Hardly the natural environment for an animal that spends its entire life in the water, but the deserts of Arizona have welcomed three new residents, as dolphins have been shipped from Hawaii to a new dolphinarium that opened last week in the state.
The three cetaceans are to join five others already in place at Dolphinaris, and will be used in their “dolphin swim experiences” where members of the public can “interact by shaking a dolphin’s fin, listening to their unique sounds, and learning about their amazing evolutionary adaptions”.
To a fair amount of outcry from animal rights groups, the dolphins were flown via FedEx the 3,000 kilometers (1,860 miles) from Honolulu to Phoenix in containers. The moving of the animals from Hawaii was apparently caught on camera by activists who filmed workers in a FedEx warehouse in Honolulu surrounding slings often used to transport cetaceans. Confronting the staff from Dolphin Quest (another marine park where the animals originated) the activists asked if they had the correct permits for the dolphins, before being shut out.
“The Dolphin Quest trainers were consoling the animal, who seemed to be in obvious distress, likely from the confinement of the box that it was in, of course, all of the noises that were happening, the fear of the unknown,” one of the activists who filmed the video, Alexis Thomas, told Hawaii News Now. According to some reports, the dolphins were likely kept in the containers for at least 12 hours as they were transported to Dolphinaris Arizona, Scottsdale.
This is the first Dolphinaris facility to open in the United States, who have two other parks over the border in Mexico. There are clear concerns in taking aquatic mammals and displaying them in the middle of a desert where the temperature can hit 41°C (106°F). The general manager of Dolphinaris Arizona has tried to allay fears by stating that the cetaceans have shaded areas, as well as the fact that the pools are temperature controlled to between 24-26°C (75-80°F) year round.
But that doesn’t stop the fact they are also being used in “swim experiences” where people can pay to get into the pool and swim with the cetaceans. These events have been shown to stress the marine mammals out, as they are overexposed to touch and noise in an unnatural environment that is already stressful and where they can’t get away.
As public opinion seems to be shifting away from animal shows such as this, as seen with the falling profits of SeaWorld as well as the removal of listings to buy tickets for “animal experiences” on the review website TripAdvisor, the opening of a new dolphinarium and agreement of FedEx to take up this job appears misplaced. Over 167,000 people initially signed a petition urging the owners of the park not to open, while another has gathered 133,000 telling FedEx to stop transporting live dolphins.