Tourists taking their holidays in the resorts of Hisarönü, Olüdeniz and Fethiye this season will have the opportunity to swim with dolphins in Hisarönü, says the municipality Mayor Keramettin Yilmaz. But opinions are divided over the area’s latest attraction particularly with the welfare of dolphins kept in captivity and used for “fun”.

“Owners of Kaş dolphinarium have rented land from the municipality. Construction for the pool has commenced and will be completed for opening at the beginning of this summer season. It is understood that there will be two dolphins, from the Mediterranean.”

Ibrahim Dilek, personal assistant to Alesandr Kuznetsov, General Manager of Dolphintherapy Kaş said,

“The opening of our very own dolphinarium located behind the Azda supermarket will be great for Hisarönü and Olüdeniz and tourists, as they will not have to travel so far. Local business operators are expecting an increase in tourists coming to the area.”

“Two dolphins will be brought from our Kaş dolphinarium to Hisarönü. They will live in a 4m deep pool of approximately 250m². (22X11 metres)

“The dolphins will spend around six to seven months in summer season in Hisarönü and will spend the winter relaxing in Kaş.”

“The pool is being built in accordance with European standards and will be big enough for two dolphins to live comfortably.”

“The health, safety and wellbeing of the dolphins are our number one priority. We have a vet, trainer and keepers on site and monthly spot checks will be run by the government to ensure the dolphins are given the adequate care.”

“The new centre will offer therapy swims but the main attraction will be swimming with the dolphins. We’ve modelled this program on centres in America and Mexico.”

“Basically each customer will have one hour. We provide information, training before they spend time with a dolphin. There will be up to ten customers per dolphin. They will have the chance to swim with the dolphin holding onto its fin. Each customer will get around about 6 minutes with the dolphin.”

“There will be five sessions a day with appropriate breaks throughout the day. They will work between 2 and a half to 3 hours a day. The rest will be time for the dolphins to relax.”

Hisarönü is some kilometres from the sea, so “our first priority is to transport sea water straight from Olüdeniz. If we do not get the go ahead for this, we will look at mixing natural salt brought from the sea with fresh water.”

“The water will be filtered at least 4 times a day, automatically. There will also be a temperature monitor.”

“The dolphinarium is an exciting opportunity for Fethiye, Hisarönü and Olüdeniz. It will attract more tourists to the area and help business.”

Salih Taşcı, head of the Fethiye branch of the Turkish Association of Travel agencies, TURSAB is delighted by the prospect.

“It’s a really popular activity for English tourists. Until now they had to travel to Kaş and pay 50 TL for the trip, excluding entrance fees.”

“Currently the Kaş dolphinarium takes a fee of 110 TL to swim with dolphins for 6 minutes. The lower cost of the tour will make it even more popular.”

“The potential in Hisarönü is greater than Kaş because it is closer to Fethiye. This will pull in the crowds.”

Deniz Tangal, owner of Activities and Homes Unlimited, is pragmatic. “I think dolphinariums are fine, provided they are constructed in a suitable place with enough space for the dolphins to live healthily. Olüdeniz would be a good place. Personally, I’d prefer to see them free.”

“Most British people living here would I assume not approve of this. As for say the package tourists who come and go, I don’t think they would oppose it.”

Tangal then visited the site, a former children’s playground. After seeing the construction she commented, “This is a dolphin pond not pool. It is far too small. How do they propose the dolphins will live here? This does not sit well with my views of how animals should be kept. They should be respected and not treated like a gimmick.”

[inset side=right]”…people’s perceptions are changing about the way dolphins are being kept in captivity” – Murat Malli from Koral Travel[/inset]Murat Malli from Koral Travel, a Turkish tourist agency, accepts that not everybody feels the same about captive dolphins. “We have good sales at for the dolphinariums at our Marmaris and Antalya branches. Turks are receptive to the idea of dolphin therapy being genuinely intrigued by the animals. Having said this, people’s perceptions are changing about the way dolphins are being kept in captivity.”

The use of captive dolphins and whales for entertainment is a source of contentious debate, particularly following the tragic death of Dawn Brancheau only a few weeks ago, by a killer whale in SeaWorld, Orlando Florida.

Özgür Keşaplı Didrickson, coordinator of Underwater Research Society’s Marine Mammal Research Group, or SAD-DEMAG, emphasized in a recent interview with Hurriyet Daily News, that dolphins could only live safely in their natural habitat and that the NGO is trying to draw attention to the plight of dolphins in captivity in Turkey.

Banu Dokmecibaşi, oceans campaigner for Mediterranean Greenpeace, explains that international agreements, specifically the Bern Convention, allow the use of the sea mammals only for conservation, research and education purposes and their use for commercial gain disguised as therapy, swimming or show is strictly forbidden.

“The increase [of dolphinariums in Turkey] is just unacceptable. The recent deaths [of four dolphins in Alanya] is one example of why cetaceans (dolphins) shouldn’t be exploited in this way. Turkey’s Ministry of the Environment should act to stop this torture, as the department responsible for conservation.”

[inset side=right]”The dolphins’ sonar abilities will improve when they are back in Kaş, like my Turkish did when I came back to Turkey”. Ibrahim Dilek, Dolphintherapy Kaş [/inset]“It seems that the Bern Convention’s use of the word ‘exception’ provides these people with an excuse to allow these facilities. The convention allows exceptions of capturing cetaceans [whales and dolphins] only if there is a benefit for conservation: certainly not for fun!

All evidence suggests that keeping dolphins in concrete pools is detrimental to their health, as a result of their sonar ‘bouncing’ off the walls. Even the Dolphintherapy Kaş website concurs but Dilek believes this is not a problem. The dolphins’ sonar abilities will improve when they are back in Kaş, like my Turkish did when I came back to Turkey.”

Cathy Williamson, captivity campaigner, speaking by phone on behalf of the Whale and Conservation Society from the UK says, “Turkey is doing itself a disservice: nowhere in the world do knowledgeable environmental and conservation groups condone swimming with dolphins, neither in the wild nor in artificial enclosures. Before people participate in this sort of business they should watch ‘The Cove’ which illustrates very well the barbarity of these practices.”

Tour operator TUI were asked to comment on whether their company would promote such an attraction to their customers visiting the area. Jane Ashton head of sustainable development at TUI Travel Plc said;

“To date, TUI UK & Ireland, parent company of Thomson and First Choice, has not entered into any discussions with suppliers about operating excursions to the newly planned dolphin attraction in Hisaronu, Fethiye.

TUI UK & Ireland acknowledges the level of public concern about the welfare of animals and we are committed to ensuring that our suppliers achieve best practice in animal welfare at attractions to which we facilitate visits for our customers.

Whenever practical, we support the viewing of whale and dolphins in the wild in preference to whale and dolphin attractions. However, there is a high demand amongst our customers for visits to animal attractions whilst on holiday, particularly dolphin and whale attractions.

In response, TUI Travel Plc has developed Group Animal Welfare guidance that TUI UK adheres to. The holiday company has also contributed the development in 2008 of the Travelife Animal Attractions Handbook. Pioneered by the FTO (Federation of Tour Operators) and the Travel Foundation, and in association with leading animal welfare organisations, the handbook contains best practice guidelines for animal attractions, including specific guidelines for dolphinaria.

Since 1 December 2008, along with other FTO members, TUI UK issued a statement outlining that it will only work with suppliers who adhere to internationally recognised guidelines as defined by CITES and IUCN regarding the acquisition of wild dolphins and whales.

A letter was sent to all contracted dolphinaria to explain this policy and supplier compliance is monitored accordingly.”

Andrew Lee of Exclusive Escapes said;

“The entire concept of keeping creatures of the wild captive and in particular for reasons of puerile entertainment is nothing other than anathema to the Exclusive Escapes philosophy and I am absolutely certain that of our guests [will agree]. We would hope most sincerely that this form of ‘entertainment’ is not encouraged in Turkey.”

Opinions are clearly divided on whether the latest tourist attraction is good for the dolphins but unless there is a change to the laws it will be market forces, the numbers of people prepared to pay, that finally decide if the dolphinarium sinks or swims.

Jane Tuna Akatay and Özlem Öztürk

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