Before this morning, I hadn’t heard of the La Plata dolphin.
The La Plata, or ‘Franciscana’ dolphin as they’re also called, is a rare species of river dolphin that actually inhabits a combination of freshwater and saltwater bodies (confused little buggers). They can mostly be found in the shallow coastal waters off Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay. They measure around 1.5m in length and weigh about 50kg when fully grown. La Plata dolphins are dwindling in number and classified as a vulnerable species; there are thought to be only 30,000 left in the world.
But following the stomach-turning events of this week, that estimate has fallen to 29,999.
Distressing photos surfaced online today of a baby La Plata dolphin being held aloft in a crowd of about 25 tourists on an Argentinian beach. It had been swimming close to the shore and become stranded in the sand, when tourists first spotted the animal and began taking photographs on their camera phones.
Instead of returning the dolphin to deeper water where it would be able to swim away, the tourists passed it around between them, posing for selfies with the struggling, squirming animal. This continued until well after the dolphin had overheated and died. Its corpse was later discarded on the sand and the crowd moved on.
The story is extremely upsetting and also, a little confronting.
It indicates that the social media age we’re all a part of – and contribute too – has well and truly gone too far.
I haven’t previously subscribed to the theory that selfies are solely a product of narcissism. Nor have I believed that modern society’s obsession with constantly taking snaps of the banalities of everyday life was particularly problematic. But when the desire to ‘capture a moment’ not only ruins that moment but kills a living creature, the art of the selfie can no longer be dismissed as mere harmless fun.
Since whatever beginning you believe in, human beings have sought to create records of our existence. Our time on earth is, by definition, temporary and this prompts a natural desire to leave something behind. Some lasting record of who we are, what we looked like, how we lived, what happened to us. To my mind, selfies and photographic social media are simply another technological advance is the human pursuit of posterity; a form of visual diary.
The problem is not so much in the capturing, as it is in the broadcast.