2020 has been a year like no other. I’m not certain anyone could have predicted what the last ten months have entailed. Our lives have been changed, and no doubt, some of these changes will be permanent.
It’s not just humans that have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Captive and wild animals alike have had to adapt to both an onslaught and the absence of human activity. And I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard the ensuing “lockdowns” compared to “being held captive”. Imagine if this was your life, day after day, month after month, year after year. It’s unimaginable, isn’t it? And that’s why, for over 50 years, Dolphin Project has been spreading awareness about the plight of captive dolphins across the globe. From establishing the world’s first permanent dolphin sanctuary in Bali, Indonesia to documenting the annual dolphin slaughter and captive selection in Taiji, Japan to advising grassroots activists on how to bring about positive change in their communities, despite the unprecedented challenges, Dolphin Project has continued to act as a defender for dolphins.
But none of this would be possible without your unwavering support. From graciously committing to recurring donations, where monies are used to help alleviate the suffering of previously-captive dolphins to sharing social media posts, to educating others on the plight of suffering dolphins to purchasing a t-shirt or other Dolphin Project-branded merchandise, and wearing your support, each and every action you take is greatly appreciated and urgently needed.
On behalf of everyone at Dolphin Project, I sincerely hope that the suffering endured by so many as a result of this pandemic will give rise to a new way of thinking, with a different set of values placed on those who continue to rely on us to act as their voice.
In safety and health,
Ric O’Barry, Founder/Director, Dolphin Project
At the Umah Lumba Rehabilitation, Release and Retirement Center, Bali, Indonesia, dolphins can rehabilitate and retire in peace and dignity
“Rocky, Rambo and Johnny spend their days hunting, chasing fish, and playing and swimming together, while exploring every corner of the depth of the seapen. When they first arrived, they spent approximately 30% of their time underwater, and 70% at the surface, as their attention was still very much on people. Now, it’s the other way around, with 70% of their time spent underwater, doing what they like to do most.” ~ Femke den Haas, Dolphin Project’s Indonesian Campaign Manager
In 2019, Dolphin Project, in partnership with the Central Jakarta Forestry Department and the Jakarta Animal Aid Network (JAAN) successfully confiscated many animals suffering in deplorable conditions at the Melka Excelsior Hotel in Bali, Indonesia, including four bottlenose dolphins – Rocky, Rambo, Johnny and Dewa.
Today, instead of swimming in filthy pools, destined to live out the rest of their lives as entertainment for tourists, Rocky, Rambo and Johnny can now live out the rest of their lives as nature intended: swimming in natural seawater, chasing live fish, and exploring an environment filled with sealife and other natural stimulation. Sadly, Dewa succumbed to his injuries as they were too severe for rehabilitation.
At present, the three dolphins are rehabilitating at the Umah Lumba Rehabilitation, Release and Retirement Center – the first of its kind in the world to care for formerly captive dolphins. While COVID-19 continues to cause untold suffering across the planet, our team has stayed together, caring for our three rescued dolphins while expanding our facilities in preparation for additional previously-captive or stranded dolphins in need.
Dolphin Project is currently scouting for other suitable locations where dolphins can be retired and/or readapted.
Norway’s fjords would serve as a perfect sanctuary for beluga whale Hvaldimir and others in need
“While we may never know the details about how this amazingly gentle, trusting whale came to Norway’s fjords, there can be no doubt that Hvaldimir has suffered at the hands of humans. We can only guess at the horrors he lived through as a captive in the Russian military. Yet somehow this whale escaped—and probably saved his life by doing so. It would be devastating if, after all he has endured, he loses his life in a preventable accident in Norway simply because none of the people he chose to trust took the necessary steps to protect him.” ~ Helene O’Barry
Earlier this year, Regina Crosby, a resident of Norway and a filmmaker, asked Dolphin Project for help in identifying a solution for Hvaldimir, a beluga whale first noticed near Hammerfest last spring. He was wearing a tight harness, but local fishermen were able to remove it before it caused him any problems. They immediately noticed its inscription: “Equipment of St. Petersburg.” That set off speculation that he might be a trained Russian whale spy that had somehow managed to escape his human captors.
After spending time with Hvaldimir in Norway, we agreed that Hvaldimir is vulnerable and needs protection before tragedy strikes. We believe the solution lies in establishing a large protected sanctuary for Hvaldimir in one of Norway’s fjords. In the sanctuary, Hvaldimir would be safe from fishing nets, fish farms, and boat propellers.
Norway, with its stunning fjords, is the perfect place for a beluga whale sanctuary. Hvaldimir is a defector who needs asylum. The Norwegian government has a unique opportunity to give that to him.
Dolphin Project goes virtual!
“With the current global quarantine restrictions, we hope, now more than ever, that people can understand what life is like for captive marine mammals. While the pandemic quarantines continue we hear phrases such as going stir crazy being tossed around, but our isolation is only for a short time. For captive dolphins, whales and other animals, freedom only comes with death. Your captivity is temporary – theirs isn’t.” ~ Rachel Carbary, Events & Outreach Coordinator
In response to COVID-19, Dolphin Project’s two biggest events of the year, Empty the Tanks and Japan Dolphins Day went virtual.
On May 9, thousands of people from around the globe joined our #SelfiesForCetaceans online event. We are so grateful to everyone who took the time to participate, and share the message that marine mammals do not belong in captivity. Your photos and posts were creative, fun, and inspirational!
On August 30 to September 2, thousands of people from dozens of countries participated in virtual Japan Dolphins Day events, marking the start of the hunting season in Taiji, Japan. Their message was loud and clear: the massacre of dolphins in Taiji is a crime against nature and must end immediately.
An all-Japanese team comprised of volunteers and nonprofit organizations continues to document the dolphin slaughters and captive selections, Taiji, Japan
“Sometimes juvenile dolphins are spared from slaughter or captive selection, and in these instances, are taken back out to sea and dumped. In the worst case, they may still be swimming in search of their mothers.” ~ Ren Yabuki, Campaign Director, Life Investigation Agency
Every year from September through March, a notoriously cruel hunt of some of the most sentient creatures on the planet takes place in Taiji, Japan, made famous by the 2009 Academy award-winning movie ‘The Cove’. During this period, dolphin hunters, “drive” the mammals to their capture or deaths via means of physical violence and acoustic torture.
For the 2020/21 dolphin hunting season, Dolphin Project is collaborating with Life Investigation Agency (LIA), a Japanese nonprofit organization dedicated to investigating, exposing and campaigning against the abuse of animals, along with other Japanese-based activists. The program is headed up by LIA campaign director Ren Yabuki, and is open to all Japanese citizens curious about the Taiji dolphin drives and the captivity issue. We are pleased to report this is the first time events at the Cove have been documented solely by an all-Japanese team made up of volunteers and nonprofit organizations.
We encourage everyone to share our social media posts to help educate on what is taking place in Taiji. While these slaughters and captive selections are occurring in a remote part of Japan, it’s a worldwide issue as many of the dolphins forcibly removed from their pods end up in aquariums and marine parks across the globe.
O’Barry versus Japan: deportation order revoked!
“Three judges in Tokyo intelligently showed that Mr. O’ Barry is a peaceful and rule-abiding person and that Japan can be a democratic and an open-minded country that may accept diversified opinions.” ~ Takashi Takano, lawyer
Nearly five years after I was wrongly deported from Japan, the decision of the Tokyo High Court to revoke the deportation order by the Ministry of Justice is now effective. I am free to return to Japan.
In a judgement for the case of O’Barry versus Japan, the court ruled in my favor, citing that both my denial of entry (dated January 20, 2016) and deportation (dated February 5, 2016) were without legal merit. The Japanese government attempted to appeal this decision, however, the Supreme Court did not accept the appeal. Thus, case closed!
It is very rare for a Westerner to beat the Japanese government in a court of law. The reason we did is simple: these were trumped up charges. It was yet another attempt to silence me for speaking out against the annual Taiji dolphin slaughter. It’s a huge victory and could very well help others in the future.
Taiji’s dolphin hunts
People of all ages can learn about the importance of marine life and conservation at the Umah Lumba Education Center, Bali, Indonesia
“In addition to providing 24/7 care to Rocky, Rambo and Johnny, we are continuing our efforts to help educate about the importance of marine conservation. The villagers have graciously allowed us to use a piece of land where we have constructed an educational center, created from bamboo. Here, the center will be able to provide a safe and fun space for people of all ages to learn about animal welfare, and the value of keeping marine life safe and free in the ocean.” ~ Femke den Haas, Dolphin Project’s Indonesian Campaign Manager
Education equals empowerment! Across Indonesia, Dolphin Project has been educating on the importance of marine conservation, and of leaving wildlife wild! With the construction of the Umah Lumba Education Center, we can continue reinforcing that dolphins are not entertainment, nor should marine environments be exploited.
France says NO to dolphin captivity and breeding
“2020 has been a difficult year for most of us due to the COVID-19 crisis. The lockdowns we have been though, with all of the strict rules and constraints, present a huge challenge to both our mental and physical wellbeing: the self-isolation, no real social life, no interesting places to travel to, no exciting plans to make, nothing new to see and do, and every day is the same. This is the harsh and monotonous reality that captive dolphins endure, every single day of their lives.” ~ Helene O’Barry
On behalf of our colleagues at the French animal rights organization C’est Assez!, we are happy to announce that on September 29, the French Minister of Environment, Barbara Pompili, announced a ban on the captive breeding of marine mammals. This means there will be no more breeding of captive dolphins, including killer whales, in France, and dolphin captivity will be phased out. The import of captive dolphins will also be banned.
In many countries, captive breeding programs remain the biggest obstacle in closing down facilities that exploit dolphins for profit. We hereby congratulate all the French activists who have shown up for protests to achieve this amazing result. The activists at Cést Assez!, which translates into “Enough is Enough!” – stand out in more than one way: They hold the loudest and most visual protests in front of the Eiffel Tower on every Japan Dolphins Day. We are happy to work with them whenever we can and are not surprised that they have achieved this huge victory for captive dolphins.
Indonesia’s traveling dolphin circus shut down
“This is a historic day for all of us involved. Since 2009 when the traveling dolphin show first started, we have worked tirelessly, sending petitions, coordinating protests, attending numerous meetings, lobbying the government and engaging in comprehensive field research. Today we made history in closing one of the last traveling circuses in the world.” ~ Femke den Haas, Dolphin Project’s Indonesian Campaign Manager
After a decade of relentless campaigning against Indonesia’s traveling dolphin circus, the world’s cruelest dolphin show was shut down.
On February 5, the Ministry of Environment and Forestry in Indonesia chose not to renew the permits of the traveling dolphin circus. Wersut Seguni Indonesia, the company responsible for the endless suffering and trade in wild dolphins for the purposes of supplying dolphins for traveling “entertainment” finally closed their traveling circus tents.
Dolphin Project’s campaign in Indonesia to close these exploitative operations includes a graffiti & mural art initiative, electronic billboards throughout Indonesia, digital ads at the Bali airport and a traveling educational puppet show.
Dolphin Project’s Free Bali Dolphins campaign
Dolphinarium’s license revoked at Attica Zoo
“We applaud the Greek authorities for its decision to help end the commercial exploitation of dolphins in theatrical shows. We strongly encourage the Attica Zoo to go the extra mile and release their captive dolphins to a sanctuary, where they can live out their lives in peace and dignity.” ~ Helene and Ric O’Barry
A Dolphin Project team visited the Attica Zoological Parc in Greece in 2018 in order to evaluate the dolphins’ living conditions. We found several dolphins confined in small tanks with no access to shade. Even though Greece in 2012 implemented legislation that bans the use of animals in shows, the dolphins performed for crowds several times a day.
The Greek Ministry of Environment and Energy imposed a fine of 44,360 euros to Attica Zoo for not adhering to the law that bans the use of animals in shows. According to our contacts in Greece, the Attica Zoo appealed the fine and furthermore maintained that the dolphin shows at the zoo are not about entertainment but are educational. Thankfully, authorities in Greece didn’t accept the zoo’s continued exploitation of dolphins, and on March 13, government authorities evoked the dolphinarium’s license to operate.
“The devastating effects of COVID-19 can be felt in the local villages. Here, people have lost their jobs and while family members would usually step in and care for others in need, now, many people struggle just to survive themselves.” ~ Femke den Haas, Dolphin Project’s Indonesian Campaign Manager
With so many people struggling as a result of the pandemic, Dolphin Project’s team in Bali, Indonesia stepped up to help in any ways that they could. We helped distribute masks and survival packages containing food for those most in need. We helped rehabilitate wild animals which had been kept as pets. We even built a home for a resident needing safe shelter.
We also collaborated with Bali Pet Crusaders to help sterilize animals. Bali Pet Crusaders is an Australian and United States registered charity that provides a mobile sterilization nonprofit program for stray and rescued local Bali dogs and cats, and for those owned by a low income community who can’t afford veterinary care.
On behalf of all of us at Dolphin Project, I wish you the happiest of holidays and many blessings for the year ahead. Stay safe and healthy!
Featured image: Rocky and Rambo swim in the spacious waters of the Bali Dolphin Sanctuary, Indonesia. Credit: Pepe Arcos