Forty years ago, former dolphin trainer Richard "Ric" O'Barry found himself at the crossroad of his life - when the dolphin in the 60's popular TV series Flipper died in his arms.
This unfortunate incident awakened O'Barry to embark on a long, arduous campaign against animal captivity and the use of animals, particularly dolphins, for the sole amusement of man.
O' Barry's global efforts and great undertakings have been featured in the 2010 Oscar-winning documentary "The Cove," a film that shows the annual, massive slaughter of dolphins in a small coastal village called Taiji in Japan.
The Philippines, he says, is indirectly and financially connected to the brutal killings in Japan because the dolphins captured by Japanese fishermen from the huge hunts are being exported to this country, particularly to dolphin parks such as the Ocean Adventure in Subic.
"The largest slaughter is being conducted alongside the dolphin capture. It's the capture that is the economy underpinning the slaughter," explains O'Barry who had just returned from Taiji to monitor the activities. "A single, untrained animal can go for as much as $150,000.00. The sad part is it's not Filipinos who are doing this, it's the Americans. They can't do it in America, they can't do it in Europe, so they come to your country and they have brought your country into this mess. You are now connected to this."
O'Barry thus calls on both Filipino consumers and the educational system to take up arms against the issue, believing that the solution lies entirely on the public. "The consumers have all the power. My message is very simple: Please don't buy the tickets for dolphin shows," O'Barry stresses.
According to O'Barry and the Earth Island Institute Philippines, bringing schoolchildren to dolphin shows for their field trips is a form of bad education. He argued that the educational aspect presented by dolphin parks is highly questionable, citing the 51 dolphin parks in Japan in connection with the Taiji slaughter as an example.
"Japanese people have come to all these parks, they've seen the dolphin tricks, yet we continue to see this dolphin slaughter year after year without anybody in Japan opposing it. The theory is if we expose people to dolphins, then these same people, the children, will be educated and they'll do something with these problems," he explains. "What are the children learning from dolphin tricks? They're learning that abusing nature is okay. That these [dolphins] are nothing more but performing circus clowns. And they walk away from there, uneducated."
Earth Island Institute-Philippines regional director Trixie Concepcion also cites a study commissioned by the United Kingdom government in the 1980s about the educational aspect of dolphinariums. According to the responses gathered from school systems, teachers supposedly answered that "it is entertaining, but unfortunately, doesn't generate much knowledge to the children." This led to the shutdown of dolphin facilities until the last captive dolphin was freed in 1993. Yet, several marine parks and aquariums are still operating and making profits in UK even without dolphin shows.
"They [dolphin shows] don't teach kids that dolphins actually swim with their families; that they don't eat dead fish; that they never jump through hoops," explains Concepcion. "It was proven by the study of the UK government, and this is the reason why dolphin facilities in UK have shut down."
RETURN THE DOLPHINS
But education aside, what will happen to kids who simply want to see dolphins in the flesh?
"The kids will be fine," says O'Barry, recalling his own young daughter who has never seen a real dolphin in her life but actually knows everything there is to know about them. "We need to teach our children to control their desires. That's the solution to all our environmental problems - controlling our desires. We can't always get what we want. To teach a child not to step on a butterfly is as important to the child as it is to the butterfly," he says.
On the other hand, Louis Ng from ACRES (Animal Concerns Research and Education Society) is not calling for the complete shutdown of aquariums but to keep only the species which do well in captivity, and dolphins are not part of them.
Ng is also urging the Philippine government to return the 25 dolphins to Solomon Islands where they were captured. These 25 dolphins are being kept and trained in the Philippines before sending them to dolphin shows in Singapore.
"The government on Solomon Islands will welcome these dolphins back, rehabilitate and send them to the wildlife," Louis says. "Switzerland and Mexico had already banned the import of dolphins. In Asia, we'd like to see the Philippines to be the first country to take a step forward."
NO TO FIELD TRIPS
O'Barry also lauds KABATAAN Party-list Rep. Raymond Palatino for filing House Resolution 2759 on urging the Department of Education and the Commission on Higher Education to ban school field trips to theme parks with captive whales and dolphins that come from cruel and inhumane sources.
"It's a great opportunity for the Philippines, having it dolphin-friendly by banning dolphin shows. That would send a powerful, positive message to the rest of the world of the Philippines' respect for nature - that is something that money cannot buy," says O'Barry.
For some reason, dolphin conservation in the Philippines does not belong under the Department of Natural Resources - Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau. It is instead under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, much to the puzzlement of environmentalists.
"The conservation aspect of that specie is overlooked because the primary objective of this agency is food security," explains Concepcion. "We are a developing country, people seem to overlook environmental issues or animal welfare, which is actually quite important and will get back to us humans if we do not put attention to it."
Earth Island is now calling for educational institutions to promote real education when it comes to wildlife conservation by raising kids to protect nature by first understanding and respecting it. Conservation encompasses several actions which include the protection of wildlife habitat and proper disposal of waste.
Earth Island also extols the La Salle school system for its directive to all of its units not to go to dolphin shows anymore. "Schools like Assumption College in Makati have pledged not to go to dolphin shows. In regional schools like Antipolo, there are letters from kids that don't want to see dolphins anymore," states Concepcion. Earth Island plans to reach more schools for this campaign, particularly those in provinces near Subic like Batangas and Pampanga.
"So we're targeting schools to write to Education Secretary Armin Luistro. We have a dolphin mascot there, and we plan to collect all these letters and bring to the Secretary every so often and these will be individual written letters of the kids who don't want to see dolphin shows anymore," says Concepcion. "When you give to them the real education, when you really show them the real nature of dolphins, they will understand."