Finding the truth amid emotive incidents
“What Have We Done to the Whale?” headlined the August 17, 2020 online edition of The New Yorker.
Added the subhead, “The creatures once symbolized our efforts to save the planet; now they demonstrate all the ways we have devastated it.”
The hand-wringing essay by Amia Srinivasan that followed also appeared in the print edition of the The New Yorker dated August 24, 2020, under the title “Belly of the Beast.”
There is little or nothing in the factual content of the Srinivasan essay that ANIMALS 24-7 has not previously reported in depth and detail.
What’s wrong with this picture?
The concluding vignette, however, unwittingly offered a particularly vivid illustration of why ANIMALS 24-7 exists. We help people who care about animals to distinguish truth from hyperbole, whether it comes from advocacy groups, mass media, or animal use industry flacks eager to portray animal advocates as hysterical reactionary lunatics.
Wrote Srinivasan, purporting to report facts in four sentences containing no verifiable claims beyond date and place, “On an Argentine beach in 2017, a stranded baby dolphin was killed by a mob of tourists intent on taking selfies with it.
“Something similar had happened in Argentina the year before, when a baby La Plata dolphin washed up at a Santa Teresita beach; the animal was passed from tourist to tourist until it died of dehydration…Could the Argentine tourists not sense the dolphin going limp in their arms?”
The facts vs. the story
Neither incident actually occurred as Srinivasan claimed, not least because neither dolphin ever actually went limp in anyone’s arms.
The dolphin in the 2017 incident was never verifiably picked up; the dolphin in the 2016 incident was picked up initially by men and women who tried to return the dolphin to the sea, and picked up later after washing back to shore dead.
As Jon Sharman of The Independent reported on January 27, 2017, and ANIMALS 24-7 verified, in the 2017 incident “In shaky video footage the animal can be seen lying in shallow water as people touch it, in San Bernardo del Tuyú in Buenos Aires province.”
“They said it was already dead”
A lone female witness, who may have taken the video, but was not among the people closest to the dolphin, told C5N television news of Buenos Aires that the dolphin “was small and came close to the shore. They could have put it back in the sea,” the witness alleged. “In fact, it was breathing,” she claimed, “but they all started taking photos and touching it.”
However, the witness acknowledged, “They said it was already dead.”
The video clip shows no sign of breathing or other motion by the La Plata dolphin, who appears to be an adult of a diminutive estuarial species native to that part of Argentina, rarely growing to more than five feet in length.
The people kneeling around the dolphin are shown splashing water on the dolphin and pouring water over the dolphin with their hands, to try to ensure that the dolphin does not dehydrate.
Only one person appears to try to photograph the scene with a cell phone, other than the videographer herself.
Far from being an example of humans committing atrocities toward wildlife they purport to love, as Srinivasan would have it, the video shows people trying desperately to save an animal who is in truth already deceased.
This is also what happened in the February 10, 2016 incident that Srinivasan referenced at Santa Teresita beach, Argentina, detailed by ANIMALS 24-7 in much greater depth than any other media in How to tell a dead baby dolphin from a dead parrot.
What ANIMALS 24-7 did in that instance, as any credible journalists should have done, is verify what the widely distributed video of that incident actually showed, and what was actually said in the video by the Spanish-speaking would-be dolphin rescuers, instead of jumping to conclusions based on the conclusions that others had already leaped to, from thousands of miles away.
“Something they wanted to be true”
The New Yorker failure of fact-checking the Srinivasan essay, coming as it does in a periodical that has prided itself for fact-checking since 1925, comes just a month after The Spectator on July 21, 2020 singled out The New Yorker for another egregious example of misreporting.
“In an age of outsourcing,” observed The Spectator, “fact checks have become the most vibrant sector of American manufacturing. Public-facing ‘fact checkers’ hardly existed 15 years ago. Now, Associated Press, CNN, and USA Today all run dedicated [fact-checking] operations. The Washington Post obsessively tracks every alleged lie and misstatement by the President [Trump] (20,000 and counting!). Snopes has ascended from a niche urban legends website to a hallowed authority.”
Despite all this, The Spectator charges, at too many media, including The New Yorker, “Fact checks aren’t determining what information is true or false. They are deciding what facts are approved.”
The New Yorker published the particular misstatement that The Spectator decried, The Spectator alleged, not “because it was true, or sounded true. It was something more important. It was something they wanted to be true.”
This appears also to be the case with both episodes involving dead La Plata dolphins, both of which were breathlessly amplified around the world when they occurred, denounced and cited in fundraising appeals by countless animal advocacy organizations, and predictably detonating racist rants from online trolls posturing as animal lovers practically everywhere that anyone could post a comment.
Note, meanwhile, the difference between how mainstream media reported the two La Plata dolphin deaths in far away Spanish-speaking Argentina, and how the BBC handled a similar incident occurring on July 29, 2020 at the Holywell beach in Cornwall, England.
“After beachgoers and lifeguards spotted the baby dolphin,” the BBC said, “it was carried to a shallow pool where it sadly died shortly afterwards.
“Lifeguards called the British Divers Marine Life Rescue as soon as the dolphin was spotted and they responded quickly.
“The dolphin was ‘exhausted and badly injured’ with ‘rake marks’ on its body from the teeth of other dolphins. It had also been left extremely vulnerable without its mother at such a young age.”
China dolphin case
The British beachgoers and lifeguards in truth did nothing any different from their counterparts in Argentina, except get more sympathetic coverage from reporters who understood the language spoken by the people at the scene.
There was in fact a well-publicized incident, in 2013, in which beachgoers may have contributed to the death of a dolphin, but the reporting about it, by Sha Xiafeng and Liu Xiaoli of the Chinese state newspaper China Daily, was conspicuously restrained and fair to all concerned.
“Wildlife experts,” Sha Xiafeng wrote, “ have criticized swimmers who posed for pictures with a dying dolphin on a South China beach, hampering the efforts of people trying to save the mammal.
“Photographs taken by witnesses in Sanya, a popular tourist destination in Hainan province, were widely circulated online. Several showed a group of men holding the dolphin above shallow water while another swimmer took photographs.”
How to save a stranded dolphin
Chen Zhongcheng, identified as “one of 10 lifeguards who arrived on the scene after tourists reported seeing a stranded dolphin off Dadonghai beach,” told Sha Xiafeng that “Many tourists came up and asked to touch the dolphin, and some lifted it up to take photos while we were trying to save it.
“The dolphin was clearly in distress,” Chen Zhongcheng said. “It couldn’t breathe freely, so we had to lift its blowhole clear of the water’s surface every few minutes so it could get some air.”
This is what a photograph accompanying the China Daily article showed. The lifeguards kept the dolphin alive for two hours, until personnel from the Hainan Nanhai Aquatic Wildlife Rescue Center, 200 miles away, arrived to help.
The dolphin died from a collapsed lung three hours after that.
Hainan Nanhai Aquatic Wildlife Rescue Center director Chen Juming took the opportunity to explain to China Daily readers that, “ A stranded dolphin can drown in the water, so if you find one and if conditions permit, dig a hole in the sand and cover its body with a wet towel, and add water every two minutes. Keep the dolphin out of the sun to prevent skin drying or dehydration.”
And about us
ANIMALS 24-7 appreciates the balance of factual who-what-where-when-why-and-how reporting in the China Daily account, with practical information about how to help animals in need.
ANIMALS 24-7 makes a point of not allowing ourselves to be blinded by differences of culture and ethnicity in reporting about painfully sensitive issues. We appreciate that people who care about animals are everywhere, trying to help the animals in front of them as best they can, even if often they do not really know how, have no coherent or consistent “animal rights” philosophy (or ever heard of any), and are not part of any organized “movement.”
ANIMALS 24-7 further appreciates your generous support of our efforts to find and share all the relevant facts and perspective on any topic we report about, whether or not those facts and informed perspective fit the pre-conceived narratives of advocacy groups, mass media, and others seeking to exploit the animals’ cause, for whatever reason.
Your very welcome donations keep us on the job––24-7.