By SUZAN DELIBASIC
Ric O’Barry has a simple message for tourists attending dolphin shows in Thailand: don’t go.
The star of the 2009 Academy-Award winning documentary The Cove, which exposed the cruel mass killings of dolphins in Japan, has turned his sights to exposing less obvious cruelty.
In the Dolphins Bay Nemo tourist attraction in Phuket, up to five dolphins live their whole lives in one small tank, and are forced to perform tricks, Mr O'Barry says.
“Dolphins wouldn’t do any tricks at all if it weren’t for the fact they were being starved. It’s all about tricks for food,” he says.
Since the early 1970s, the former dolphin trainer has been an activist for dolphins’ rights globally.
While working as a trainer on the popular TV series Flipper, one of the dolphins, Kathy, died in his arms, in what he believed to be a suicide due to captivity.
On April 22, 1970, he founded Dolphin Project to put an end to the exploitation and slaughter of dolphins.
Mr O’Barry asks Australians and other tourists visiting Thailand not to visit dolphin shows.
“The best advice I can give is to not buy a ticket. This may seem simple but if the demand for seeing captive dolphin shows is slashed, so will the need to supply aquariums and marine parks with performing animals,” Mr O’Barry says.
During the shows trainers entice the dolphins to perform tricks, such as standing on their noses and riding them, and then reward them with food.
“It’s abusive form of dominance as marine parks and aquariums try to brainwash the paying public by including commentary such as: 'Dolphins will swim 50 to 100 miles a day in the open ocean', yet, what we see in front of us are nothing more than performing puppets,” Mr O’Barry says.
Mr O’Barry says the market for performing dolphins is closely linked to the annual mass killings of dolphins in Japan.
“Dolphin hunters and dolphin trainers work side-by-side in Taiji,” he says.
“Unsuspecting dolphins are rounded up via an aggressive chase, herded into the shallow waters of a cove of which, the 2009 documentary The Cove was based, and then they are sorted into two groups: one which are destined to a life of captivity and the other to a slaughterhouse.
“Trainers are often visualised on Dolphin Project’s livestreams laughing as the suffering animals are brutally killed.”
Thailand-based dolphin rights group Love Dolphins Thailand founder Natasha Eldred says the group began as a campaign to try and stop the dolphinarium opening in Phuket.
“The campaign was called Phuket Says No to Dolphin Shows,” Ms Eldred says.
“We had support from Ric O'Barry's Dolphin Project and created a huge online presence via social media and a website to spread awareness in Thai, English, Russian and Chinese.
“We visited schools and local businesses to educate the community about captivity and the detrimental effects it has on animals and also to Phuket's image.”
Despite the campaign, the dolphinarium was opened.
Ms Eldred says the dolphinarium does not meet international standard for the size and depth of the pool, and did not include an isolation pool in the first build, as it should have. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) Thailand seemed uninterested in how the dolphins were captured, she says.
Dolphins Bay Nemo and CITES Thailand did not respond to a request for comment.
Ms Eldred says once Love Dolphins Thailand failed their objective, they realised that the new dolphin show was legal and there was nothing they could do to tell people not to support it because of possible legal action against them.
“The original campaign did, however, successfully educate the public about dolphins, we did manage to stop many hotels sending their guests to the show, we educated many school children and their parents and we did, above all, try our best for the good of the dolphins and Phuket's image,” she says.
“We have a volunteer-based presence that is committed to spreading awareness about captivity of cetaceans in Thailand and our objective for the future is a purely educational one.
“We fully appreciate that in order to make change for the better the public needs to understand the complex and sentient lives of dolphins to help sway their perceptions of dolphins performing for our entertainment in shamefully squalid and small conditions.”
CEO for Australia for Dolphins Sarah Lucas says they advise tourists in general not to visit dolphinariums, particularly where the dolphins are kept in inhumane conditions.
“Whether it’s in Australia, Thailand or anywhere else for that matter, we advise people not to visit dolphinariums where it is known that dolphins are being sourced potentially from wild hunts,” Ms Lucas says.