'Dolphin Encounters' Depend on Inhumane Captures?
Tourists Seek Up-Close Experiences, Some Animals Suffer
2005 - The enticing Mexican beach resort city
of Cancun is one of the hottest vacation destinations for
Americans. From the luxurious hotels that line its white-sand
beaches to the antics of spring break, its turquoise-colored
waters draw thousands of tourists from the United States every
As this top-notch
vacation destination continues to gain in popularity, more
tourists are coming to Cancun with a very specific purpose: an
up-close and personal encounter with a dolphin.
more and more," said Mauricio Martinez, director of Parque
Nizuc, a Cancun water park that features dolphins. "People
But as the number of
tourists demanding time with the animals continues to swell, so
does the business of capturing them, sometimes under what
activists consider deplorable conditions.
'A Very Violent
At places like Parque
Nizuc, tourists pay more than $100 each for a chance to pet, kiss
or even be propelled through the water by dolphins.
With a single dolphin
capable of generating $1 million a year, business is good. But is
life good for the dolphins?
Martinez thinks so.
"I think they are
very happy here," he said. "They have customers who
enjoy being with them -- they are enriched, they are motivated."
But when animal
activist Ric O'Barry visits a dolphin park, he sees a much darker
smile is nature's greatest deception; it creates the illusion they
actually like doing this job," O'Barry said. "But if
this dolphin were laying up on the dock dead, it would still look
like it's smiling."
During the 1960s,
O'Barry became the man who introduced a generation of Americans to
dolphins as the trainer for the television show
Five dolphins were
used to play the role, and O'Barry says he captured all of them
himself, something that eventually made him hate his work.
"The concept of a
humane capture is an oxymoron -- there is no such animal," he
said. "I've captured over a hundred dolphins myself, humanely,
and I can tell you it's a lot like rape. It's a very violent
The Dolphin Broker
For O'Barry, the final
straw was when his favorite "Flipper" dolphin died in
his arms from what he says was stress and depression.
That was 30 years ago,
and ever since he and other activists have fought tirelessly to
put an end to dolphin captures.
He and his peers have
helped produce changes in the United States and Mexico, which have
banned or restricted the taking of dolphins from the wild.
In fact, no dolphin
park in the United States has brought in a captive dolphin in more
than 10 years. Yet, in other parts of the world, the demand for
captive dolphins remains high.
Brokers, who can make
up to $100,000 per animal, are scouring the globe for new supplies
all the time.
That's why Chris
Porter, the biggest dolphin broker in the world -- a man hated by
animal activists, but who considers himself a friend and protector
of dolphins -- says his conservation efforts are so important.
"What I provide
is an alternative," he said. "I think in order to impact
change you need to provide an alternative."
Porter has made a
business of buying and selling dolphins -- a practice he says is
in the interest of conservation, not profit.
"If it wasn't
good for the dolphins, I wouldn't do it," he said.
But O'Barry says
Porter is nothing more than a greedy businessman looking to make a
profit from a detestable trade.
The Solomon Island
In 2003, Porter came
to the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific where every year
hundreds of wild dolphins are hunted and killed by native
He bought up almost a
hundred dolphins -- the largest single dolphin capture recorded --
and quickly found himself under siege as activists began showing
up on his doorstep, demanding to see the animals.
"Prior to my
arrival no one was even aware of the Solomon Islands, or that they
actually killed dolphins on such a large-scale basis," Porter
But Dave Phillips,
environmentalist and executive director of the Earth Island
Institute, says what Porter did was not bring attention to a
barbaric practice or save the animals as he claims, but instead
lined his pockets with blood money.
"The Solomon captures by Porter were horrific," said
Phillips. "Really the worst instance of capture for dolphin
trafficking in the world."
Phillips says Porter
came to the little-known Solomons to buy dolphins under the radar.
"At a time when
most countries would have thrown Porter in jail for engaging in
the activities," he said, "here he had found a place
where he could slip out 100 or 200 dolphins a year. This was the
Mecca of dolphin trafficking."
But Porter insists
he's looking for a humane solution and says a properly run marine
park is a great alternative that gives a dolphin a home and allows
people to gain respect and appreciation.
"I think in order
to impact change you need to provide an alternative," he said.
"You can simply not abstain from it and that's where I differ
with the activists."
'He's a Dolphin
O'Barry doesn't trust
Porter in part because, as a former trainer, he says he would
often deceive the public about his role in captures.
"How is he saving
them? He might be saving that one, but he's contributing to the
slaughter of 20,000 more by keeping them in business," he
said. "He's not an environmentalist, he's a dolphin hunter --
he's a dolphin dealer."
O'Barry says activists
have found that many of Porter's dolphins were actually caught in
parts of the Solomon Islands where no hunt exists -- a claim
downplays his plans to resell many of the dolphins to parks around
In his first deal, 28
of the Solomon Islands dolphins made the trip halfway around the
world to Parque Nizuc in Mexico. The incredible profit Porter is
believed to have made from the deal is something he is not anxious
"I'm not shy
about the number," he claimed. "We're a private company
and we have confidentiality agreement with different
Porter claims that,
regardless of the number, any profits he makes from selling
dolphins are recycled into his various conservation efforts,
including a new dolphin resort he's building in the Solomons.
Meanwhile, the Earth Island Institute has convinced the Solomons
government into slapping a ban on any future dolphin exports
"What were the
Solomons getting out of Porter's plans? A few dollars and a lot of
bad public attention." said Phillips.
With Porter insisting
his business was intended to help dolphin conservation efforts,
"Primetime" investigated what exactly happened to the 28
dolphins that were shipped to Cancun.
According to documents
obtained from the Mexican Wildlife Department, in just 1 ½ years,
six of the dolphins died from a variety of causes. Martinez, the
director of Parque Nizuc, said his facility gave the dolphins the
best care possible, and had a difficult time explaining the deaths.
"That's one of
the realities of the business of dolphins, monkeys, horses,
whatever," he said.
As far as the dolphins
left behind in the Solomon Islands, Porter admitted that in May,
seven of the animals died from food poisoning and all 12 of a
special breed known as spotted dolphins also died in captivity.
Despite the creatures'
deaths and accusations that he simply shouldn't be dealing in
dolphins, Porter sees the alternative for the animals as
terrible, and by doing nothing is terrible," he explained.
"If I have the opportunity to save 12 animals from a hunt, I
really question why am I a bad guy? I think it's worse to leave
those 12 animals knowing that they're destined to die."
O'Barry sees things a
little differently, saying that fighting to stop what is wrong is
the only way.
But O'Barry's biggest
opponent may not be brokers like Porter, but the growing streams
of tourists eager for a close-up peek at the dolphins' friendly
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