Last Friday afternoon more than 600 Turks and foreigners made public their concerns about Misha and Tom, two male bottle nosed dolphins, at present living in a pool in Hisarönü Dolphin Park.

In an orderly, silent march hundreds of people, many wearing ‘Born Free – Live Free’ and ‘Free the Dolphins’ tee shirts, passed through the centre of Hisarönü, Ölüdeniz.

They showed that far from being “a few bored old English women” as described by one local bar owner, they are a large group of dedicated and motivated men and women of all nationalities and backgrounds.

It is generally believed that because of the growing numbers of businesses and individuals concerned about the dolphins’ welfare, the owners are still waiting for an operating license and have not been able to legally open for business.

Tour Operator Thomas Cook has already confirmed that they are against the facility opening and others are expected to follow.

The speech made by lawyer Şule Beder before the locked gates of the Hisarönü Dolphin Park, last Friday afternoon in Hisarönü, Ölüdeniz was the first time local businesses, residents, NGOs and people from all over Turkey and further afield, had a chance to make truly public their solidarity and concern over the dolphin park built in a public area of the resort.

In front of more than 600 protestors, many of which wore ‘Free the dolphins’ tee shirts and hundreds more bystanders, she reflected the views of those present and the more than 10,000 people who have joined the ‘Free the Ölüdeniz Dolphins’ on Facebook.

Security was also tight, with Jandarma and Zabita covering the area, taking photos and videos but despite some concern by organisers the protest passed peacefully, with no incidents reported.

Reflecting on the day’s events, a member of a group who came from Kayakoy for the protest said,

“It has always been really well organised protest for the beginning when we found out about the dolphinarium. We are pleased that we have had this opportunity to come here today to show how we feel. The dolphinarium is a tragedy for this area.”

The procession started at the ‘Robin Hood’ roundabout, walked up the High Street before turning left towards the dolphin park.

On reaching the site of the protest, everyone joined hands, sometimes two or three deep around the park and after 5 minutes silence, Beder stood in front of the locked entrance gates and made her speech (in Turkish,) pointing out that humans must take responsibility for the dolphins’ welfare.

“As human beings we are guilty for the existence of dolphin parks, which are prisons for dolphins.” It was then read in English by one of the organisers.

Press coverage has escalated since the British tabloid newspaper The Sun caught the attention of Turkey and the world with its first article some three weeks ago.

Since then the Sun has printed a follow-up and both European and Turkish newspapers, together with animal lovers the world over have speculated on the future of the two male bottle-nosed dolphins.

In addition to the public protest the world-renowned organisation, Born Free has visited the pool. Famous Coronation Street soap star and Born Free patron, Helen Worth came to Turkey with two other representatives to meet with the owners.

She told the press, “We want to persuade them to cancel the project and instead work under the guidance of Born free, to put the dolphins into a rehabilitation programme in the hope that, the dolphins’ health permitting, they can later be released.”

The parks owner, Aleksandr Kuznetsov subsequently expressed a wish to work with Born Free to this end but pointed out that if his two dolphins are to be re-habilitated then this should apply to all other dolphins in Turkey as well. “I would like to see Misha and Tom in the sea but this has to apply to all the dolphins in Turkey.”

The Sun’s representative said, “We are delighted by the response and hope that we, together with the protest groups and Born Free there will be a happy outcome for these two dolphins.”

A spokesperson for the protestors said, “I think today’s peaceful protest was a great success. It was silent but even so I think we got our message across to the authorities loud and clear: Misha and Tom do not belong in a concrete pool up in Hisarönü… they need to be free in the sea. The response we had today is a reflection of how people feel – Turkish and British. This should not be forgotten.”

Since the facility was originally exposed in the English language Hürriyet Daily News, a group of Turkish and British residents have worked tirelessly to prevent the business from opening, and with thousands of emails to the Turkish authorities in Muğla and Ankara, together with online petitions and a Facebook group, many more thousands of signatures have now been collected.

Despite the large number of people obviously against the dolphin pool not everyone was convinced. The numbers that turned out to protest surprised one bystander, who did not wish to be named.

“I can’t really understand all the fuss,” he said. “After all it’s just a couple of dolphins. I have more important things to worry about.”

Others did not join the procession, having shops and bars to run but stood along the pavements and clapped to show their support. All the bars and restaurants turned the volume of the music and TV (football commentary) as a gesture of support and respect for the protestors.

Two dive centres, Lycia World’s Diving Centre, Elite Diving and European Diving Centre took the unprecedented step of closing their offices in order to attend.

Fly South Microlighting School’s, Gustav flew over the town taking photos of the protest. Local TEMA representative, Okyay Tirli also came along and spent time explaining the cause to anyone and everyone who wanted to listen.

Later he said, “I didn’t meet anyone who wanted the dolphins kept in Hisarönü. Their place is in the sea. Keeping them in this prison is not good for the dolphins or for tourism in Hisarönü.”

Author – Jane Akatay

Pictures – Fiona Robson, Jane Akatay