Nichola Chapman, a member of the “Free the Ölüdeniz Dolphins” campaign, writes to Fethiye Times ahead of this afternoons protest march in Hisarönü.

The news about the opening of a Dolphin Park broke in the news on the 11th March and from day one both Turkish citizens and British residents along with the many holidaymakers to the resort areas of Ölüdeniz, Hisarönü and Çaliş were shocked and saddened.

Ölüdeniz is the jewel in the crown of Turkey’s tourism and well known worldwide for being an important conservation area of outstanding beauty. It was inconceivable to many that two Dolphins would be taken from the sea, rubbed with grease and packed with ice to be transported in a refrigerated lorry from the small resort town of Kaş along the windy bumpy roads for hours to be dumped unceremoniously in a tiny pool up a mountain at an altitude of almost 400 metres above sea level.

Joanne Davis created the Facebook group “Free the Ölüdeniz Dolphins” after the report was highlighted on the Çaliş Beach Forum and membership has spiralled to more than 15,000 after just a few weeks. Simultaneously Deniz Gurkan opened “Yunus Parkları Kapatılsın” and set up the Dilekçe petition site in opposition to the proposed Dolphin Park in Hisarönü both attracting thousands of members and signatures.

Photographs taken by holiday makers Sarah and Keith documenting Misha and Toms shocking arrival in Hisarönü and posted on “Free the Ölüdeniz Dolphins” Facebook group created great concern. The British Sun newspaper picked up and ran the story triggering worldwide interest and news coverage of Tom and Misha’s plight.

Opposition to the Dolphin Park was based on the inadequate size and inappropriate location of the facility as well as its failure to meet the most basic of European Standards (ES) despite Dolphintherapy Kaş staff that said the pool would be built to meet European Standards. The actual swim area for the Dolphins measures just 19m x 12m x 4m = 912 cubic metres and the ES say for two Dolphins the swim area should be 1,200 cubic metres.

The opposition campaign focused on identifying and influencing the key decision makers in local, regional and national Government and a testament to the campaigns success is that two months in to the tourist season the Dolphin Park still does not have a licence to open to the public. The Government Ministries who continue to claim it is not their responsibility to issue a licence were shocked to receive more than 7,000 emails from protesters all over the world.

The big tour operators Thomas Cook, TUI and Cosmos have all declared their opposition to the Dolphin Park from the outset and Thomas Cook pro-actively advises their customers that the Dolphin Park does not meet their stringent Health and Safety criteria.

Such is the opposition to the Hisarönü Dolphin Park that many holidaymakers have declared that they will boycott any local travel agency that sells or supports Swim with Dolphins as an excursion and take their business and money elsewhere.

In the meantime Facebook and Çaliş Beach Forum members educated themselves as they trawled the internet looking for and sharing facts and information with each other about the facts relating to Dolphins in Captivity.

Non Governmental Organisations (NGO) were also contacted for support and advice and Cathy Williamson at the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Centre (WDCS) offered a great deal of support and information and contributed to the media debates.

Last weekend ‘Born Free’ a dynamic international wildlife charity, devoted to compassionate conservation and animal welfare stepped up to the mark and Programme Director Alison Hood, Public Relations Director Shirley Galligan and Born Free Patron Helen Worth came to see Dolphins Misha and Tom for themselves. They were shocked at what they found and have made a commitment to work alongside everyone involved towards finding a viable solution that is in the best interests of Misha and Tom.

The opposition campaign has evolved and grown and is a concerted effort by thousands of people with varying degrees of involvement.

The Protest March organised for Friday 2nd July will send yet another clear message to the authorities and Dolphin Park staff that the Hisarönü Dolphin Park is not wanted in our name and we will continue until a more suitable habitat is found for Dolphins Misha and Tom.

For more details of the march see the article here.

Nichola Chapman