Last week we reported on the construction of a dolphin park by Dolphintherapy Kaş, in Hisarönü, Ölüdeniz in Muğla, set to open this summer. Since then, concerned opposition to the development from Turks, expat residents, loyal holidaymakers and many others the world over, is growing in strength with each passing day. Their hope is to put a stop to this new venture.

A day after the article was put online, a group was set up on the social networking website Facebook called, “Free the Ölüdeniz dolphins.” Created by Joanne Davis who has holidayed regularly in Ölüdeniz for the last six years. “I am overwhelmed by the response this Facebook group has received. I want to thank everyone that has joined and posted comments on this group,” Davis said. There are now over 2000 supporters, mostly non-Turkish.

Comments posted on the site expressed outrage that a dolphinarium was being built in Hisarönü, describing the 250 square metre pool as a “pond” and “torture chamber”, and “hole of shame,” while a great number of personal comments were directed to the Ölüdeniz Mayor, Keramettin Yilmaz.

Apparently unaware of the negative responses online and growing concern, Yilmaz said, “I don’t like working with computers and don’t have one in my office so I’m not aware of this [online activity]…however, I have respect for the views of those who may oppose the dolphinarium and invite them to speak with me in person. My door is always open to the public.”

Yilmaz remains adamant that the construction will go ahead. “I will say that if we go with this mentality [that dolphinariums are cruel], then we will have to close all zoos that keep wild animals, free all caged birds or dogs who are kept in the house.”

“The main goal of the Hisarönü Dolphinarium is to make these animals accessible to the public; accessible to children so they can learn about them and develop a love towards them and nature in general.”

“The 9 strong Ölüdeniz Council Committee came to this decision after a year of discussions. If the dolphinarium is not run under the correct practices we will of course step in and take whatever action is needed. But we have full faith that Dolphintherapy Kaş will do a good job.”

Spokesperson for Dolphintherapy Kaş, Ibrahim Dilek was not available for comment.

Deniz Gezgin, deep-sea diver and dolphin protection activist, thinks the decision to open a dolphinarium couldn’t come at a worse time.

“This is a period when dolphinariums should be shutting down not opening up, especially in an area like Ölüdeniz which is populated with nature lovers who would not support such a project.”

Gezgin started her own Facebook group called “Yunus Parklar Kapatilsin! [Dolphinariums should be shut down!],” following the deaths of four dolphins at Sealanya, in Antalya over a month ago.

The majority of the 1,800 members on the site are Turkish.

“We must understand that using dolphins as entertainment isn’t such a bad practice in the views of some Turks, as indicated by the Ölüdeniz Mayor. But, as our page and the efforts of many environmentalists indicate, Turks are beginning to listen and empathise.”

“I think education and exposure is the key here. Turks are naturally very emotional and if they found out the plight of these animals they wouldn’t support it. ”

“Initially, we need to show tolerance to those who may support dolphinariums and not attack them for their lack of knowledge and understanding.”

Gezgin hopes that, with improved education, “Turkey will take a stand on this issue. Just because western democracies including some states in America may get away with it, why should Turkey continue the ill practice of locking up these creatures?”

“I would like to think that Turkey could potentially lead the way. But this can only happen if we face the reality that these poor animals belong in the wild and not in an entertainment pool.”

Gezgin is currently organising a petition against the opening of the Hisarönü dolphinarium in both English and Turkish to be presented to the Ölüdeniz Mayor and the Federal Department of Environment and Forestry and made available on the Facebook group.

“We know the owners of Dolphintherapy Kaş experienced a slump in business last year in Kaş and this new venture is to somehow revitalise their business. But what they do not understand is that tour operators are very conscious now about dolphinariums and the number of businesses that will, is simply not enough to support them,” Gezgin added.

Salih Taşcı, head of the Fethiye branch of the Turkish Association of Travel Agencies, TÜRSAB, says that although the dolphinarium will be good for attracting tourists to the area, they are now concerned that conditions at the Hisarönü pool will not be appropriate for two dolphins. He said, when initially asked by HDN about his views regarding the centre, he was not aware of the possible negative impact of the pool to the animals.

“We were approached before the summer season of 2009 by a committee member [from the Ölüdeniz Municipality] who wanted to get our business opinion about the dolphinarium. We thought it was a good idea, coming from a business perspective as tourists would not have to travel all the way to Kaş in order to see the dolphins.”

“Although we think the dolphinarium is good, this is only from a business perspective in attracting more tourists to the area. We are now however, aware that the standards of the Hisarönü pool may not be suitable for the wellbeing of the dolphins. We are concerned that the pool is too small for these animals, too close to discos with loud music and we are not sure about the quality of water.”

He agreed with Gezin, that the general Turkish population who travelled to Ölüdeniz would not be aware of what dolphins need.

“Most of our internal visitors are from Anatolia; large cities like Ankara that are not close to the sea so naturally they are very curious about sea creatures especially dolphins. They come here and seeing dolphins are totally awestruck. They probably wouldn’t have any idea about the actual needs of these animals. They wouldn’t know just on appearance if they are happy or healthy.”

“At the moment the general Turkish population does not have much of an opinion about the wellbeing of these creatures as education about this has been minimal,” he said.

“We have to just see how things pan out. I believe customers who do not support the dolphinarium will simply boycott it, and then maybe the general Turkish population will also follow, leading to the closure of the dolphinarium,”

“If however, at any stage if we hear or see that the dolphins are not treated and looked after appropriately, that they are in pain or unhappy we will immediately pull our support,” he added.

According to WWF there are currently 12 dolphin parks operating in Turkey that attract a total annual profit of $30-35 million. It is estimated that 50 dolphins are currently used in these parks, with most of them allegedly brought to Turkey from the notorious Taiji Island in Japan, as the catching of dolphins in Turkish seas in forbidden.

Cathy Williamson – captivity manager at The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society confirms, “The proposed new dolphinarium in Turkey concerns WDCS greatly. The increase in the number of dolphinaria in Turkey in general, their poor condition, and the captures that have occurred in the country itself are not acceptable.”

Following some of the more acerbic comments about the building of the dolphinarium in Hisarönü a British resident (who wishes to remain anonymous) expresses her concerns in considered tones.

“I did swim with dolphins once but they were about five miles off shore in the Med! I must admit it was an uplifting experience. I also visited Sea World in Florida but that is a place where millions have been spent to create an environment, which is clearly nothing like the centre of Hisarönü and is peaceful at night.”

“I am aware that there is some resentment from the Turkish people who I have spoken to that they resent the interference of British people and feel that any objections should be voiced by the Turkish people.”

“A good bowls green or nine hole golf course somewhere in the valley would I feel have been a better investment I feel. It would have encouraged a longer tourist season that way too.”

Jane Tuna Akatay and Özlem Öztürk

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Latest Update 23 March 2010 Hisaronu Council Committee Split Over New Dolphinarium