Dolphins ‘dying to entertain’

The article Captive Dolphins Facilities Needed (Caymanian Compass 08/31/06) mentions repeatedly that the Minister of Tourism ‘believes’ this and that about the captive-dolphin tourist abusement industry being good for the Cayman Islands. But nowhere does he offer a single piece of evidence to support any of his ‘beliefs’.

Many individuals and organizations, including our own, have accumulated and will continue to share with Government a growing body of evidence showing why dolphins should remain free, for the benefit of both the dolphins and the Cayman Islands.

Successive Ministers of Tourism and Environment have ignored the advice of their own advisory agencies, following only the promoters of the captive-dolphin industry.

On March 18, 2002, the Animals Law established the Animal Welfare Advisory Committee. Its function is to advise the Minister of Agriculture on matters relating to animals. This committee has never been allowed to submit a recommendation on dolphins to the Ministry of Agriculture, which has primary responsibility for the importation of all animals, including dolphins.

On August 21, 2003, the government-appointed Marine Conservation Board (MCB) advised the Ministry of Tourism and Environment why the government should not encourage the establishment of this industry in the Cayman Islands.

The MCB’s concerns about the captive-dolphin industry coming to the Cayman Islands included ‘…our image as a tourist destination known for its marine resources conservation’. The letter went on to say: ‘… we pose the following with respect to the issue of cruelty, as well as inappropriateness, of such a facility … it is downright cruel to keep captive, in any restricted enclosure, this animal whose physiological and psychological needs are so … adapted to … the open ocean environment. … it could portray the Cayman Islands as a ‘Johnny-come-lately’ gimmicky destination scrabbling for whatever … tourism dollar there is remaining … when potential visitors realize that we no longer have any unique quality experience to offer in preference to those of a number of other, lower-cost destinations.’

The MCB is also alarmed about the stresses that would be placed on our economically important North Sound marine environment because of raw wastewater discharge from captive-dolphin facilities.

The Minister of Tourism and Environment insinuates that the Cayman Islands Tourism Association (CITA) membership-supported policy that dolphins should remain free is based on their fear of competition in the ‘water activities market’. Comments from watersports operators have never been about competition but have focused on the negative effects that captive-dolphin programmes could have on tourism, protection of the environment, and positioning Cayman as a leader, not a follower.

Mr. Minister, stop ignoring the advice of your own Government advisory boards, tourism industry organizations, and proud long-time friends and promoters of ‘Product Cayman.

‘I believe that their systems and permits will ensure that our environment is not negatively impacted,’ states the Minister. What systems? What regulations? There are NO regulations in effect for captive marine mammals.

The Animal Welfare Advisory Board has issued no regulations; the Department of Agriculture, which is issuing the import permits, has no regulations to follow. It seems that by default we as a country are going to accept the recommendations of the developers of these parks to establish operating standards. Surely this is a conflict of interest.

Mr. Minister, your attitude does not bode well for our future. We ask you to examine the evidence that dolphins are better off free; then, if you determine otherwise, explain how you concluded that it is good for the dolphins and the Cayman Islands that they should be held in captivity here.

The supporters and operators of the captive-dolphin industry are experts at avoiding revelation of the horrible facts of the industry and go to great lengths to hide their operations from public view. The reason is simple: to sell more tickets, they must maintain the myth that captive dolphins are always frolicking and happy. The fact is that dolphins are ‘dying to entertain’.

Government has not been open on this issue, and many questions remain unanswered. Government may continue to encourage the establishment of this copycat industry here in the Cayman Islands, but the fight for dolphins to remain free will go on here and worldwide, as it is a dying industry.

In this age of environmentally aware tourists, what image do we wish to project to our tourism customers?

Who is willing to stand up and defend ‘Product Cayman’ and our natural environment, now on sale at rock-bottom prices to the highest bidder?

Apparently, not our Minister of Tourism and Environment.

William H. Adam

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