declaration of Rights for Cetaceans. 

The declaration, first agreed upon in May 2010, requires that “every individual cetacean has the right to life” and that “no cetacean should be held in captivity or servitude, be subject to cruel treatment, or be removed from their natural environment.” Perhaps to the dismay of corporations like SeaWorld, the declaration also outlines that “no cetacean is the property of any state, corporation, human group or individual.” Throughout the years, scientists have discovered that dolphins have a level of self-awareness and an intellect that rivals humans, according to a Feb. 21, 2014 BBC article. In fact, India became the first country to declare dolphins as “non-human persons.”

Regardless of intelligence, all animals should be granted these inherent rights and protected by governments, not sold into captivity for as little as $32,000 by a Taiji hunter. As human beings, we have a responsibility to protect those who are vulnerable, even the animals who inhabit our earth. They don’t live to serve us. 

If we strive to live in a world that is equal and just, we must protect all living creatures.  Mahatma Gandhi once said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” 

Perhaps those hacktivists of Anonymous are giving us a much needed wake up call. We cannot all be Ric O’Barrys who free dolphins in captivity, but we can certainly raise our voices against this injustice to make for a better world.