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Wednesday October 2 2002
She Caribbean Magazine OnlineTropical Traveller Magazine Online

Dolphin debate
Who and What is Dolphin Fantaseas?

Born Free: Dolphins in the wild

Dolphin Fantaseas is an Anguilla-based company that was founded in 1998 under the name Dolphin Lagoon Inc. In January 2001 the company acquired six wild-caught Cuban dolphins, of which three were sent to the island of Antigua to be used in a commercial captive dolphin programme.
Dolphin Fantaseas poses a serious threat to the welfare of dolphins in that the company is causing an increase in the captures, lifelong confinement, and commercial exploitation of dolphins. As a direct result of the activities carried out by Dolphin Fantaseas, many more dolphins will be captured from the wild and brokered through the company to be sent to the many hotels and resorts in the Caribbean. It is with great sadness that I learn that Dolphin Fantaseas is now expanding their business to St Lucia.
Why is Dolphin Fantaseas confining wild dolphins? If you look at the website of Dolphin Fantaseas you will see that their alleged main purpose is to “give people the opportunity to gain an understanding of this fascinating mammal.” The key to understanding why captivity of dolphins is wrong is understanding what dolphins are like in nature.
In nature dolphins enjoy the ability to move freely. Their streamlined bodies and smooth skin enable them to gain fast speed, and bottlenose dolphins are always on the move, swimming up to 40 miles a day. They can hold their breath for as long as 20 minutes and dive to depths of more than 1,640 feet.
In captivity dolphins are restricted to the size of their tank or enclosure. Deprived of expressing their natural abilities they can only swim a few feet before a wall or a fence stops them.
In nature dolphins constantly explore their ocean environment by sending out bursts of sound of many different frequencies. With reflected sound, called echolocation or sonar, dolphins can detect elements that are invisible for animals that are sight oriented, depending on reflected light for vision. The use of sonar is as important to dolphins as eyesight to humans. Dolphins rely on sonar in almost every aspect of their daily lives.
In captivity dolphins are severely restricted in using their sonar. They can’t use it to catch live fish as they are fed dead fish as food rewards. They can’t put it to full use to explore their underwater world because there isn’t much to explore in a barren, concrete tank or a small cage in the sea. They certainly can’t use it to navigate, because they aren’t going anywhere. Sensory deprivation is one of the most damaging aspects of keeping dolphins in captivity.
In nature most dolphins spend their entire lives in the company of dolphins of their own kind, living in groups known as pods. Some pods consist of females and their offspring; others of young males who—when they reach maturity—leave their mother’s pod to form their own. Dolphins are intelligent and social animals. Belonging to a pod is important to them because this is where they find safety, love, and companionship.
In captivity dolphins are forever separated from the pod they naturally belong to. Instead, they are forced to live in an artificial “pod,” designed by humans for commercial reasons. During the capture, the strong social bonds that the dolphins have enjoyed and nurtured for years are abruptly and permanently destroyed.
The word “capture” clashes with the superficial surroundings of the captive dolphin swim programme, and it is therefore understandable that Dolphin Fantaseas doesn’t give the public the details about how their dolphins ended up in captivity. The truth is, the capture of dolphins is an extremely violent procedure. Different capture methods are used for different species of dolphins. One of the methods used to capture bottlenose dolphins—the species that Dolphin Fantaseas uses—is this: Pods of dolphins are chased to exhaustion, surrounded with a net and dragged onto the boat where the capture team searches through the terrified group for the specimen they want. The lucky ones are thrown overboard. Those selected are taken ashore, and they will never see their ocean world and their pod again. In some incidents, dolphins have been separated from their calves, regardless of the fact that a bottlenose dolphin normally protects and remains with her calf for about five years. During this time they nurture a relationship characterised by profound affection. The violent and permanent separation no doubt represents a traumatic experience for both mother and calf, and it is hardly surprising that dolphins have died from capture shock.
In an article published in the St Lucia STAR September 25, Dolphin Fantaseas boasts that their company is “run by a group of people that have in excess of 80 years combined experience handling and caring for marine mammals.”
This statement is laughable at best. Dolphins, in comparison, have evolved over more than 50 million years! Having adapted perfectly to their vast marine environment, they hardly need to be captured, “cared for,” and trained in how to be dolphins by so-called “experienced” staff members at Dolphin Fantaseas.
On the contrary, the dolphin “care” that Dolphin Fantaseas can provide consists of a brutal capture, lifelong confinement, and hours of training in abnormal behaviours. These three aspects of dolphin captivity clearly violate a dolphin’s most fundamental behavioural requirements. The dolphins held captive by Dolphin Fantaseas will never swim in a straight line for as long as they desire; nor will they ever be able to use their speed, intelligence, sonar, and sense of cooperation to catch live fish. They will never again experience what it means to be a real dolphin, in a dolphin’s real world—the open sea. By human design these free-ranging and complex marine mammals will be confined to a very small space where, for the rest of their lives, they will have to satisfy a never-ending line of tourists demanding a close-up encounter with an exotic animal.
Is this cruel? Of course it is. Yet Dolphin Fantaseas will have you believe that what they are doing to the dolphins is right. They will even go as far as to say that, guess what, they are capturing and confining dolphins to teach you, the consumer, respect for nature! That is the height of hypocrisy that the dolphin captivity industry is based upon. Sadly, many people buy into the deception, and that’s what nourishes the profits made from dolphin captivity.
In order to justify the commercial exploitation of dolphins, the dolphin captivity industry will sometimes make the statement that life in the sea is so stressful for dolphins, they are far better off being captured and used in dolphin shows and swim programmes. “If you are a dolphin you don’t know where your next meal will come from; when you are going to run into a hungry shark or killer whale; where the next drift net is or what pollutants humans have dumped into the ocean,” says Dolphin Fantaseas. That’s like saying a humanbeing would be better off never leaving his house out of fear of being hit by a car. But living is doing things. It is expressing who and what you are by living in accordance with your true nature and, in doing so, letting all of your natural skills unfold. For a dolphin, this means chasing fish, surfing, diving deep, navigating, foraging, socialising with pod members, and moving in a straight line mile after mile.
Yes, we need to stop polluting the oceans. We need to stop drift-netting and over-fishing. And we need to stop capturing, exploiting, and killing dolphins for casual amusement. To add to the destruction of nature by capturing dolphins is not going to solve any of our environmental problems. The contrary is true: It enforces the widespread misconception that nature and its inhabitants exist for humans to make use of as we please. Captive dolphin swim programmes only serve to perpetuate our insidious, utilitarian perception of nature.
Despite all the obvious reasons why dolphins don’t belong in captivity—reasons that Dolphin Fantaseas interestingly enough simply dismisses as “a variety of personal reasons”—the company, on their website, goes on to say about dolphins that they are “powerful ambassadors of their species, and we are obligated to safeguard their natural sea-lifestyles.”
No, I’m not kidding, that’s precisely what they say: “We are obligated to safeguard their natural sea-lifestyles.” And this statement comes from a company that makes its living doing the exact opposite! Their business is based on capturing dolphins from the wild, separating them from their pod members and their natural environment; in other words, it is based on permanently destroying the dolphins’ natural sea-lifestyles. This is yet another example of how the captive dolphin industry supplies the public with information that one must suspect was designed to mislead rather than educate.
In the St Lucia STAR, Dolphin Fantaseas makes a point out of emphasising that there are a lot of tourist dollars to be made from captive dolphins. Personally, I have no doubts that when it comes to calculating the desired profits made from charging people to swim with captive dolphins, Dolphin Fantaseas knows what they are talking about. After all, that’s what the trade in dolphins is all about: Money.
Like any other business, the billion-dollar dolphin trade is based on supply and demand. As long as there is a paying audience to sustain the profits of the dolphin captivity industry, dolphins will be captured from the wild and captive dolphin breeding programmes will be intensified. Ultimately, the consumers are the dolphins’ only hope. As a consumer, you can help abolish dolphin shows, dolphin swim programmes, and other forms of dolphin exploitation. It’s easy: Don’t buy a ticket!


Another EMSI patient returns home
Natalie Auguste, thankful for EMSI’sassistance, is urging parents to sign their children into the programme
At 23, Desruisseaux resident Natalie Auguste could scarcely move around. She gasped for breath at every step and caring for her baby daughter was exhausting.
Continually fighting to breathe, and experiencing severe chest pains, Auguste visited her doctor. After several tests, the young mother was informed in February this year that she was suffering from a clogged heart valve.
“The doctor said this condition develops as an after-effect of rheumatic fever,” she told the STAR. “But I couldn’t recall having such an illness. Perhaps it occurred during my childhood.” Her doctors recommended surgical treatment in neighbouring Martinique.
Auguste approached her health insurers.
“My company is connected to the Emergency Medical Services Institute and I was told that I would be transferred to that organisation’s health programme,” Auguste said. “They told me that EMSI patients are flown to Florida and given the best doctors and the best possible care.”
Auguste travelled to the US on August 17 for surgery which took place on September 6. She returned to the island last Tuesday and has nothing but praise for the EMSI team.
“Since I’ve been back I can leave my home and I can breathe. The EMSI personnel were wonderful. I think the government should move ahead quickly to implement the juvenile programme.
“And parents shouldn’t hesitate to sign their children into the programme. I am very thankful that I got enrolled and I would recommend it to everyone. If it wasn’t for EMSI I would have really considered myself lost.”
Last month another EMSI patient, sixteen-year-old Quent Fanis returned to St Lucia after treatment in the US for liver damage as a result of medication he was given here. The teen was misdiagnosed as having a brain tumor. The “brain abnormality” seen in his brain scan was actually a scar from a fall.
Local EMSI representative Emmanuel Adlain is conducting sensitisation meetings at schools and Parent/Teachers Associations island wide.

Mon Repos woman still missing
The family of Agnes Smith, missing since Tuesday last week, say reports that the 45-year-old woman was found on Friday are untrue.
Smith’s daughter-in-law told the STAR yesterday that the lady was still considered missing. No one saw when she left the home she shared with her husband, a daughter and three sons.
“We noticed that Agnes was not around from about 1pm that day,” said Beausoliel. “But we did not think anything of it. We assumed that she had gone to her garden near the house. She never left without telling someone where she was going.”
The last family member to have seen Smith was her son who said he asked her for some soap.
“I spoke to her as well that day,” said Ms Beausoliel, “it was about 11 am. When she did not return later that day we began to get worried and looked around for. When we did not find her we went to the police.
“We’ve looked everywhere but there’s no sign of her. The police returned about three times last week. We are thinking about putting up photographs of her at various places around the island.”
The concerned woman said Smith had left a handwritten note in which said good-bye to her children, who range in age from 28 to 16 years, and her three brothers. She had also requested that her daughters be taken care of.
The family is reportedly still in shock, not eating or sleeping, since Smith’s disappearance.
“Her husband is not the same person,” said Beausoliel. “He doesn’t eat or sleep. Everyone is still very worried about what could have happened to Agnes.
“I have no idea where she might have gone or why she did this. She was always smiling and happy and never showed that she had any problems. But then you never know what’s killing the person inside.”
Smith’s family has appealed for anyone with information or who may have seen the woman to come forward.