The death of Lolita, dolphins go free, a new turtle hospital and so much more – what a year it’s been!
In my first book, Behind the Dolphin Smile, I included a dedication to dolphins both living and dead. Amongst them were: Abaco to Clown, Kathy to Mawana, Patty to Sonny Boy, and Tuffy to Zhen-Zhen to name just a few. Since then, many, many names could be added spanning across the entire alphabet – and I remember them all.
When looking back through the incredible work Dolphin Project’s teams on-the-ground have accomplished, I cannot help but be in awe. While our focus will always remain on improving the lives of dolphins worldwide, our work has expanded to include many species: illegally-caught turtles destined to end up on people’s plates, monkeys chained and forced to perform as entertainers, and abandoned pets birthing multiple litters (with those animals ending up on the streets). We have also brought awareness to the importance of habitat restoration and conservation, by planting thousands of mangrove seedlings and coconut trees, and educating school-aged children on preserving marine diversity.
A commitment I made decades ago, when I first visited Japan in 1976, has continued today with several lawsuits against the town of Taiji working their way through Japanese courts. While documenting the annual dolphin hunts is important, I feel the key to ending this incomprehensibly cruel practice is via legal channels. Our illustrious team of lawyers in Tokyo have an excellent record of fighting the system and winning.
With your generous support, we will continue our global programs in 2024. Please know that none of what we do could be possible without you. From making a monthly donation, to purchasing a t-shirt or other Dolphin Project authentic gear (now 30% off storewide, excluding books, until the end of the year), each action you take goes directly towards our campaigns. And once again, through December 31, every donation Dolphin Project receives will be matched dollar for dollar up to $50K!
As we close off 2023, I’d like to ask that we look past the status quo and challenge ourselves to embrace new ways of looking, new ways of behaving, and new ways of doing. Just like the names of the dolphins I mentioned above, each individual matters, and we, as individuals, have the power to make a positive difference for ourselves, for others, and for the world we all share.
Positive Momentum in Japan
After a four-year fight against a wrongful deportation order, and then another three years of waiting until the worst of the Covid pandemic had passed, I was finally able to return to Taiji. Along with my son, Lincoln, and several dedicated Japanese activists, we stood at the Cove on September 1 – the first day of the 2023/24 dolphin hunting season, protesting the barbaric drives. The day also marked the beginning of Dolphin Defender Month, when participants from across the world create awareness of the hunts and their indisputable connection to the captivity industry. Later that month, in a ruling by Wakayama District Court Judge Ayako Takahashi, a decision made by the Town of Taiji not to disclose information relating to the dolphin drive hunts had been deemed illegal. On April 22, 2022, Ren Yabuki, Director of Life Investigation Agency, in conjunction with Dolphin Project filed a lawsuit against the Town of Taiji over the redaction of information from public documents related to the handling of cetaceans. This ruling represented a great victory for dolphins, and while the town of Taiji appealed the ruling (as expected), we will continue to support Life Investigation Agency as it presses forward with not only this case but others. I’m also pleased to report that Dolphin Project team member and Cove Monitor Cynthia was able to return to Taiji to document the drive hunts and gather additional materials for the ongoing court cases.
11th Annual Empty the Tanks Worldwide Event
On May 13 and 14, individuals around the world spent the weekend advocating for an end to dolphin and whale captivity. Over 40 events took place this year, marking a significant increase in global participation.
Global Beach Cleanup
On July 15 and 16, people across the world participated in our annual Global Beach Cleanup event. Every piece of plastic and debris cleaned up was one fewer item of trash that could have found its way into a waterway and potentially entangled and harmed marine life.
Rambo Departs from the Umah Lumba Center
In July of this year, a little over 10 months since three confiscated dolphins were offered their freedom, Rambo, the last remaining dolphin residing near the release site, chose to depart. In the weeks prior to his departure, Rambo was spotted swimming with a pod of wild bottlenose dolphins. All signs point to him joining up with this pod, or another, and leading the life he was meant to lead. (Last year in September, the gate was opened at the Umah Lumba Rehabilitation, Release and Retirement Center in West Bali, Indonesia – the first and only permanent dolphin rehabilitation, release and retirement facility for formerly performing dolphins – offering freedom to Rocky, Rambo and Johnny, the three dolphins who had been in our care for nearly three years. It was a soft release, meaning the three dolphins could choose to leave the area, or stay near the Center. Rambo chose to stay.)
Expanding Indonesia’s Diverse Community Initiatives
While our main focus at the Umah Lumba Center is on dolphin rescue and rehabilitation, Dolphin Project is pleased to be able to provide medical aid and rehabilitation for a variety of species. Expanding on our diverse community initiatives, we engaged in several outreach activities in Bali, including:
- Ongoing maintenance at the Umah Lumba Center.
- At the Umah Lumba Education Center (in the village next to the Umah Lumba Center) educating school-aged children on nature, animal welfare, marine life, dolphin conservation as well as teaching core classes in a fun and engaging environment. This free school held classes for 69 students this year.
- Planting 6500 mangrove seedlings.
- Responding to six stranding cases, sadly, all fatal.
- Hosting several groups, including: the first ever sea turtle alliance medical workshop for veterinarians from Indonesia and the Philippines, the tour agency Vegan Travels to learn about dolphin protection, a group from George Mason University to learn about dolphin rehabilitation and release, and a group of 20 students to help plant mangroves and learn about dolphin conservation.
- Operating a no-cost veterinary clinic, providing care for local pets.
- Conducting marine mammal stranding training in Karimun Jawa, attended by government officials, local fishermen and citizens.
- Rescuing and rehabilitating long-tailed macaque monkeys (Long tailed macaques, or Macaca fascicularis) from a variety of different situations.
- Rescuing and rehabilitating sea turtles, including endangered and critically endangered species.
New Turtle Hospital Opens at the Umah Lumba Center
Dolphin Project is pleased to be able to provide medical aid and rehabilitation for turtles, including endangered and critically endangered species. While sea turtles are protected in Indonesia, the illegal trade in live sea turtles for their meat and cultural reasons is still taking place. In addition, the reptiles are often injured by boat propellers and jet skis. This year, 107 rescued sea turtles were cared for, ensuring their safe release back to the ocean.
Monitoring the Performing Orcas and Bottlenose Dolphins at Loro Parque
Dolphin Project continued to monitor the plight of the orcas and bottlenose dolphins that perform for tourists at Loro Parque in Tenerife, Spain. With the passing of Skyla, Ula, and Kohana during 2021 and 2022, Morgan has become the sole female orca left at the facility. We have made contact with local animal welfare activists who work to educate the public about the many reasons why orcas and other dolphins don’t belong in tanks.
Checking up on Hvaldimir
This summer, Helene and I made our way to Norway to check on the formerly captive beluga whale known as Hvaldimir. Hvaldimir first showed up in the Norwegian fjords in 2019 and is believed by many to be a former Russian spy whale that managed to escape his captors. While it’s important that independent observers keep an eye on Hvaldimir, Norwegian authorities should finally take some responsibility for him.
Lolita’s Suffering Finally Ends
On August 18, Lolita (also known as Tokitae), the most famous orca in captivity died at Miami Seaquarium. For decades, Dolphin Project advocated for Lolita to be retired to a seaside sanctuary, where she could live out the rest of her years in peace and dignity. Sadly, Lolita never got this chance, dying within man-made walls, the ocean literally a stone’s throw away.
Efforts Underway to End Captivity in Portugal
On October 21, I visited Portugal at the invitation of the Animal Ombudsman for an awareness event to put an end to dolphin captivity. While Portugal has passed a law banning the use of wild animals in circuses, captive dolphins are not included in that ban. During my visit, I gave a talk at the Universida de Lusófona, as well as showing the 2009 Academy award-winning movie The Cove. Lincoln and Indonesia Campaign Director Femke den Haas gave a presentation on the Umah Lumba Center in Bali. Dolphin Project will continue to support local activists as they push for positive change for dolphins. In addition, for the past couple of years, Dolphin Project has been on the ground in Europe, searching for a suitable location for a European dolphin sanctuary.
Dolphin Project Teams up with Monterey Bay Whale Watch
On October 12 and 13, I, along with Dolphin Project team members Alex and Cynthia, and Monterey Bay Whale Watch Captain Nancy and her staff teamed up to create a very special fundraiser for my 84th birthday. For two days, an unforgettable group of dolphin lovers from across the world got to witness dolphins and other whales swimming wild and free in their natural habitat. A fabulous time was had by all, and crucial operating funds were raised for Dolphin Project.
Say NO to the Disney Dolphins
This year, Dolphin Project launched a campaign to bring awareness to the plight of captive dolphins at Disney World. Dolphin Project, together with Save the Disney Dolphins (SADD), are asking Disney to retire the captive dolphins at Epcot, and to cease sales to any captive dolphin programs on Disney cruises.
Stop Carnival Cruise Lines from Profiting off the Backs of Captive Cetaceans
Carnival Cruise Lines glamorizes swim-with-dolphin programs as a ‘once in a lifetime experience’. Dolphin Project launched a campaign asking that Carnival Cruise Lines terminate their partnerships with all captive dolphin facilities and instead, promote local (and ethical) eco-tourism activities as part of their on-shore excursions.
53 Years Defending Dolphins Worldwide!