Chapter 22: A Guide for Activists
How to Close a Dolphinarium
Life will with indecency give you many slaps in the face, some soft, some hard. So when you achieve something, don't forget to slap yourself on the back with the same vigour and impudence. For strangely this is a place where life or people rarely seem to want to touch.
What follows is mainly common sense backed up by thirty years of campaigning experience. I have used three headings, target, support, and research and advice.
Choosing a target will be straightforward if you live in a country with dolphinaria. If you have closed them all then this chapter is not really for you but you might find it of use if you want to export your experience to others. One word of caution if this is you, what works in your country may not necessarily work in other countries. I thought the British model of activism would be easy for others to adopt but it wasn't. Our doggedness in maintaining regular pickets every week, on bank holidays and new year's day seems unique to British activists, it was a shame that campaigners in other countries didn't have our enthusiasm, because dolphin operators will absorb one off or irregular protests, but they hate it if you return again and again. Pickets are there to generally hassle the owners of dolphinariums and educate the public. It doesn't look good to have a load of protesters outside. At Morecambe we turned quite a lot of people away as they had to walk past us, so we were costing the owner hundreds of pounds each time we were present. At Flamingo Land it was much harder to do that, as people drove in. If you are going to attack dolphinaria then some prisons are a lot stronger than others for example Sea World is strong because of their ability to fund huge public relation exercises. I therefore targeted Sea World but only with flyers such as "What's Wrong with Sea World". All of the places I targeted when we ran out of UK prisons, were vulnerable. Sarkanniemi Dolphinarium at Tampere in Finland because it was a dolphinarium within an amusement park and the main patrons were probably Finnish; the country has only a few million population. I figured with high profile campaigning, education of the public would eventually make it non profitable and therefore close. The dolphinarium at Antwerp zoo was an old facility with only two inmates and West Edmonton Mall had four dolphins in a shopping mall, very hard for anyone to defend that. Basically whatever your target is, you will need good support to be successful.
Even if you are a lone ALF activist you will need support and help because it is impossible to break into a dolphin prison and free a dolphin on your own, because they are very heavy to carry. Seriously ALF tactics can't work, unless freeing dolphins from sea pens. The only way to go in this case is by lawful means and by educating the paying public, which can be an awfully long process. It can work though as we proved in the UK, going from over 30 shows in the 1960/70s to none. Most grass root campaigns involve only a small number of dedicated people, who will devote most if not all of their efforts into it. Within that number all will have different talents and abilities, from public speaking and IT, to liaising with other activists and national organisations and national media. The British campaigns were run by existing animal rights people from local groups such as the Manchester Animal Protection Group. Really they are the only people who are going to do the dirty work, don't expect national organisations to be of much use unless they know they are going to get a lot of media coverage. I contacted one national organisation with Captive in its title at the outset of the Flamingo campaign and they sent twenty pounds with a note to say they didn't really support this sort of thing, ten years later they published an account of our success!
Research and Advice
Know your subject and target. Probably the most useful ally will be to find and work with a disillusioned trainer because they have inside knowledge of the industry. Know the country's laws. In Britain a dolphinarium had to seek a license to operate from the District Council it was located in. The council had to ensure the dolphinarium complied with legislation and regulations under the Zoo Licensing Act and the Secretary of State's Standards for Modern Zoo Keeping. You will need to know that some laws are useless for example"no dolphin can be imported into an EU member state UNLESS it is for breeding, education or research", CITES in my view doesn't seem much better either in protecting dolphins from wild capture operations. I found the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) in the USA useful as they provide inventories on dolphins captured in USA territorial waters and their subsequent fate. Know who you are dealing with. At Flamingo Land the "owner" of the three wild caught dolphins was Peter Bloom, son of Reg Bloom another dolphin trainer. Bloom contracted the dolphins to Flamingo Land zoo which was owned by Robert Gibb. The season of the show there lasted from April to September. Part of our rationale was to drive a rift between the two. Don't place to much emphasis on mortality rates in captivity and comparing it to lifespan in the wild, far better to stress the quality of life between the two environments. As a top predator in the ocean a dolphin travels by sound, predates by sound and communicates by sound. All this is denied them in captivity and in the case of communication and the use of their echo-location, it is decreased and has been likened to a human living in a "hall of mirrors" due to the reflection off the pool walls. Not even the strongest apologist for captivity can argue against the reduction in the quality of life argument.
William Johnson's book the Rose Tinted Menagerie was invaluable to me and although twenty years old now, is still worth a read to remind you that you are facing a well coordinated world wide industry, consisting of the European Association of Aquatic Mammals, the Association of Marine Mammal Parks and the International Marine Mammal Trainers Association.
WORK HARD AND GOOD LUCK.