Chapter 10: Victory! Flamingo Land Closes

1992 - 1993

Nothing exceptional happened in 1992, how could it, after the previous year? I was, however, learning more about the dolphin slave-trade industry and its workings, for example, how much stronger they were in comparison to our opposition. They were represented in Europe by the European Association of Marine Mammals (EAMM), Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks (AMMP) and International Marine Animals Trainers Association (IMATA). They all existed to lobby for the interests of their 'slave trade'.

Doug Cartlidge had attended one such meeting and on the agenda had been the strategy of targeting the leader of any opposition campaign. This is exactly what had happened to me. Whilst they were well structured, we were, and still are, disunited, working in isolation. Perhaps it is because they have something to protect, like a billion dollar industry, and to many in the anti movement opposition is a hobby, which also attracts a few peculiar people, best called 'dolphin-lovers'. That means a percentage of them are not vegan or even vegetarian so are not committed to the ideology of animal liberation in its total sense. How can one really care or empathise with a dolphin spending its entire life locked up in a 'bare-concrete tank' and not with the fate of a similarly imprisoned factory farmed animal?

I was a committed vegan and have been since November 1982, when, by chance, I watched in horror a Channel Four documentary, 'The Animals Film', documenting the abuse of animals by humans in factory farms, circuses, vivisection laboratories, etc. From a vegetarian of sorts, I became a vegan over-night. I write of sorts because it is only when one adopts a strict and ethical diet, that one realises how animal by-products find their way into 'food'.

In October 1992, International Dolphin Watch, Horace Dobbs' organisation, asked me to go to Germany to represent them at a conference organised by Stefan Austermuhle. I had lost contact with Stefan since his close swim with Freddy!

The conference, attended by around a dozen people, pointed the way to my future direction and belief, that to oppose the captivity industry we needed to be co-ordinated. We established the European Network for Dolphins (END) and nominated July 4th as a World Day for Captive Dolphins. 1992 was before the Internet and communicating between ourselves proved a problem, and although END lingered on for a year or two, it never really got going. The same could be said of July 4th. The concept was simple, at least to me, every campaign has a focus day, be it World Day for Laboratory Animals or World Ocean Day. I wanted July 4th to be a day when every dolphinarium was targeted. I wanted it to be a day that the captivity industry would dread.

In the winter of 1992/3 we were planning for the third rally. This year we changed the venue to the town of Pickering, which was closer to Flamingo Land than York. In early March I picked up the telephone. It was a call from Doug Cartlidge. He told me the dolphinarium was closing and the dolphins were being flown to Kolmarden dolphinarium in Sweden in the next day or two. It was like a thunderbolt out of the blue. Despite all Bloom's boasts to the media that a new pool was being built to comply with the new Department of Environment standards to be effective from August of that year, we had 'won', we had achieved our realistic aim of ending Bloom's reign as a dolphin slave-trader in Britain. We had known from the outset that Betty, Lotty and Sharky would never feel ocean currents again. After all they were 'owned' by Peter Bloom, son of Reg Bloom, dolphin trader, and keeping dolphins captive was ingrained in their blood and bank balances; they would never allow dolphins their birthright.

After putting down the phone with Doug I quickly phoned all the press I could think of to give them quotes. I had seen it happen before and grass-roots activists were not duly given the credit they deserved and that credit being hijacked by national organisations, by professionals, the like of which you never saw on picket lines, holding banners or giving out leaflets, yet they were always on the front-lines for the credit and wind-fall of public subscriptions that came with it. One prime example of that was during, 'Into the Blue', the Morecambe and Brighton Dolphin Campaigns I felt were never attributed the credit due. If we, the grass-rooters, hadn't have started up the campaigns, I know with almost near certainty that Rocky, Misse and Silver, would have shared the fate of the dolphins at Flamingo Land. Yet 'Into the Blue' was all about Zoo Check and others. I wouldn't have minded that at all if they'd only had the basic manners to mention us in the press and on the TV and video!

Flamingo Land, or Park as it was named originally, opened its dolphinarium in 1968. The 1960s and 1970s marked the golden heyday of a truly exploitative yet insidious industry in the UK. During this period over 30 dolphin shows ran in the UK, including the summer menageries. It is hard to know the exact figures of dolphins that performed and became mortality figures in the UK. A popular figure is 300, but I believe that to be a conservative estimate. Whilst researching the dolphins that were imported by Flamingo Park/Land, for our "Flamingo Land Dolphin Campaign", I originally concluded the number to be 87, on closer scrutiny, some years later, I came to the figure of a round 100! ONE park ONE 100!

All that was now history on March 8th 1993, as the last three survivors from the park where flown to a 'future' in Sweden. Flamingo Land had at last found fame and fortune as the last erection of a dolphin show in the UK.

For the ex-Flamingo dolphins it would hardly be a bright new future, for it would be the same routine one of trainers dominating the food they ate, of the number of shows they performed, surrounded by the same audiences; the type of unquestioning people who are prepared to pay to watch a top predator of the oceans turned into a pool poodle. I could have ended there by realising our campaign had played its part in closing the remaining show in the UK, but would Betty, Lotty and Sharky have considered it a victory, as they were flown off to their new tank? No, I couldn't have felt happy, I didn't want bigger tanks or longer chains, but complete abolition. I contacted a few organisations in Sweden and Emillie Esson of the Swedish ALF responded. I sent her information and she managed to get some Swedish press coverage. Daniel Rolke a young boy of 16, read the articles and decided to do something by starting his own campaign 'Save the Dolphins'.

March 8th 2013, marked the twenty anniversary since Flamingo Land dolphinarium in Yorkshire closed its doors for the last time and at last found fame and glory, a dolphinarium ceasing to operate, the last in the UK! The end of an era, the end of an "industry".

Behind the Captive Smile

The Klinowska/Brown report mentioned later is littered with remarks such as "dolphin (name unknown), fate unknown"! So what closed not just Flamingo Land, but all the UK shows? When the US Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) was passed in 1972, it reputedly became more difficult for the dolphin slave traders to obtain cheap replacements for their frequently dying animals. Without a law to protect dolphins, the US had been a prime supplier for the captivity "industry". With tighter regulations it became more costly to obtain an animal from the wild, a factor for an operator when considering if a show could continue to replace a regular dying star attraction and remain profitable.

This probably closed a number of the worst shows in the UK, the worst of all of the terrible "bare-concrete pools". I contend that in the 1980s the growing animal rights community was predominantly dealing with vivisection, hunting, and factory farming and failed to scrutinise the six shows in the UK: Knowsley, Whipsnade, Morecambe, Brighton, Windsor and Flamingo Land.

In the early 1980s Greenpeace itself was more preoccupied with anti-whaling. Mark Glover working for Greenpeace did however launch a private prosecution against Flamingo Land for breach of an import license. Doug Cartlidge an ex-trainer was at this time a rather lone battler against UK dolphinaria, challenging the Department of the Environment and local councils responsible for issuing operating licenses under the Zoo Licensing Act.

A significance point in 1985 was the Department of Environment announcement of a review of dolphinaria and the subsequent publication of the Klinowska/Brown government commissioned report on dolphinaria. This was later translated by a steering committee into legislation to become effective in August 1993. Pools had to be deepened to accommodate bottlenose dolphins. The depth was to be 5.6 metres at least in a third of the area of the pool. Flamingo Land's pool depth was 2.74 - 4.27 metres, a grandiose 24 metres in length and 12 metres in diameter.

The pool at Windsor also would have to be deepened significantly to accommodate Winnie, the UK's only captive orca, too. So substantial financial investment was required to upgrade the pools and who was going to provide that to a dying industry? Another consideration at Flamingo Land was that they held three female captive dolphins, Betty, Lotty and Sharky (captured from the Atlantic ocean, Florida in 1983 and 1984). From August 1993 only mixed genders were to be lawful. A male dolphin had to be obtained, perhaps that is why the 'owner' of the three females, Bloom, was keen to keep Rocky, the dolphin from Morecambe Marine Land, moved to Flamingo Land, under the pretext that the heating in the pool at Marine Land had failed. Rocky was only to be extricated from Flamingo Land by a High Court Order and subsequently flown to rehabilitation and freedom in the British West Indies. Rocky, used to anthropomorphism's in the show, was said to have fallen in love with his pool companions, however he didn't prove a convenient stud!

It was in 1988 when grass roots activists took to the cause of dolphins in captivity and there was a failed bid by four activists to free Rocky from Morecambe Marine land into the Irish sea, which resulted in minor court convictions for the activists.

In 1990 activists rolled up their sleeves and started concerted campaigns against Morecambe, Brighton and Windsor dolphin shows which eventually resulted in freedom for Rocky, Misse and Silver (from Morecambe and Brighton ) who were reunited into the Atlantic Ocean after a 6 - 9 months rehabilitation project in the Turks and Caicos Isles.

The Flamingo Land Dolphin Campaign was launched in April 1991 after the successful rescue of Rocky, It concluded as stated in March 1993 but only after weekly pickets at the dolphinarium and much national and local media coverage that our campaign generated. Bloom had boasted in the Independent newspaper 6th January 1993 that a new pool was to be constructed and in a BBC radio interview that our campaign was good for business! Sadly as our campaign suspected at its inception, unlike the happy ending for Rocky, Misse and Silver, although we felt we could close the show, freedom was never to be an option for the Flamingo dolphins. Their slave-trade owner would never allow it.

Instead the dolphins were moved to Kolmarden in Sweden on a breeding loan. Some years later they were still there, two had produced captive calves and one was barren. That dolphin was simply moved, a seeming mere utility, to a dolphinarium in Italy. No thought of the trauma caused to three dolphins together most of their lives. It is therefore my assertion, that what closed the four dolphin shows operating between 1990 - 1993, were strong grass roots campaigns and luck that they coincided with the 1986 published report, (ironic as Klinowska was/is pro dolphin shows, and was a member of the European Association of Aquatic Mammals, a mouthpiece for the European "industry"!).