Fighting for Dolphins and Due Process in the Bahamas

In our continuing fight to stop the proliferation of captive dolphin facilities in the Caribbean, we often support the grassroots efforts of individuals and organizations that are on the ground and on the front lines of confronting captive facility proposals and their proponents. The Caribbean is generally a battle zone for efforts to oppose new dolphin facilities, as captures continue to occur in the region primarily in Cuba, and existing swim-with programs seek to expand to other islands. Currently, local organizations and individuals are leading the opposition against proposed facilities on St. Thomas, Turks and Caicos, and the Bahamas.

In most of these cases, local organizations are looking to the legal systems within these countries to provide them with a mechanism to challenge these facilities on environmental, animal welfare, or procedural grounds. Over the past few days, WDC has received positive and encouraging news from reEarth, a Bahamian organization that WDC continues to support, and who is leading the fight against the development of a fourth dolphin swim-with facility there. In a somewhat unprecedented move, the Supreme Court of the Bahamas has granted permission to reEarth to bring judicial review proceedings challenging the permits and approvals received by the Blackbeard’s Cay project.  As a result, those government officials involved in permitting the dolphin facility must make full disclosure of all permit, license, lease and approval applications submitted by the developer Blue Illusions.

This ruling is significant and allows any procedural improprieties and breaches of law to be addressed, including the failure of the planning committee to hold a public hearing, a requirement under the permitting process. The Blackbeard’s Cay project is controversial not only because of the potential skirting of proper permitting procedures, but also for its potential to harm local retailers on Nassau through its diversion of cruise passengers to the cay, as well as the reportedly inhumane conditions in which the dolphins are currently being held . Eight dolphins were shipped from Honduras in July 2013, and are being held in shallow and unprotected sea pens.  Three other dolphin facilities holding at least 70 dolphins already operate within the Bahamas.

As the current worldwide captive population of dolphins remains unsustainable, the establishment of yet another captive dolphin facility in the Bahamas will likely lead to dolphins being captured from the wild, with unknown consequences for the population from which they are removed. Although the dolphins currently at Blackbeard’s Cay are reportedly from Honduras, it is not clear whether they were captured from the wild, or bred in captivity. Even already-trained dolphins from other facilities are likely to have been originally captured from the wild from capture operations such as those operating in Japan, Solomon Islands and Cuba; operations for which serious concerns as to their sustainability and cruelty have been raised by the international scientific community.

As more people become aware of the welfare and conservation risks posed to dolphins by their capture and confinement in captivity, the development of further captive dolphin facilities around the world is brought increasingly into question. Captive dolphin tourism is falling out of favor, and even the cruise industry has shown signs of change. In its Sustainability Report 2010, Carnival Cruise Lines UK announced that it had elected not to operate tours which involve interactions with captive dolphins “in order to maintain its commitment to the environment.” More enlightened cruise lines are turning away from promoting swim-with and other captive programs to their patrons.

We understand that many people profess a desire to get close to dolphins, and the swim-with advertisements that greet travelers at baggage claims throughout the Caribbean only encourage this activity for vacationers seeking these encounters in the welcoming waters of the region. But there is a cost associated with such interactions: costs to the dolphins, the environment, and even personal safety. Captive facilities have catered to and exploited our love for these animals by packaging an opportunity to get up close and personal with dolphins in what appears to be a controlled setting where they can choose to freely engage in contact with us. However, nothing could be further from the truth.

Unfortunately, facilities that promote swim-with-dolphin programs suggest that the interactions between humans and dolphins are reciprocal—that dolphins seek out these interactions through their own will and desire. Rather, these dolphins are motivated by food in a severely restricted environment, not by a reciprocal desire to be near us. No matter how we might justify these attractions, whether through a veneer of education, or with the hope of attracting tourist revenue and bolstering the local economy, these programs are self-serving prisons for species that naturally roam up to a hundred miles a day, and should never be forced to seek an encounter with us except on their own terms. These programs are nothing more than our entertainment and amusement, at the dolphins’ expense, no matter where these animals come from, and regardless of the arguments put forward by investors or proponents of these captive programs.

Furthermore, dolphin swim-with programs are not all rosy for human participants, either: injuries occur frequently, and can be serious. An unsuspecting public is not ready for a dolphin that becomes aggressive and either bites, rams, or pushes them underwater. These incidents are too numerous to count, but more recently a Swedish tourist was injured near Cancun, Mexico in Isla Mujeres and has vowed never to swim with dolphins again. One unforgettable incident that was profiled in the media occurred in 2002 where ‘Inside Edition’ journalist Nancy Glass was severely and permanently injured by 500-pound dolphin that fell upon her during a swim-with encounter in the Bahamas. Dolphins can also carry diseases that can be transmitted to humans (and vice versa).

The dolphin trade is indeed lucrative for a select few, but many Islands throughout the Caribbean have recognized the true costs involved and have refused to implement, or have abandoned their dolphin programs, including Antigua, Dominica, St. Maarten, Panama, and Costa Rica. Others have banned additional imports or exports of dolphins and other marine mammals, including Mexico. In many countries, most recently India, legislation has been implemented to safeguard the future of dolphins threatened by live captures and confinement in captivity and to prohibit capture, trade and captivity of these animals.

We encourage The Bahamas to consider the establishment of a similar policy as that announced by the Netherlands Antilles in 2006. This policy establishes a moratorium on new facilities by acknowledging that because the status of wild dolphin populations is still unclear in most parts of the Caribbean, and the impact of the capture of even a few wild dolphins is unknown, they would no longer contribute to the further proliferation of captive dolphin facilities.

The Caribbean abounds with more humane, ethical, and authentic tourism opportunities that don’t contribute to the destruction of the marine environment and that aren’t reliant upon the confinement of another sentient species. We continue to work towards a captivity-free Caribbean, and applaud the passionate individuals making a difference throughout the region.

Comments

You have said it all. Thank you for your support, as we few Bahamian advocates continue this fight. Sam Duncombe of ReEarth deserves major kudos for her unwavering 24+ year battle on behalf of dolphins and indeed the environment here in the Bahamas.

Never again will I swim with them. I will always try to protect them!

LET THEM FREE
THEY BELONG TO SWIM FREE IN THE SEA

As s kid you think how great it would be to see them perform or touch themThen you realize the horror of their treatment. Educating our youth is our best bet to ending this slavery

Use to swim with them in captivity--never again! I havenot for years now. I have seen first hand the stress on the dolphins and behavior problems that come from captivity. I have even known of trainers that were afraid to get in the water with the dolphins--telling me they would probably get killed!

WDC What is your policy on groups that view wild dolphins and get in the water while doing it? I have seen now in Maui there is a "Smart Dolphin" program that certifies that the guides are environmentally sensitive. Are there global standards on this so a tourist can know they are participating in ethical treatment of cetacean observation? Could you do a Facebook post about it?

Thanks for your question. WDC is actually a founding partner of the Dolphin SMART program (www.dolphinsmart.org). The Program was launched in Key West in 2007, and after a long process of engaging with the public, dolphin tour operators, and other stakeholders specifically regarding local concerns relating to swim-with and feeding issues occurring in a discrete area where boats and dolphins were concentrating. Our policy is to not support close interactions with dolphins in the wild, and of course, not in captivity.

Swimming with wild whales and dolphins is, potentially, an exhilarating and unforgettable experience. Sadly, it is very difficult to ensure that the encounter takes place on the whale or dolphins’ terms and is not an intrusive or stressful experience for what are, after all, wild animals. For this reason, WDC is unable to recommend public support for commercial swim-with wild cetacean programs which have sprung up in various parts of the world in recent years and seek to expand in the Caribbean.

While there are responsible and thoughtful swim operators, sadly, it is also true that, in some locations, wild whales or dolphins are harassed and repeatedly disturbed by swim boats which tend to drop swimmers in the water as close as possible to the animals. Research indicates that, in some areas heavily targeted by commercial swim tours and other human activities, dolphins are actually leaving their traditional habitat in favor of quieter areas. There is concern that disruption to feeding, resting, nursing and other behavior may have a long term impact on the health and well-being of individuals and populations.

Another consideration is the safety of both swimmers and cetaceans. Whales and dolphins are large, powerful animals and if not treated with respect, are capable of injuring people in the water, either accidentally, or if they feel threatened in any way. Like all animals, cetaceans are protective of their young. Many people are unaware that their insurance may not cover them for what are classified as high risk activities, such as swimming with cetaceans. Dolphins have also been injured by boat propellers, and by thoughtless behavior from swimmers. Disease transmission is also a possibility.

They should be free. If I was caged I would bite to.

They were not put on this earth for us to make into slaves. If people really 'loved' them they would go and see them in their own habitat, not force them into ones for paying guests.

We were told that the dolphins used at the swim encounter were donated by Ron Howard after they filmed cocoon in the Bahamas years ago (1/31/2005) they also claimed that during the storm/typhoon that the dolphins did not "want" to leave and were afraid of leaving. This was prior to Carnival stopping their dolphin encounter trips and there is probably no way to confirm the donation/escape stories. We know better now!

Those people look like clowns at a circus....are they really dumb enough to think that God put dolphins on this planet to dance with? They make me sick and I would like to slap all of them in the face!!!

Thank you for the information, I am trying to spread awareness of these captive issues. And hope that one day this will not exist and it will be something we look back and everyone frowns upon.

Look at their eyes people , they are not happy, they are in a prison. Don't look at their smile because they look like they are smiling even when dead. We as a people are so much better than this now that we know.

It is possible to swim with dolfins in the open sea when thy chose to seek us humans out and spend time with us
Not imprisoning then

I looked into their eyes.... They r not happy! I will never "swim with the dolphins" again! They should b free....

Returned last night from a third trip to the Bahama islands - been to Nassau twice and the Grand Bahama island once. I have never once participated in a dolphin encounter. There are so many other excursions and adventures to do in the Bahamas than swim with dolphins. Both of the islands have nature parks for kayaking, hiking and snorkeling.

It's important to spread awareness to those seeking a day a day excursion to not swim with dolphins. Take your kids elsewhere! Educate yourself! How do you think they ended up captive in the Bahamas??

Do the people upset with this practice eat hamburgers and other corporate processed protein? If so, it would be hard to be more hypocritical. I am not a fan of Dolphin swims, but other animals are being treated much, much worse.