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Call of the wild

Environmentalists have warned the Thai government that newly proposed dolphinariums, including the Pattaya Dolphin World and Safari World, featuring dolphins caught in the wild, threaten both the health of wild dolphin populations and Thailand’s reputation as a dolphin-safe country.

Ric O’Barry, a leading global dolphin activist whose efforts to save dolphins is documented in the Oscar-winning film, The Cove, holds ‘Stop’ and ‘Keep Out Except Persons Concerned’ signs as he arrives at Taiji Community Centre in Taiji, western Japan. The tiny seaside town in Japan whose annual dolphin slaughter gained notoriety through the gruesome film hosted an unprecedented meeting between local officials and foreign environmentalists. But the carefully organised event was given a jolt just before its scheduled start when O’Barry said he would not participate due to ‘severe restrictions on the Japanese and international media’ and headed off on the short walk to the ocean cove where the town conducts its dolphin butchery. 

“International live dolphin traffickers are supplying dolphinariums around the world with live dolphins ripped from their families in the wild,” said Richard O’Barry, director of Earth Island Institute’s Dolphin Project.

“These traffickers care nothing for the good of the dolphins _ all they care about is the huge amount of money they get for capturing wild dolphins and selling them to other countries.”

According to O’Barry, dolphins supplied to dolphinariums in Thailand may come from the Solomon Islands, Russia or Taiji in Japan, or even Thai waters. The result is wild dolphins are condemned to live in small tanks, and that leads to the depletion of wild dolphin populations.

A live dolphin can be sold for as much as US$300,000 (9.3 million baht) or more. Dolphins are sought for oceanariums and for “swim with dolphins” tourist attractions.

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PHOTO: KOJI SASAHARA/AP

The Oasis Sea World amusement park has become a magnet for tourists and is among several dolphinariums in Thailand and other countries.

“Thailand’s tuna industry has adopted a policy to ensure that no dolphins are ever killed in tuna nets,” noted Mark Berman, associate director of Earth Island Institute’s Dolphin Safe programme. “The ‘Dolphin Safe’ standard is respected all over the world. If Thailand allows live dolphins to be imported into the country, the Dolphin Safe reputation of Thailand will be jeopardised. Major tuna-importing nations will not buy tuna from governments that harm dolphins.”

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“Thailand is an international destination for tourists to experience the country’s wild places and beaches,” added O’Barry. “There is no reason why Thailand needs to take on this headache of importing a few live dolphins for the benefit of international traffickers. We hope the Fisheries and other departments of the Thai government reject permits for dolphin imports and reaffirm Thailand’s strong support for the protection of wild dolphins.”

314155O’Barry and Berman are in Thailand in conjunction with the screening of the Academy Award-winning documentary, The Cove, which depicts the annual dolphin slaughter in Taiji, Japan, and the support of the international captive dolphin industry for the hunts. O’Barry, the star of the documentary, will take questions and comments from the audience following the screening.

The Cove will be screened at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand today at 7:30pm.

Earth Island Institute works to protect the cultural and biological diversity of the Earth. While the International Marine Mammal Project is focused on dolphins and whales and their ocean habitats.

 

Humpback and Irrawaddy dolphins in action at Oasis Sea World amusement park in Laem Sing district, Chanthaburi province. Owner Wichai Wattanawong, who founded the place in 1990, said these dolphins were rescued after getting entangled in fish nets.

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