Recently Atlantis Resorts unveiled a plan to build a $2 billion resort on Oahu’s west shore. This resort will have everything from time shares, condos, restaurants, and shopping. It will be the largest resort in Ko’Olina, which sounds like every vacationers dream! They will even include an aquarium with sharks and dolphins to tow tourists around for that perfect vacation photo. But does Oahu need a new Dolphin park? We already have two of them, and dolphin parks don’t exactly have a good reputation for being animal or environmentally friendly.
At one point we needed to keep dolphins in captivity. It was much easier to study them, their echolocation capabilities, and their basic life history when they were kept in one place. Lately, we have been moving away from keeping dolphins in captivity, as documentaries like Blackfish and The Cove reveal how inhumane and horrific captivity is. Even the scientific contributions made during the early days of dolphin captivity are minimal compared to what we have learned from studying them in the wild.
While it may be much more convenient having dolphins and other marine life in one place, questions about the treatment of the animals and the purpose of their captivity remains questionable. Most dolphin shows insist that their animals are ambassadors for their wild counterparts, but how accurate of a representation can they be when the wild population is often in the ocean right outside of the park? The conservation education which these parks offer doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of what the animals lives are like in the wild.
Most marine parks are situated near the ocean – mostly due to cost. Keeping marine life in captivity can be expensive. Being located nearby the ocean helps reduce costs for things like water quality. Pipes bring in ocean water, which is then filtered to prevent bacteria from making the captive whales and dolphins sick. This water is then circulated through the tank and is emptied out again- something easy to do with the ocean nearby.
It might be easy, but is this smart? Why not just promote whale and dolphin watching tours which embark close to the park? If people spend thousands of dollars to go on a vacation to a marine park near the beach, why bother looking at dolphins swimming around in a obnoxious fish bowl when they can experience the real thing by simply joining a whale-watching tour or dolphin excursion minutes away.
So now that we have the broad issue touched on, let’s look at what had me stand up on my soap box to begin with. If people in general, are moving away from captive dolphin shows, why is Atlantis Resorts building a $2 billion resort in Ko’Olina on Oahu’s western shore with a dolphin encounter? Not too far up the road there are dolphin watches and even some companies that will put you in the water with wild dolphins. If people really want to see dolphins in captivity, there are two Sea World-like facilities which have captive dolphin shows. Building more of these just doesn’t make sense. And why was this approved by the government of Hawaii?
Being curious about all of this, I started digging. What permits are required to even have a dolphin on display to the public? The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) requires only three criteria be met to satisfy having captive animals, despite the animal protection laws on the books:
- Offer an education or conservation program;
- Be open to the public on a regularly scheduled basis; and
- Be licensed or registered by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA/APHIS) required by the Animal Welfare Act (AWA).
NOAA even states on their website, “No. Permits are not required to maintain marine mammals in public display facilities, such as aquariums.” All that is needed then for any person in the US to keep a marine mammal is to make sure they build the appropriately sized tank, ensure the public can see the animal regularly, and talk about it. You don’t even have to offer detailed information, and in some cases you can even lie to the public by twisting scientific facts to suit your needs. This seems too easy, and definitely not beneficial to the captive animal whose owner may not know the first thing about its mental, emotional, or physical care. Even the Animal Welfare Institute has some things to say about dolphins in captivity.
Why would Oahu, and the state of Hawaii for that matter, be open to this plan? They are set to host the IUCN World Conservation Congress – dubbed “the Olympics of Conservation” – this year, and yet they want to put more animals in captivity? Something smells fishy.
Keeping animals in captivity is not a sustainable practice as many die at very young ages, are often bored and stressed, and are unable to be true ambassadors of their species when jumping through hoops. The process of capturing dolphins is brutal, their health suffers, their emotional well-being suffers, and overall their life span and quality of life drops. You can read more about that here.
If we are truly trying to move to a more sustainable future, we need to find better alternatives to keeping dolphins and whales in captivity. The science contributed from these facilities is minimal, at best, and has not provided any new information since approximately the 1970s. Even then, much of the scientific papers written were focused on how to take care of captive animals and how best to breed them.
I get it. Atlantis doesn’t want people to go to the local whale watching tour or the already established sea parks. Their dolphins would be conveniently located right there for everyone’s enjoyment and Atlantis’ profit. If you really scratch the surface this resort, like so many others, appears to be trying to prevent its guests from actually experiencing Hawaii. Instead, they want to keep vacationers in their walled gardens so they spend their money there and only there. It is not a representation of Hawaii, nor will their dolphins be a representation of the true beauty of the species.
It also looks really bad on the State of Hawaii and the County of Honolulu to be promoting the captive dolphin trade – often times a brutal and violent act – when the IUCN World Conservation Congress is just around the corner.
Is this really something we need in Ko’Olina or can we find a better alternative? Atlantis has the opportunity to be the first multi-national billion dollar company to end the captive dolphin displays at their resorts. They can then promote more sustainable and truly conservation-minded presentations to their guests. Perhaps this should be discussed at the IUCN meeting to raise awareness and promote healthier alternatives and true ocean conservation education. At a time when Hawaii is trying to position itself as a champion of sustainability and conservation, do we really want the blemish of yet another captive marine life park? With the world watching, that might be embarrassing.
Whether your are against or in support of captivity, it is not wise for Oahu to allow a third dolphin park in any form. Instead, we need to set the example and tell Atlantis that this is not what Oahu, and the rest of the State of Hawaii, needs or wants. This is the most opportune time as construction of the resort has not started yet – but if we do nothing it will.
If you care about this (and if you’ve read this far, I bet you do), you can do something about it by adding your voice by signing and sharing this petition. It’s in your hands.