Why Do People Love to Visit Captive Dolphins?


I wonder why. Here are some thoughts from Erica Hamilton, who is spearheading the opposition to the planned (and approved!) captive dolphin facility in Discovery Bay, adjacent to Puerto Seco Beach and jutting out into the pristine fish sanctuary in the Bay. There is some very useful and thought-provoking information in this article – do give it a read, and share. (Sorry, Erica – I couldn’t help highlighting the phrase “profit centre”).

In answer to Erica’s question, I believe that “dolphin attractions” are being cleverly marketed within the tourism industry as something clean, healthy and natural. So family friendly! I think the eager, perhaps naïve tourists (local and foreign) really think that riding around on the backs of dolphins is really cool and that the “smiling” dolphins are loving every minute of it! But she does actually make this point and concludes:

Making money from an animal’s dreadful suffering is immoral.

If you have not already done so, PLEASE sign the petition here and please share with anyone who ONLY wants to see dolphins wild and free! Almost 20,000 people have signed. #SaveOurBay  # NoCaptiveDolphinsInOurBay

What does Discovery Bay look like? Take a quick, dreamy drone tour on YouTube, here. It’s beautiful.

You can follow this campaign on Twitter @DefendDBay and on their Facebook page. All the residents and fisherfolk – supported by local and overseas marine scientists – who adamantly oppose this development really do deserve your support.

Why Do So Many People Love to Visit Captive Dolphins?

In the middle of all the controversy about the approved captive dolphin facility in Discovery Bay, I read a comment by a member of our Facebook Group “Save Discovery Bay,” and I quote with her permission:

“As a ‘tourist’, but also a business owner in Runaway Bay, I’m a member of several resort sites on FB and Trip Advisor forums. There isn’t a day goes by when an upcoming tourist/visitor doesn’t post asking where they can get the best price for visiting Dolphin Cove. These are parents and grandparents.”

Another member commented that Dolphin Cove is the second biggest attraction in Jamaica.

It really got me thinking. Why on earth do so many people want to go?

Wild bottlenose dolphins. (Photo: Dolphin Project)

Many reasons, I suppose. Marine mammals, in their own environment which is alien to us, fascinate. Some are elusive; one doesn’t often see too many seals, sea lions, walruses, narwhals (those astonishing unicorns of the northern ocean), elephant seals, manatees, dugongs, and so on. But nearly all of us have seen dolphins frolicking offshore, or riding the bow wave of a boat or canoe, or leaping wakes and waves. They are inquisitive, seem approachable; the legend of their altruism, of saving human lives, leading ships to safety makes them seem like our friends, so we want to take another look, want to interact with them as we do with fellow human beings. The benign physiognomy of that fixed “smile makes them seem friendly.

It all started with the first episode of Flipper, on September 19, 1964, and has grown ever since – right now in China, exponentially. Marine parks and aquariums are opening monthly in China, with more than 36 large-scale projects set to launch in the coming two years. In fact, Chinese money is behind a new venture in Hawaii; China Oceanwide Holdings, headed by one of China’s richest individuals has closed on the purchase of the US$280 million purchase of 26 acres of land at Ko Olina’s Hona Lagoon 2, to include an extensive dolphinarium. This saddened me, as Hawaii had refused licenses for several facilities and I listed them as one of the four U.S. States that did not tolerate captive dolphins. But they do. Dolphin Quest is on the Big Island, Hilton Waikoloa Village on the Kohala Coast of the Big Island.

The 60s TV series “Flipper” started it all.

Hawaii’s Bill SB No. 3055, enacted on January 24th, 2018 states “The purpose of this Act is to prohibit the department of agriculture from issuing permits for the interstate, intrastate, and inter-facility transfer of captive cetaceans solely for breeding or entertainment purposes.” So I suppose they are all “educational” and existing facilities are “grandfathered” in. I have been researching our own laws for another (boring) article I tried to write, and it is clear that there are many loopholes and when an Act is proposed that has muscle, it is simply not passed by the House.

Boy oh boy, do these facilities earn money! Dolphin Quest lists their ticket prices: the cheapest interaction is for “wee tots”, aged 2-4, with an adult, for 10 minutes, at US$125. Then they go right on up to “An Encounter Deluxe” for 5 year-olds to adults, no more than 6 people, for 45 minutes, for US$1,475.

Our own Dolphin Cove are listed on the Jamaica Stock Exchange, so their Annual Report is a public document: “Dolphin Cove Limited, now a subsidiary of World of Dolphins Inc — itself a subsidiary of Dolphin Discovery Group of Mexico — reported profit attributable to stockholders at year end 2015 of $406.25 million, 7.6 per cent down on the $439.73 million earned in 2014”. Reported in United States Dollars. One wonders how much of the retained profit even remains in Jamaica when the majority of the venture is owned by Controlodora, Dolphin, S.A de C.V., a private company founded in 1990 and based in Cancun, Mexico, which owns Dolphin Discovery. The Chairman’s Statement goes on to say “The opportunity to establish a dolphin habitat at the refurbished Puerto Seco Beach in Discovery Bay is being pursued and we expect that by the latter part of 2018 that facility should be in operation as a profit centre”. It doesn’t say “subject to approval by NEPA”.

You can get a “Royal Swim” in Jamaica, standing on the heads of two dolphins, for a mere $179 (discounted price). The “behaviours” include “FOOT PUSH, DORSAL TOW, KISS, HAND TARGET, HUG AND CARESSES.”

I am not sure I can even think of another venture that could earn that sort of money with so low an infrastructure and carrying cost – some floats, some wire and a couple of trainer/handlers, a shared vet, some frozen fish.

And my logical conclusion is that with such huge sums of money at their disposal, owners and operators can afford to promote and promote and promote, and they do. They target cruise ship companies and their passengers, users of the internet, their ads pop up on my screen wherever on the web I go. They influence perceptions, they create illusions of “truths”.

Governments like extra visitors, never mind that a study carried out when I was Chairman of the Jamaica Women’s League, albeit a long time ago, showed an average cruise ship passengers’ spend in Jamaica at US$3.00. Not any more, with today’s dolphin visits, but how much of that winds up with our artisans, or in our economy? They tell the gullible that visiting captive dolphins is educational, that it is conservancy, it is eco-tourism – and targets lap it up and feel even better about their visits. They offer “adopt a dolphin” programmes, to “protect” dolphins. They offer free, special school trips to demonstrate that the experience is open to all.

Actually, it isn’t. The average Jamaican will never visit a dolphinarium, it is, simply, beyond their means. And the better educated, the more aware, probably better-off citizens of our world do not go.

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better” – Maya Angelou.

I have nothing against making money, some friends are wealthy and I would enjoy being wealthy myself – wouldn’t we all? And really, hard work and initiative should be commensurately rewarded. But there are good ways and bad ways, and making money from an animal’s dreadful suffering is immoral.

And placing dolphins in the sheltered, still, lagoon of Discovery Bay, a Marine and Fish Sanctuary, against ALL scientific opinion and with clear evidence of probable degradation, is reprehensible, indefensible, and also immoral.

Erica Hamilton

A recent photo on Facebook of Puerto Seco Beach. Is that really the dolphin enclosure in the background?

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