Scottsdale resident Laurice Dee started an online petition earlier this month to stop the Mexican entertainment company, Dolphinaris, from building a swim-with-the-dolphins facility in her area. Since the petition went live on April 2, more than 95,000 people have signed it.
New Times spoke with Dee about her petition, what motivated her to start it, and how the support it's received may show that Americans increasingly are uncomfortable with marine animals being kept in captivity for profit.
New Times: How did you hear about the proposed dolphinarium, and what was your immediate reaction to the news?
Laurice Dee: I was so very deeply shocked and quite bewildered when I learned that Dolphinaris was planning to have its swim-with-the-dolphins (SWTD) facility in the Phoenix area. I found out about the project from an article in the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions magazine.
NT: How much of your concern about the dolphinarium has to do with the ethics behind holding intelligent animals like dolphins captive, and how much has to do with a concern that it's ecologically problematic because it will be in the desert?
First, dolphins are wildlife, not domesticated animals. Dolphins are intelligent, sociable, and sentient beings who possess a number of characteristics that are similar to that of humans. Moreover, they live complex lives. Keeping highly evolved beings captive in a tiny tank for human entertainment could not[be] more immoral! Humans placing great importance on entertainment over the well-being of dolphins couldn't have been more unconscionable!
Second, dolphins are ocean-going mammals, not cute or exotic entertainers. Dolphins being placed in a SWTD facility in the dry Arizona desert couldn't have been more concerning! After all, we, Arizonans, have been reminded to conserve as much water as possible. It looks like Dolphinaris would be totally the opposite since a great deal of water will be used to maintain the captivity of dolphins. Not a wise move by any means!
NT: Are you surprised by the huge response to your petition? Do you think you'll be successful in getting the facility stopped?
No, I am not surprised by the overwhelmingly positive response to my Care2 petition. Many people that I've known are vehemently opposed to cetacean captivity. We've got an extremely large community that has been fighting in all fronts against the captivity industry that continues to be extremely greedy when it comes to the captivity of small cetaceans for human entertainment.
I would very much hope with all my heart that the 90k-plus petition signatures will make the targeted officials think twice about their proposed SWTD facility and consider viable alternatives to keeping live dolphins captive for the SWTD programs. I truly do not think it'd hurt for Dolphinaris to put animatronic dolphins to great use for its guests to interact with.
NT: Is your optimism related to the recent success animal-rights groups had in getting SeaWorld to end its captive breeding program for orcas? If yes, how so?
Yes. We cetacean advocates have been fighting extremely hard to make SeaWorld realize that orcas and other small captive cetaceans are not meant to be confined in tiny tanks for human entertainment and that captive breeding is completely inhumane and goes right against the will of the captives.
SeaWorld did listen to us and made some changes, although they were not as dramatic as we'd like them to be.
Our deep hope is that the officials at Dolphinaris will listen and reconsider their proposed SWTD facility and make the necessary changes that would be a win-win for everyone involved. Humans and dolphins, that is.
NT: Do you think the movie Blackfish — which took a look at the ethics and dangers of SeaWorld's captive orca whale program — has fundamentally changed how Americans see marine animals in captivity? Do you think this momentum is helping your petition?
Yes, the film Blackfish has been viewed by many Americans who have been awakened to the fact that orcas, dolphins, and porpoises are not meant to be used for human entertainment. Nor are they meant to spend their lives in extremely small man-made tanks so that humans could enjoy their close-up views of the marine mammals.
I very strongly believe that the momentum generated from the documentary is helping members of the public to see that the fight for justice is not limited to SeaWorld. Many new captive facilities have been popping up everywhere in the world, and our fight against the captivity industry will never cease.
The momentum generated from public awareness has influenced many to sign my petition. A lot of people have been picturing dolphins as sentient beings, not cogs in the wheels of the entertainment industry.
NT: Is there anything else you'd like to add about dolphins, about the proposal, about your petition?
Dolphinaris may not be like SeaWorld, but it promotes human entertainment at the expense of captive dolphins who are being forced to interact with humans and perform unnatural behaviors for dead, medicated fish.
Pro-captivity activists may argue that captive dolphins are being well cared for in their respective facilities and that they do not have to deal with pollution and a number of other problems in the open waters.
Well, regardless of how well captive dolphins are being cared for, living in tiny man-made tanks does not replicate the natural environment where everything — including and especially the ecosystem — works in harmony.
The biggest problem with the heavy pollution and other problems in the oceans is that they are human caused. We must take care of the oceans, as well as other bodies of water, where cetaceans and other marine life call home. That's exactly what cetacean conservation is all about.
Proponents of the captivity industry may mention that many dolphins being used for human entertainment are captive-born and that there is no need to place them in the open waters.
The biggest problem with this type of thinking is that captive-born dolphins' family members — parents, grandparents, and others from the previous generations — had been captured from their home waters for the same reason: human entertainment. Everything that they had as free-ranging dolphins had been taken away from them for the sake of humans. If these family members hadn't been captured, the captive-born dolphins would not have existed.
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Dolphins born in captivity still possess wild instincts. Such instincts are being passed down from one generation to the next. After all, dolphins are wildlife, not domesticated animals, and should be treated as such.
Being holed up in the Arizona desert for the SWTD programs truly isn't the dolphins' best interest.
I will always be grateful for the opportunity to start a petition and get it going. I think it's extremely important for anti-captivity activists to show their deep opposition in writing. Such evidence will make it loud and clear that we do not want Dolphinaris to operate its SWTD facility in the Arizona desert.