Reader’s Letter: Different angle on dolphinarium

POSTED: 05/24/11 1:21 PM

Dear Editor,

I would like you to print this article about my thoughts on the dolphinarium, BUT WAIT! I know you’ve already printed about a trillion on the idea of bringing one to St Maarten, so I’d like to state that the angle on this might be a bit different.

You see, I have no problem with them. Dolphinariums can work. In fact I have been to one in Florida that maintains the lovely mammals in huge enclosures, feeds them complete diets, and pampers them almost to excess. They are cared for by highly trained and educated individuals (schooled in related fields such as zoology) that have a passion and love for the animals they are entrusted to care for. In fact, for them it is looked at as an honor to be chosen to care for such an intelligent and emotional creature. Amazingly the dolphins are in such good health that the dolphinarium is currently running a successful breeding program! If done properly, even a potentially horrific proposal such as a dolphinarium can be done with little ‘slavery’ to the animals involved.

Now….don’t get me wrong. I’m not a puppy hugging member of PETA who is over sensitive about this….but Dolphins can absolutely ‘suffer’. In addition to humans, orangutans, gorillas, chimpanzees, and elephants, dolphins are one of the few animals that can identify themselves as individuals within a group and (obviously) recognize others as such. Without a doubt dolphins can suffer, feel pain for others, relate to family groups and feel ‘advanced’ emotions such as revenge and altruism. This is not an opinion. Through the extensive studies of dolphin behavior (as well as other cetaceans) it is a proven fact. If they are ill-treated and in pain….they know it and recognize it as suffering the same way we would.

So….what’s my beef with a dolphinarium on St Maarten? Simply put, we are just not ready for it. As a culture, the general population in this island shows nothing but apathy and disrespect in regards to the care of animals. Don’t write in saying I’m wrong. I’m not. Granted there are some diamonds in the rough (people who actually care for their pets), but the overall population leaves dogs on five meter leashes for their entire lives, or isolated behind fences, covered in ticks, often starving, or even abandoned when the owners leave the island. This is personal observation, not hearsay.

The habitat of many other animals is indiscriminately destroyed and the smaller critters are often hunted for entertainment leading them to a cruel death. We live in a culture where trash is constantly dropped out of car windows (or left on beaches) leading to garbage littering the entire island. Pride, care and upkeep of this island is certainly NOT foremost in the minds of its local inhabitants. We can then look at the tourism industry who (remaining consistent with the culture and government) would sell their grandmother if it’d provide them a profit. Coral reefs, mangrove trees, and other valuable wildlife habitats don’t stand a chance in the face of St. Maarten’s commercial industry. Yet it is this same industry that wants to take responsibility for the considerable upkeep required for creatures as demanding as dolphins!!!

And let’s not get started with the government who seems to be doing everything they can to keep skilled workers OFF the island. I can assure you right now, there is not a single resident of St Maarten that has the knowledge and expertise to properly care for a dolphin, let alone run a dolphinarium. With the government financially road blocking the importation of the skilled workers this island so desperately needs (in virtually every segment of employment!) the company in charge of the dolphinarium will simply resort to what many other companies do here. Hire the bare minimum of ‘fully qualified’ staff and fill in the gaps with locals. Locals that come from a culture that cares little for their own island let alone the animals they are responsible for. Oh sure if they look hard enough they could hire people that DO care, but they would also be so fantastically unqualified as even those with best intentions couldn’t hope to care for these high maintenance animals.

So when you consider:  A)our island’s tendency to care little for its animal life, be it domestic or wild B) a complete lack of properly trained and competent labor (in regards to the skills required to care for any large aquatic creature C) a grotesquely corrupt government who, in their unscrupulous search for a quick buck, is rivaled only by the large commercial corporations they support and would prefer to simply not consider the moralistic implications of the torture of animals (cock/dog fights are run unfettered in several areas of St Maarten)….the conclusion is obvious. Allowing St Maarten to host a dolphinarium would be equivalent to giving a four year old full responsibility for a puppy. It’s just not ready….and the outcome will NOT be pretty.

Ash Campbell


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