`Goa should lead charge against captive dolphins`

Dolphin lovers want tourist paradise Goa to lead the charge against the trend of setting up dolphinariums in the country, which they claim are "cruel habitats" for dolphins.

Panaji: Dolphin lovers want tourist paradise Goa to lead the charge against the trend of setting up dolphinariums in the country, which they claim are "cruel habitats" for dolphins.

The governments of Maharashtra, Kerala and Delhi have started the logistical process for setting up of three signature dolphinariums and a fourth in Goa is also being contemplated.

Federation for Indian Animals Protection Organisations (FIAPO) campaign manager Puja Mitra says that a "no" from Goa early on would go a long way in their national campaign.

"If Goa as a tourism destination puts it on paper that we are not ever going to have a dolphinarium then it`s a great precedent for the rest of the states to follow suit because promotion of tourism is their main argument," she contends.

Mitra is part of a nationwide awareness campaign organised by FIAPO, which is simultaneously appealing to the union environment and forests ministry as well as state governments, not to embark on avoidable "cruelty to animal" ventures, which Western countries were in a process of discarding.

While Maharashtra is in the process of setting up a Rs.500 crore Seaworld project in the Sindhudurg district bordering Goa, a Dubai-based consulting firm is helping Kerala put up India`s biggest dolphin aquarium in Kochy, even as a mall in NOIDA, near Delhi, is also setting up its own dolphinarium.

"Such dolphin parks are being phased out in the western world because there is enough research to establish that marine mammals kept in captivity experience have high mortality rates. But somehow at the same time, the dolphinarium are booming in Asian countries," she said.

Calling the imagery of "smiling" dolphin ever willing to human bidding as a myth, Mitra said that Ric O`Barry, the man who trained dolphins for "Flipper", a 1960s American children`s TV series, also dedicated his life to tearing the dolphin captivity industry apart, once he realized the perils.

"O`Barry`s documentary `The Cove` and other films have clearly established the link between dolphin drives, like the one in Taiji (Japan) which kills 23,000 dolphins annually, and which supplies these mammals to dolphinariums," Mitra said.

Dolphins are marine predators and use sonar for movement underwater. Once thrown in a tank, their sonar is disoriented and they tend to injure themselves, she added.

"Fifty percent don`t survive the first two years in captivity," said Mitra, adding that most captive habitats used mood depressants and vitamin supplements to "manage" the mammals.

"For a long time, dolphins do not even know dead fish is food. That has to be taught to them," she adds.

FIAPO`s outreach events in Goa, Maharashtra, Delhi and Kerala would be followed by lobbying with the Central Zoo Authority and seek central prohibition from the environment ministry for not just dolphins, but all marine mammals to be used for performance or display.

Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar`s comment a month ago to make Goa India`s first "animal friendly" state gives FIAPO a ray of hope.

"Very few CMs would actually come out and make that statement ... and when enough people say that we want eco-conscious tourism, not necessarily captivity-driven tourism. I think he might be the first person to take that on and say `Ok we won`t do it`," says Mitra, who organised a cycle-rally through the north Goa coastline as part of the awareness drive.

Jasmin Jagada, a Blue Cross volunteer and businesswoman, who shuttles between Pune and Goa, was part of the awareness campaign here.

"A large amount of awareness is necessary. Children tend to think that dolphins are nice, smiling animals. But they belong in the wild and their lifespan decreases drastically when in captivity," she says.