Corrected: Dolphin attractions feel pressure amid SeaWorld controversy


Swim with dolphins 1The controversy stirred up by the “Blackfish” documentary, which focused attention on SeaWorld’s treatment of killer whales and the thorny larger issue of keeping cetaceans in captivity has spilled over to a lesser extent to other attractions.

Among the affected venues are dolphinariums, the marine mammal parks and aquariums that house dolphins, primarily bottlenose dolphins.

There are dolphinariums scattered all over the world, with about 20 in the U.S. and another 20 in the Caribbean and Mexico.

Some dolphinariums consist of one pool where dolphins perform for the public; others are part of larger marine parks, zoos or theme parks, such as SeaWorld’s three parks in the U.S. and those at Xcaret and Xel-Ha in the Riviera Maya in Mexico and Dolphinaris Cancun, next to the Wet ’n Wild Aquatic Park.

Some, such as the dolphin facility at the Barcelo Maya Beach Resort in Mexico’s Riviera Maya, are right on the property.

One result of the controversy surrounding SeaWorld has been the dropping of dolphin tours from a program set for an upcoming event in Cancun.

Last week’s TBEX 2014 Conference in Cancun for travel writers, media content creators and social media travel professionals had been criticized for offering attendees the opportunity to take part in two tours at the Delphinus Dolphinarium.

Conference organizers had refused to drop the tours, but the Cancun Visitors Bureau, which had offered the tours to TBEX, decided to retract them.

“Dolphin experiences are very popular with tourists, but they are just a fraction of the vast offerings the destination has,” the bureau said in a statement. “Dolphin encounters are no longer available as part of the TBEX programming options.”

The bureau added that it had put in a lot of time and work to host the conference and said it was important to move forward “so that conference attendees can share ideas, best practices and, while they are at it, get a firsthand look at Cancun’s offerings.”

The broader issue surrounding dolphin encounters centers on the ethics of keeping the mammals in captivity, despite assertions by dolphinarium operators that their resident bottlenose dolphins are better off than they would be in the wild.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is one of several organizations working to free captive dolphins and orcas.

“PETA opposes keeping all animals in captivity for entertainment purposes,” said Lindsay Rajt, PETA’s associate director of campaigns. “Dolphins in the wild swim up to 50 miles a day, but in captivity, that means 60 feet a day. They navigate by ecolocation, bouncing off sonar waves. This is not possible in a tank, and the confusion of their entire sensory balance causes deranged behavior.”

Stories abound about the traumatic effects of dolphins in captivity, but Rajt said, “There is some good news. There’s a movement that’s growing stronger to ban the practice of dolphin exhibits and facilities.”

South Carolina, Israel and England have banned the capture of dolphins for entertainment and exhibition purposes.

Costa Rica, Australia, Croatia, Cyprus, Slovenia, Switzerland, Hungary and Chile have banned dolphinariums.

The PETA branch in India was instrumental in banning the capture of dolphins after the minister of the environment attempted to import dolphins for public performances.
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“No permit was issued for these performances, which ultimately expanded to ban all dolphin imports for entertainment,” Rajt said.

In a new policy aimed at regulating the use of dolphins, Jamaica recently recommended the suspension of new approvals for dolphinariums until an ecosystems survey is undertaken.

The policy will address dolphins in Jamaican water, the trading of dolphins and the use of mammals for attractions, according to the Environment and Climate Change Industry.

Jamaica has dolphin facilities in Montego Bay, Negril and Ocho Rios.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported that on July 17 a Bahamian judge had ordered a dolphinarium in Blackbeard’s Cay near Nassau to shut down. In fact, the judge ordered the government of the Bahamas to shut down the park, but instead of doing so, the government appealed the decision to a higher court. In the meantime, and pending the outcome of the appeal, the dolphinarium remains open to visitors and is conducting business as usual.  

As of press time, no court date had been set for the appeals court to take up the case.

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