While some in Cayman have spoken out against captive dolphins in the past, two of Cayman’s foremost tourism pioneers have now spoken out in support of such facilities here.
Married couple Bob and Suzy Soto believe that there are many advantages to having swim-with-dolphin facilities in the Cayman Islands, such as an outlet for children to interact with dolphins, a boost to Cayman’s tourism product and that it provides dolphins a secure setting compared to the harsh life of the open seas.
However, Mr. and Mrs. Soto do believe that inadequate captive dolphin facilities should be investigated and closed down.
‘Mistreatment of dolphins is cruel and we are against it.’
Mrs. Soto said she believes that well run facilities should be respected.
‘Everyone seems to have an opinion, but to rise up against facilities that are providing the best care in excellent facilities, providing an educational experience for local residents and visitors, and truly care about their dolphins, seems a bit irresponsible. Give them a break, visit the facilities, see for yourself the incredible interaction,’ said Mrs. Soto.
‘Yes, the dolphins are rewarded for their performance, but so is my dog Max, when he sits or does his tricks. He is happy about that and so it seems are the dolphins.’
Mr. Soto added that he has had to work all his life for food, his reward.
Two swim-with-dolphin facilities have just opened recently in Grand Cayman – Dolphin Discovery across from Boatswain’s Beach in North West Point and Dolphin Cove on Garvin Road by Morgan’s Harbour in West Bay.
Mr. Bob Soto is the legendary pioneer of scuba diving in the Cayman Islands and was hugely honoured by the dive industry a couple of years ago by receiving the Diving Equipment and Marketing Association’s Reaching Out Award, which recognises individuals who have made significant contributions to the diving community. Mr. Soto was also an early crusader for the creation of marine parks in the Cayman Islands.
Mrs. Soto has been involved in Cayman’s tourism industry since 1963, creator of iconic tourism mascot Sir Turtle and was given a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Cayman Islands Tourism Association.
Mrs Soto, who is in her early 70s, swam with the dolphins at Dolphin Discovery with her daughter in law Leslie Bergstrom and four of her grandchildren, Jay, Sarah, Lucy and Matthew on Tuesday while her husband Bob looked on.
‘It was awesome. I would do it every day,’ Mrs. Soto said the next day.
Mr. Soto said he had the flu but one day he would have a swim with the dolphins.
‘I am in support of the facility because it gives the local kids and adults opportunities to interact with the dolphins or see a dolphin even if they are just here as an observer, because there are very few dolphins in the waters around Grand Cayman and our children never get a chance to see a dolphin. I’ve got grandchildren that are 19 years old and they never seen a dolphin before.
‘I think it’s a good tool for education of our children. Schools should bring the children down here and see what the dolphin life is like. They have a nice big pool to swim in, not as big as the ocean, but the water’s clean and beautiful.
‘The dolphins will always be fed. They get rewarded for what they do,’ he said.
Grandson Matthew had already swum with the dolphins at Dolphin Cove by Morgan’s Harbour and loved it.
‘I got to dance with them and do a belly ride,’ he said.
Mr. Soto noted that conditions in the wild for dolphins are very tough. ‘The struggle for survival in the sea is getting worse. On land it’s getting to be the same thing in the world today. You’ve got millions of people starving to death.’
Mrs. Soto said that dolphins in the wild are at the mercy of long liners and dolphins are bludgeoned to death when they get caught up in the nets.
She believes that captive dolphins are being saved from the perils of the wild.
‘Any fish that swims in the sea has got his predator that’s going to eat him so what’s the hurt in six or eight dolphins being in a facility where they are fed and taken care of? They interact with the people, it’s obvious they love being with people. Dolphins are drawn to people. Even in the wild they’re drawn to the boat; they are attracted to people.’
Mr. Soto said he does not agree with some of the arguments against such facilities.
‘They claim that these six dolphins here are going to kill the reef from the waste of the dolphins. It’s crazy. All the marine life in the ocean poos in the water. We got a strong current around this point and anything goes into the water around this point is taken away in minutes so I don’t think it’s going to be detrimental to the marine life.’
Mr. Soto also believes that such facilities enhance the tourism product.
‘For tourism we need something here more than the Turtle Farm and Hell to offer tourists. We’ve got to make up our minds if we’re in this business or not.
‘If we’re going to cater to tourists we need many different varieties of attractions to continue people coming here repeatedly and we should strive towards that objective,’ he said.
Mrs. Soto also spoke about how challenged children have been helped with communication by swimming with the dolphins.
An autistic boy, along with his parents, who are visiting the island, was on his second swim at Dolphin Discovery with dolphins on Tuesday having made great progress in the first swim, said developer Gene Thompson.
Mr. Soto said there are animals in captivity all over the world in zoos for viewing by tourists and for preservation purposes.
Mrs. Soto said if people want to see dolphins free then everyone needs to let the cows, dogs and birds in a cage, loose.