After I returned from my travels, I saw a headline, a week or two old, about a new Dolphin Cove facility, to be built next to Puerto Seco Beach in Discovery Bay. The beach was recently rehabilitated and turned into a major tourist attraction.
I have so many questions and concerns I don’t even know where to start.
The Beach itself is nice and clean and well kept. Good! It is on a fish sanctuary. Good again! When I was there, I was delighted to watch pelicans and terns diving for fish. The pollution has been reduced, and water quality improved. Excellent! It is attracting many local people as well as tourists. Wonderful! It’s a beautiful place.
I will ask these questions. Perhaps the “powers that be” have answers:
Why was an environmental permit given for the construction of a captive dolphin facility in a fish sanctuary, despite the objections of marine scientists at the University of the West Indies, Jamaica Environment Trust, the Discovery Bay Community Development Committee and the Fishermen’s Coop of Discovery Bay (among others)?
Why was there no Town Hall meeting or consultation with stakeholders on this plan?
What are the “restrictions” on that permit?
Will NEPA retract their permit if there are problems? Who monitors these places, locally?
What impact will the dolphins’ waste material have on the fish sanctuary (see below)?
Where do the dolphins come from?
How could they be in their “natural environment” as Dolphin Cove claims?
What techniques are used to train these wild animals?
Is the capture of dolphins in Jamaican waters prohibited?
What is the status of the Government’s Dolphin Conservation Policy?
I have had close encounters with these remarkable animals in the wild. Both are moments I shall never forget.
For more information on captive marine mammals around the world, do go to the Ceta Base website, which keeps an inventory.
Firstly, I was swimming alone in San San Bay (yes, Portland) when I heard a loud snorting and squeaking noise behind me. Snorkelers? No, it was two dolphins. They swam up beside me, took a look at me (by which time I had swallowed copious amounts of seawater in my excitement) and then dipped and dived through the water past and ahead of me. They were curious.
Secondly, I was on a whale watching trip, some ten miles off the coast of Monterey, California. The weather was gloomy and foggy, and the sea was rough. We were about to turn back when we heard of an orca pod ahead of us. About ten of them were out hunting. We watched them chase down their prey (a sea lion) with an assortment of loud squeaks and rattles, as they encircled, trapped it and tore it to pieces. It’s not for nothing they are called the “wolves of the sea.” We were so excited we nearly fell overboard with them. We smelled the oily carcass of the poor sea lion. They ate every bit.
Back to the world of captivity, where we are not mere onlookers, in awe of animals that are living their natural lives. This is a fake world – one of coercion, stress and suffering. We are forcing them to do unnatural things. But, oh! They are smiling, they look so happy. No, that’s not a smile…
Before I go any further, here is the link to a petition, which needs far more signatures – 20,000 by December 15th. I know there are many thousands of Jamaicans and others around the world who care. Please sign here!
Dolphin Cove calls itself the Number One Attraction in Jamaica. If that is the best we can offer, we are terribly behind the times and our tourism model is outdated. This model has gone out of style, along with circuses (which as a child I also thought was fun, until I learned how the tigers and elephants were treated). Dolphin “attractions” around the world are in decline – except in the Caribbean and Mexico (and apparently in China, where “Seaworld” type places are booming). Seaworld itself is losing money and is desperately trying to rebuild its image by calling itself a “marine zoological park” and claiming to have rescued thousands of marine mammals. Yet, over 50 orcas have reportedly died there.
Let’s face facts: In captive facilities across the world, these animals are removed from their families, sold by their captors and carried long distances to their final destination – a tank, or an enclosed area, a prison for the rest of their lives. And they do not live long. They suffer. Can you imagine the stress these incredibly intelligent animals are under? During training, they are half-starved to do their tricks for the tourists to get food. They suffer from health problems brought on by confinement in tiny spaces (they usually have an ocean to swim in), harsh training and enormous psychological and physical stress. They often attack their trainers, unsurprisingly.
Would you treat your pet dog in this way? No. I thought not.
Now, I do not claim to know where these dolphins will come from. Will they be caught in the wild, possibly bred in captivity (where there is a roughly 30 per cent mortality rate, globally) or relocated from somewhere else? I do not know.
I understand that the Jamaican Government has been trying to get a Dolphin Conservation Policy in place since 2004. The policy states that no further attractions should be opened until further studies have been done. Despite this, the Government has permitted another one. Are we so desperate for those extra tourism dollars?
I have read that the permit which has been granted is “restricted.” What does this mean? NEPA has also stated that if the water quality is affected the attraction will be stopped. Is this likely to happen?
There is another issue that was brought to my attention, which cannot be overlooked. I confess I hadn’t thought much about dolphins’ “toilet habits.” However, where will their excreta go? They are confined in a small area, not out in the wild. I believe the concentrated poop would have a very harmful effect on the nearby reefs, in terms of algae, on seagrass – and on swimmers. All the good work of cleaning the area and installing a sewerage system would be completely undone.
I will leave you with the mental image of a captive dolphin – at a Jamaican hotel which no longer keeps them, I should add – continuously banging its head against the side of its prison, in the moonlight. A friend of mine who was staying there told me that, seeing and hearing its distress that night was heartbreaking.
Here is a quote from the Dolphin Project website on Swim with Dolphins programmes around the world. I hope that none of this would apply to Dolphin Cove:
Swim-with-dolphins programs place extraordinary amounts of stress on captive dolphins, who may interact with over 50 tourists a day. They are trained into submission through food deprivation techniques, kept hungry so they will perform on demand. Almost all dolphins must be routinely medicated to combat the physical and psychological stresses placed upon them. As such, many die prematurely due to illness or stress-related disorders.
It is considered the norm for dolphins to be confined in tiny, chlorinated tanks, where they are subject to relentless sun exposure, noise pollution, continuous human interaction and water toxins. Some live in polluted harbor waters, in hastily constructed holding pens, “conveniently” close to cruise ship ports for quick, tourist access. The majority of dolphins who participate in these programs clearly show physical indications of overwork such as persistent open wounds and abrasions as a result of the encounters.
Dear Minister Bartlett, keeping dolphins in captivity is not “sustainable tourism.”