By Ric O’Barry
I’m a great believer in the power of numbers. People working together on a common cause can achieve amazing things.
Like shutting down a dolphinarium in Turkey!
Last year, I joined the local grassroots group Freedom for Dolphin’s Platform (FFDP) and its leaders Derya Özkan and Öykü Yagci to protest a very inadequate dolphinarium in Kaş. More than 20,000 signatures were obtained on our online petition working with German organizations in Europe and Dolphin Project’s network in the US.
In December 2011, four captive dolphins were brought to the Kaş facility from Bodrum. Two of them were transferred back to the dolphin park in Bodrum-Güvercinlik last year in June after the local activists demanded a health check for the four captives. After many illegal attempts to open without permission, the door of the Kaş facility was sealed by the Municipality last year in May. The last two dolphins have just been transferred to Moonlight Dolphinarium in Kemer. Local NGOs think that the Kaş park will be officially closed soon because of the economic struggle caused by ongoing boycotts.
A big protest was organized last year with the contribution of German Dolphin and Whale Protection Project, ProWal, and WWF Turkey. Seminars at Kaş schools and free dolphin watching boat tours were organized by FFDP and Kaş Underwater Association (KASAD) to raise the public awareness as well as to hand down the love of nature protection to future generation.
FFDP and I called for the Turkish government to close down all the dolphin facilities in Turkey and not to permit any new dolphin facilities.
Last week, hidden under blankets, the two remaining dolphins (that had languished behind the rusty metal fencing at the tiny Kaş dolphin facility for the past eighteen months) were abruptly evacuated and transferred to another dolphin facility 150 kilometres away in Kemer, Antalya.
The news of their sudden departure, set against a backdrop of (1) a long standing decision by the local council to refuse to allow the park to open to the public, (2) a sustained local, national and international campaign of public opposition and pressure, and (3) a pending court case by the facility owners against the council, received a mixed reception from the Turkish NGO’s and campaigners that had led the protests to prevent the reopening of a dolphin facility in Kaş.
Kaş Underwater Association (KASAD) Board Member Belma Tosun said: “The working permission application made by facility owners to the Municipality was rejected. After this, the dolphinarium took the issue to the court. Transferring the dolphins to another place before the court could act shows that the facility owners have no hope left in Kaş. This is a very good development. We hope the process in Kaş can be an example for the people living in cities with dolphin parks, and it can inspire them to take action. We are ready to help the NGOs in these areas in any way we can.”
Derya Özkan, spokesperson for FFDP, said that: “Local people and NGO’s combined to present an effective campaign of opposition to the dolphin facility. However, the dolphins are still in captivity, just in a different venue. Concerns for the health of the two dolphins remain. At a recent meeting with the District Governor Selami Kapankaya, prominent Turkish author and writer Buket Uzuner demanded that a health check be carried out by a veterinarian dolphin specialist. This followed the handing over to the Mayor of Kaş Abdullah Gültekin of a Change.org Turkey petition signed by more than 20,000 people calling for the dolphin facility in Kaş to be closed.”
Buket Uzuner cautiously welcomed the news of the dolphin’s departure from Kaş but again expressed her concerns for the health of the dolphins and promised to support the FFDP and WWF Turkey in the continuing fight to ensure the health checks are carried out as soon as possible.
Derya Özkan stated: “Companies which exploit captive animals for business suffer economically and eventually shut down as a result of dedicated pursuit on local, national and international levels. Now, we will need to make sure that the Kaş dolphin facility is shut down legally as well. We will continue to direct our attention to the dolphins which were transferred to Kemer as well as all the other captive dolphins in Turkey until the day there is a dolphin rehabilitation center to help them return back to the oceans where they belong. We will not rest until all captive dolphin facilities in Turkey are closed and relevant legislation to prevent new ones opening is in place”.
My hat is off to these great local activists in Turkey that have proven so powerful in harnessing the public support for dolphins.