Cynthia Fernandez is a veteran Dolphin Project Cove Monitor. She is also a school teacher who has created an educational presentation about the plight of dolphins. Traveling to schools and via Skype, she is bringing a positive message to our future generations.” ~ Ric O’Barry
By: Cynthia Fernandez
The lightbulb went on in my head one day as I was explaining to my students that I would be absent from school for a week, as I was going on a trip to Baja, California to see whales and dolphins. I taught five high school biology classes and in each class a student would shout out: “Are you going to ride a dolphin?” I couldn’t believe it. I had been raised to respect and appreciate wildlife with a special love for whales and dolphins. Hadn’t everybody, I wondered?”
“Ride a dolphin?” I would ask incredulously.
“Yeah, aren’t you gonna?”
That’s when I realized that most students saw dolphins as a form of entertainment instead of the incredible, intelligent and beautiful animals that they are. My next thought was: “How am I going to change that?”
And so I began to prepare an educational presentation for my students. I wanted them to realize that dolphins are special animals, they are not here for our entertainment, they don’t belong in captivity and they needed to see the dangers dolphins face at the hands of humans. I wanted them to think for themselves about dolphin captivity and come to their own conclusions about whether it was right or wrong.
A major problem is that most people have no idea what captivity is like for dolphins. All they see is the show, walking away without any further thought of the dolphins. I wanted my students to think further and deeper. I also wanted to expose my students to the link between the captive dolphin trade and the dolphin drive hunts in Taiji, Japan. I wanted to expose my students to things they didn’t know about, to open their minds and to get them to think. It was never my goal to tell them what to do (teenagers have enough adults telling them what they can and cannot do.) I just wanted them to be educated and be able to make informed decisions.
There is a theme park nearby which holds captive dolphins for shows and “Swim with the Dolphins” programs. However, there is another theme park a little further away which does not hold any dolphins captive. As teenagers love to visit theme parks, it was my hope that a good, many students would decide not to visit the theme park holding dolphins in captivity.
I started doing the presentations just for my own students. They were wildly successful! Students were thoroughly engaged and shocked at what they learned. Students who were completely uninterested in school were totally interested in the plight of the dolphins. One of my toughest, unmotivated students designed a “tag” that said “Dolphin Squad.” Of course, I made him promise not to graffiti his new tag illegally. Each year until he graduated, he would stop by my room and ask me how the dolphins were doing. I had students fill out comment cards about what they learned and what they thought. I received comments such as:
“I never thought about the dolphins, but now I’ll never go to a dolphin show again!”
“I always thought the dolphins were happy, now I know they’re not.”
“Under dolphin smiles, they really miss their home.”
The comments went on and on. I was amazed by the understanding and compassion coming from my students. I decided I had to take this show on the road!
I started by doing presentations for other teachers at my own school, then started contacting teacher friends at other schools, asking to visit their classes. I then began to pedal my presentations everywhere I went. At teacher workshops, I was always talking to other teachers and setting up presentations. The results have been amazing. I have been to elementary schools, middle schools and high schools. I’ve even Skyped with schools in Spain, Turkey and Italy. Here are some of the results.
I’ve sent hundreds of red envelopes with messages from students to the Japanese Prime Minister, the Japanese Fisheries Agency and the Japanese Embassy, asking Japan to end the drive hunts in Taiji. I’ve also sent hundreds of these red envelopes with messages to SeaWorld and Six Flags with student messages, asking them to end their dolphin captivity programs. One year, my students went around our school collecting signatures on a petition to ask Japan to stop the drive hunts in Taiji. Two representatives then presented this petition to a Japanese official at the September 1st Japan Dolphins Day protest.
My students have done presentations for other students at our school. I’ve had high school students accompany me and help with presentations to younger students. Students have joined me at protests. And, most importantly, I’ve had many students return to me and tell me that their friends wanted to go to Six Flags but they convinced them to go to Great America instead, where no captive dolphins are held.
Recently, I’ve begun to focus on visiting elementary schools, as I believe the greatest demand for dolphin shows is from younger children. I’m not sure words can convey the great hope I see in these children. Each class I’ve visited has amazed me. The understanding and compassion shown by these children is inspiring. Their collective gasps when I show them a photo of a wild, male orca with a tall and straight dorsal fin compared to one of Ullises, SeaWorld San Diego’s longest held captive male with a collapsed dorsal fin is incredible. I show them the joy of wild and free dolphins and then the boredom and stress of captive dolphins. I don’t have to tell them that captivity is wrong. Their questions, comments, and desire to help all tell me what they are thinking. I recently received a packet of thank you letters from one class. One, such letter contained the following quote: “Thank you for showing us videos on how dolphins should be removed from captivity. Dolphins should have freedom. It was sad, but now we know how to make a change. People should know that dolphins are more beautiful when they’re free.”
That letter says it all. Educate kids, give them information, let them think for themselves and they’ll get it! The kids will make a positive change!