Recently, as part of the Empty the Tanks campaign we had volunteers travel to Mexico in order to document the dolphin captivity facilities within the state of Quintana Roo. Quintana Roo is a tourism hotspot where locations such as Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Tulum, and Cozumel reside. The state of Quintana Roo is a little over 34,000 square kilometers and they have packed in 19 facilities that spend each day profiting off of the exploitation of dolphins.
For more than 30 years the captivity industry in Mexico has deceived us with their false claims and marketing. During these years they have ignored the scientific facts about the animals they are exploiting. It is time they acknowledge the complexities, emotions and intelligence of all cetaceans.
The Mexican tourism industry expects nearly 45 million people to visit the country in 2019. Mexico is the 8th most visited country in the world. With tourism numbers continuing to grow each year, it is also important to increase efforts to educate tourists about dolphin captivity throughout the country.
Our volunteers visited all 19 swim-with-dolphins facilities in the state in order to obtain more information about the health of the dolphins there, as well as to document the activities taking place. What they discovered were astonishingly small tanks, some of which are only feet from the ocean, full of dolphins that showed restless and stereotypic behaviors. Each day the dolphins must earn their meals by doing tricks and entertaining paying tourists.
In this blog we will be talking about the third and final company, Delphinus.
Delphinus operates seven facilities within the state of Quintana Roo. Their name isn’t always as well known but their business methods are the same as their competitors. Our team of volunteers visited all seven of the Delphinus locations and they found that the tanks were old, the trainers were lacking enthusiasm, and the dolphins were being exploited on a daily basis for profit.
In this blog series we have talked about the sores and injuries that the dolphins seem to always have on their rostrums and how the other facilities try to ignore questions about it. At the Delphinus location in Playa Mujeres, an employee admitted to our volunteers that the sores on the dolphins’ rostrums were from the foot work that takes place in dolphin encounters and training. Each time a dolphin has to push a paying guest up and out of the water, it creates the abrasions that have been documented in photos. This admission puts the injuries our volunteers saw in to even greater perspective. There is an eco-park called Xel-Ha with a Delphinus facility inside the park. The dolphins at this particular location seemed to be in the worst shape out of all seven locations. There were four dolphins in particular that had severe sores and damage to their rostrums. There was also a dolphin at this location with rake marks covering a majority of its body. Our team felt that these dolphins seemed to be in the worst physical condition when compared to the dolphins at the other six Delphinus facilities.
The bullying and rake marks are explained to tourists with large signs claiming that the marks are simply “social marks” and are completely natural. As stated in previous blogs, the social rake marks are natural in the world of cetaceans. However, being trapped within the confines of a small tank or pool, with no way to escape your bullies is not natural. Rake marks such as what we see on the dolphins in captivity are well beyond what is seen or documented in the wild. There is a Delphinus facility inside The Interactive Aquarium in Cancun, and there were obvious signs of tank mate bullying taking place there. On each of the visits to that location, volunteers witnessed a single dolphin being bullied so badly it would jump out of the water and onto the edge of the tank to get away from the other dolphins. Again, in the wild these animals have the entire ocean when they need to flee, but in captivity they are trapped. The aggression towards one another is presumably worse in captivity as well since the dolphins are subjected to stress and boredom.
The Xel-Ha location appeared to be the only one with some shade accessible to the dolphins due to the trees growing around the perimeter. The dolphin tanks however, were still a fraction of the size of the swimming pool areas designated for the human guests at the park. This again shows the priority to be on paying customers and not the dolphins.
Another Delphinus staff member told our volunteers that typically calves only stay with their mother for one year before they are separated or moved to a new location. In the wild a bottlenose dolphin calf will stay with its mother for up to six years. The captivity industry in Mexico is admitting to separating bonded mothers and babies years before they should. An employee at the Riviera Maya Delphinus location told our team that, “They are not like us, they do not have families like us.” This is the false information they are giving to tourists in order to continue their exploitation of these animals. It is well documented that wild dolphins have deep social and family bonds with one another. It is a shame to see the trainers at Delphinus diminishing that fact to further their own greed.
The Puerto Morelos location is next to a busy harbor and trash could be seen floating in the pens with the dolphins, along with a fuel or oil slick. The water was obviously unclean and the employees did not seem concerned about it. This is not the first location where we have reported this kind of distressing situation. Polluted water was also seen at the Dolphin Discovery locations, which you can read more about here.
Another common sight at the facilities that are inside partner parks or hotels, is the loud noise from various parties that take place. For example, during one visit to the Delphinus inside The Hyatt Ziva Hotel, there was a foam party taking place right next to the dolphin tanks. There were a lot of people, very loud music and a loud MC all placed right next to the dolphins. The foam was also getting in the dolphin tanks so we can only hope that the product was safe for animals and the water. These kinds of events happen all the time at captive facilities around the world and our knowledge about these animals should tell us that this is not appropriate.
The captivity industry in Mexico has been lying to tourists for decades, and our volunteers were able to confirm that those lies are still being told. These companies want to people to think they are working on conservation issues and helping wild dolphin populations, and yet every time our team watched a show or performance, there was no mention of conservation at all. The dolphin encounter packages is what they want to talk to you about because that is where the money is.
We want to continue urging you to share these stories and never buy a ticket to a dolphin show. In our last and final blog for this series, we will be sharing some Take Action items with you as well as some swim-with-dolphins alternatives.
Please contact the companies listed in the graphic below to tell them it is time to stop supporting dolphin captivity, and of course please never participate in a captive dolphin encounter.
Featured image: A tourist rides the dorsal fin of a captive dolphin at the Delphinus inside the Hyatt Ziva Cancun Hotel. Credit: Empty the Tanks/Dolphin Project