Should New York Save Every Dolphin that Swims Into Town?

coney island creek dolphin brooklyn

Last week, a dolphin swam into Coney Island Creek and got stuck, and then it died. Police had removed a floating barrier at the mouth of the creek to help the dolphin escape, but instead it just swam around the other end; they also stayed at the scene to prevent people from trying to commune with the lost animal. Officials suspect it may have been unwell when it entered the waterway, and said the best thing to do would be to wait for high tide and see if it swam out then. It didn’t. Still, some people are livid that the city didn’t do everything possible, including evacuation by helicopter, to try to save the dolphin.

“Brooklyn, where dolphins die here and rescue workers are lazy to do anything,” wrote one Brooklyn Paper commenter.
“Horrible that this poor animal was just left there to die,” wrote another. “These animal organizations & the cops should be ashamed of themselves. Poor baby.”
“There’s a aquerium and the cops couldn’t bring it to the aquerium!” wrote another. And so on.

I don’t know any of these commenter personally, so I’m not attacking them as such. But I always find it difficult to take seriously outrage from society at large over the treatment of animals when as a society we mistreat so many animals—you know, people hollering about saving stray cats in between bites of a chicken sandwich from KFC. Not that we should discourage people from feeling sympathy for animals in need of help, but  we should encourage them to apply such sympathy more uniformly. “Speciesism” is a difficult concept, but there’s no moral reason (just ethically arbitrary cultural standards) to feel more pity for a dolphin than a pig, no reason to worry more about the subway kittens than the sheep killed every day in slaughterhouses within the city limits.

The city made an effort to aid an animal that was likely beyond help. Animals die naturally every day, and we shouldn’t let our sentimentality blind us to that. Medivacking a dolphin to a veterinarian that might have a slim chance of saving its life, so it can live a few more years, is extreme; imagine how animal shelters could use the money required for such a thing, or how many chickens we could buy and liberate from a Live Poultry place? You can’t save every dolphin, every sheep, every cat, or every chicken. That doesn’t mean we can’t do what we can to help: choose a salad for lunch sometimes, remove the boom at the mouth of the creek, transport liberated slaughterhouse sheep to an animal sanctuary. But you also have to know when to let it go, like in a hospital drama when the doctor has to stop performing CPR and just call it.

Follow Henry Stewart on Twitter @henrycstewart

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  1. Sorry guys. “Rescue workers” are trained to rescue people. And another thing- every living animal, including you, will die some day. Fact.