Dolphins may threaten economy

A local group campaigning against the proposed captive dolphin facility in Grand Cayman believes there could be long-term economic implications from such a venture.

‘We’re not looking at it just from an emotional and moral standpoint, but from an economic one,’ said Mr. Billy Adam of Keep Dolphins Free in the Cayman Islands.

‘Raw sewage eliminated from dolphins damages the reefs and we need to protect what we have for our tourism product,’ he said, explaining that the faeces cause algae bloom that is detrimental to coral. This, in turn, weakens the islands’ defences against hurricanes.

About 50 people attended Thursday evening’s public presentation by diver and environmentalist Martha Watkins-Gilkes at the University College of the Cayman Islands, all of whom were against a proposed dolphin facility for Cayman, except for one person who had not made up his mind on the issue.

An animal import license was issued to Dolphin Discovery (Cayman) Ltd. on March 7, 2005. This license for eight bottlenose dolphins is subject to certain health requirements at the time of importation and other requirements being in place prior to the importation of the animals.

An area of the Turtle Farm site has already been leased to Dolphin Discovery (Cayman) Ltd. for a swim-with-dolphin facility to be constructed there. The new Government has not made any decision on whether it will permit such a facility to go ahead.

Ms. Watkins-Gilkes told attendees that Dolphin Discovery (the same company proposing to set up here) was closed down in Antigua last year because of major environmental concerns. She played a tape of Commissioner of the Planning Division in Antigua saying he does not want the company back on the island again.

Ms. Gilkes said that the natural water flow from an adjacent salt pond was cut off by the establishment of the dolphin facility and as a result, the pond overflowed when heavy rain set in, flooding roads in the area. There was concern that the stagnant water of the pond was contaminated, which could pose health risks to humans. The only way to alleviate the flooding from the polluted pond was to drain the area. In order to do so, the dirty water would have to run through the dolphin enclosure, thereby exposing the dolphins to pollution.

The new government in Antigua repeatedly asked Dolphin Discovery to move the dolphins to another location in Antigua for this reason, but Ms. Gilkes said Dolphin Discovery ignored their requests. Just as the Government was about to seize the dolphins Dolphin Discovery flew the mammals to Tortola. The company applied to return to Antigua in April 2005, something Ms. Gilkes and other campaigners are keeping pressure up against.

Cruelty is another reason to oppose such facilities, she said. A video was shown that featured footage of dolphins being captured in the wild. It explained that scientific research shows dolphins to be highly intelligent creatures that have stable, long-term social ties to each other, form long term friendships and have distinct personalities. The video described the captures as ‘very violent’ and explained, ‘They will never see their family or the ocean again.’ The capture depicted mothers being caught in nets and hauled away while babies were left orphaned. It also said that nearly every facility that keeps dolphins is involved in their capture in the wild.

The life expectancy of these creatures is reduced dramatically in captivity and very seldom do they breed in captivity. All this increases the need by such facilities to catch more and more dolphins in the wild, said Mr. Adam.

Another opinion voiced on the video is that the mental health of these animals comes into question in captivity. As a result many people get hurt in dolphin swim programmes because of stressed, traumatised dolphins. ‘But it’s not their fault, it’s what we’re doing to them,’ it said.

It was pointed out that marine parks cry ‘public education’ as their reason for dolphin shows, but those on the dolphin side say it can only be bad public education when the dolphins are not in a natural marine environment and have been caught in cruel circumstances.

Ms. Watkins-Gilkes and Mr. Adam met with Permanent Secretary from the Ministry of District Administration, Planning, Agriculture and Housing Kearney Gomez and Veterinary officer with the Department of Agriculture Dr. Colin Wakelin earlier on Thursday. She said the two hour meeting had gone well and the two gentlemen were very receptive to information about possible environmental damage from a proposed dolphin facility.

An extract from the Book of Genesis (1:21, 1:22) was quoted at the meeting: ‘And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good.

‘And God blessed them, saying, be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth.’

Humane Society Director Kathleen Bodden-Harris said there are enough problems on Grand Cayman without another negative impact on the delicate eco-system.

President of the Cayman Islands Tourism Association Karie Bergstrom said the cost to tourism from such a facility could take is toll in the form of negative international press and the negative impact on the environment. The watersports sector of the association was against such a facility, but the organisation as a whole would not take a stand on the issue at this stage until it had looked at the pros and cons as a group.