Saturday, July 27, marks the first time in history that opponents of marine mammal captivity will protest outside aquariums and other facilities in 11 countries around the world, simultaneously. The international campaign, called “Empty the Tanks,” could become an annual ritual amid growing public opposition to keeping whales, dolphins, and other animals in swimming pools.
For the occasion, TakePart decided to focus on one particular location, often overlooked in this debate and a target of the Empty the Tanks movement: the Sea Life Park, in Waimanalo, HI, just outside Honolulu.
TakePart was first contacted about Sea Life Park by Kelly Page, a Seattle resident and animal-rights activist who spends time each year in Oahu. Page was taken aback by what she described as abysmal conditions for the mammals living at Sea Life Park.
It is appalling. The animals are in atrocious conditions. Small pools, dirty water, bacteria visible in all tanks/pools, especially the dolphin pools.“Today, against my beliefs and morals, I took my 6 year old daughter to Sea Life Park,” she writes. “It is appalling. The animals are in atrocious conditions. Small pools, dirty water, bacteria visible in all tanks/pools, especially the dolphin pools. I am writing to you, as the one female dolphin who I believe is the Wholfin (half false orca/dolphin) is banging her head repeatedly on the wall when confined and not forced to perform and swim with people. She, amongst all the animals there, needs immediate help. In addition a woman ‘swimming’ with them got bit.”
The animals at Sea Life Park, Page alleges, “from the sea lions to the turtles to the birds, all are suffering in decrepit conditions. Every tank is crowded and filthy. The animals are all hungry and the penguins, sharks and dolphins look sick. You can see the filthy pool, small confinements and no shelter from the sun which the USDA cited them to provide shelter for all the animals and still none have them. It's hot here on the islands. I’m sure the water is as well, as the pools are shallow.”
Indeed, the Animal Welfare Act explicitly states that:
Natural or artificial shelter which is appropriate for the species concerned, when the local climatic conditions are taken into consideration, shall be provided for all marine mammals kept outdoors to afford them protection from the weather or from direct sunlight.
The act also states that animals used in “swim-with-dolphins” programs must have unblocked access to a “sanctuary” pool, where they can get away from humans if they want, including guests who shell out $1,000 or more per family for the experience.
But according to Dr. Naomi Rose of the Animal Welfare Institute, all regulations covering swim-with-dolphin programs are not enforceable, as of now. “Having a refuge is still in the regulations, but those regulations are currently suspended,” she told TakePart.
TakePart reached out to the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), the USDA agency charged with enforcing the Animal Welfare Act, but received no response. Emails to Sea Life Park likewise went unanswered.
Then there are the wolphins. Kekaimalu was born by when the park’s false killer whale (a member of the dolphin family) was bred with a bottlenose dolphin. “The false killer whale and the bottlenose were their main attractions and they put them in the same tank to try to breed,” Page says. “It worked. Kekaimalu is now grown with a 7-year-old daughter. She may be the one I saw banging her head against the concrete, or else it was Kekaimalu.”
The park offers three different “swim-with-dolphins” opportunaties and, not surprisingly, none of them are cheap. Guests fork over $250 apiece ($30 general admission included) for the 30-minute “Royal Dolphin,” experience, which “features two dolphins and can be summarized in two words: exhilarating and thrilling,” according to the park’s website. “An affectionate handshake and a kiss on the cheek prepares you for an exciting dorsal fin ride. The most breathtaking moment is during the foot push, when you feel all the strength and energy of these wonderful animals.”
For just $185.00 per person, guests can buy a half-hour in the water to “interact with them up close and personal in this intimate and educational adventure.” And for less wealthy guests, it only costs $105.00 per person to wade onto a waist-deep platform where “participants observe the dolphins while they perform high-energy behaviors. Dolphins play, kiss, and even ‘dance’ with the guests.
Candace Calloway-Whiting, a blogger for the Seattle PI who recently moved to Hawaii from San Juan Island, WA, also alerted TakePart to what she said were subpar conditions at the Honolulu facility.
“The place is abysmal” she says. “The sharks, rays and turtles have it just as bad as the dolphins. Moreover, we were unable to reach park officials and all efforts to reconcile the number of dolphins there were rebuffed.”
TakePart wrote about Empty The Tanks previously in an interview with event organizer Rachel Greenhalgh, a Sea Shepherd Conservation Society volunteer who has spent time in Taiji, Japan, the site of the annual dolphin slaughter profiled in The Cove.
“Empty the Tanks is not a radical movement demanding the release of all captive whales and dolphins,” said a Sea Shepherd statement. “While some of these animals might be great candidates for release, there are others who are surely unfit for the open seas and should be retired into sea pens where they can enjoy the rest of their days in natural seawater, while more importantly, not performing tricks for the amusement of people.”
On the eve of the Empty the Tanks event, Calloway-Whiting tells TakePart: “Empty the Tanks is already a success at Sea Life Park. They are in the process of a major clean of the tanks, even the sea turtles were having their backs scrubbed off to get rid of the algae. Even if this is all the affect we have, then I would call Empty the Tanks a success.”
Empty the Tanks international day of protest locations:
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Original source: takepart.com