By Divya Lotliker
Thanks to increasing global awareness about the adverse effects of captivity on dolphins, public opposition to the marine park industry is growing.
Thomas Cook, one of Britain’s largest travel companies has recently stopped promoting tours to a number of animal attractions, including captive dolphin facilities. This positive shift follows similar policy changes from travel giants TripAdvisor and Virgin.
But the same trend cannot be said for the Middle East, where it seems the marine park industry is unfortunately booming. As Sea World’s profits and attendance rates have dropped dramatically in the U.S. in the wake of Blackfish, the company has decided to expand its operations to the Middle East.
In line with this move from Sea World, Kuwait’s Scientific Center, which currently serves as an institution for environmental education, has announced it also plans to introduce a captive dolphin display.
The Scientific Center’s proposal includes developing ‘swim with’ programs and dolphin performances. While it is not yet known where the Scientific Center would be sourcing the dolphins from, it is likely the dolphins would be imported from Russia. This would include a long and high-stress plane journey which poses a huge set of risks to the animals.
It seems as though the Center’s plans are not just to expand, but to reinvent themselves in order to remain a primary attraction in the city, Salmiya. The various proposals, including an Exploratorium, conference centres and exhibit halls are all part of a strategy not only to encourage international but local visitors. Which means that the introduction of captive dolphins is simply yet another way to lure in tourists – and profit – under the guise of “education” and “science”.
Marine parks positioning themselves as educational facilities is certainly not a new concept. But in truth, there are no studies that suggest the display of captive dolphins translates to an increased interest in their conservation.
Dolphin shows are really much more focused on the entertainment factor – on showcasing dolphins performing circus tricks to loud music – than they are on teaching people how dolphins behave naturally in the wild. This in turn can actually teach people the wrong message.
For example, by encouraging visitors to feed, ride, and pet captive dolphins, marine parks teach the public that it is okay to repeat these damaging activities in the wild.
It is very sad that a supposed “educational facility” is failing to educate people on the importance of allowing animals to flourish in their own environments. Kuwaiti waters are home to a number of different cetacean species, so the Scientific Center would do a far better job at educating people if they were to promote wild dolphin and whale watching.
Along with many other animal protection organisations, Australia for Dolphins has written to the Scientific Center’s Board of Directors. We have urged them to develop an alternative exhibit to attract visitors to the Scientific Center which doesn’t involve the display of captive dolphins.
You can write to the Chairman and Managing Director of the Scientific Center, Mijbil Almutawa, by emailing: [email protected]
Please respectfully recommend against the development of a captive dolphin facility at the Scientific Center and point out that the Center would be the recipient of international praise if it decided not to pursue these plans.