“Is this kind of business really worth the pain?” says Corrie Street actor and Born Free Patron, Helen when she visited Fethiye last Friday.
Helen Worth crouches on the side of the bare, concrete swimming pool containing two fully-grown male dolphins –brought to the mountain resort of Hisarönü to swim with tourists at £50 a go.
Actor Helen Worth, better known to millions as Gail McIntyre on UK TVs long running soap opera Coronation Street, made a surprise, fleeting and at times emotional appearance in Fethiye on Friday as patron of famous UK animal charity Born Free.
The Born Free envoy’s first impressions of Turkey, on the drive from Dalaman Airport to Fethiye and of the town itself were one of delight. “Turkey is such a amazing country,” Helen said. “I just can’t understand why anyone would think it needs a dolphin attraction. The beauty of the mountains, sea and coastline is breathtakingly beautiful.”
Having been following the public outcry over the last few months and reading the news in last week’s Sun Newspaper, passionate animal lover Helen came to see the two male bottle nosed dolphins, Misha and Tom for herself.
They were recently brought from Kaş in a refrigerated vegetable truck, to swim with tourists in a pool in the mountain holiday resort of Hisarönü, above Ölüdeniz. The Russian owner Aleksandr Kuznetsov plans to attract tourists who are willing to pay £50 a time to swim with the dolphins for approximately 5 minutes a time. This is the basis of what Mr. Kuznetsov has described as a 10 year project of which he is only part. There are other partners involved too.
Accompanied by Public Relations director Shirley Galligan and Alison Hood, programmes Director, Helen made her first visit to the pool late on Friday afternoon. A padlocked gate greeted them but with a little negotiation they got in to see the two boys in their pool, tented with blue fabric to keep out the hot summer sun and the prying eyes of locals.
Seeing the dolphins in the tourist facility was once again a stark reminder that not everybody thinks the same way. The rectangular concrete lined pool, filled with chlorinated seawater was deeply upsetting to Helen, as she lingered by the side of the water, communicating silently with Misha and Tom.
They checked out their guests indifferently and pushed their only toy (a buoy) between each other a couple of times before returning to the bottom of the pool: surfacing only to take a breath now and again.
Nelson, their Mexican trainer stood and watched from a distance, later admitting to being grumpy in the late afternoon heat. It seems the group’s arrival had woken him up from his siesta. The rather sad, austere surroundings took their toll on emotions and soon everyone was ready to say goodbye to Tom and Misha, for a while at least.
The following day Helen and the Born Free team returned to the ‘dolphin park’ to see the owner, Aleksandr Kuznetsov. With the conversation changing between three languages, Turkish, Russian and English, It was nonetheless a diplomatic, polite, calm and surprisingly friendly meeting, despite the sentiments of those present.
After all, Born Free patron Helen had come in peace as an ambassador, offering Mr. Kuznetsov an opportunity to resolve the increasingly awkward situation in which he now finds himself.
He cannot understand why there has been “such a fuss about the new attraction or what is wrong with the environment, bearing in mind that there are 10 others in Turkey working without any fuss. A new one opened in Istanbul just last week and nobody said anything.” He is shocked by the outcry, “Apart from the dolphinarium in Marmaris they are all in concrete pools like this one!”
Helen gently explains that a concrete pool is not the correct environment for dolphins and that diplomatic protests have already been made at state level. “But the Alanya Dolphinarium is by a busy main road and the dolphins are OK.” Mr. Kuznetsov insisted. “There is one is the basement of a shopping mall in the City of Bursa. If the Hisarönü dolphin park isn’t allowed then they should all be closed down. Anyway, dolphins live longer in captivity.” This allegation is strongly denied by Born Free.
“Whatever you do it will and cannot be suitable,” continues Helen. People are protesting about dolphinariums all over the world. The media and the international community will not go away.”
Offered the chance to sit down to more serious negotiation, he agrees that it is possible but the Turkish authorities should also be involved. Mr. Kuznetsov explains the dolphins are formally the property of the Turkish government and he has them on licence, so he alone is not allowed to choose what happens to them.
After negotiating for more than an hour Helen Worth was pleased to conclude the meeting and determined as ever to see the dolphins out of there. On behalf of Born Free she made a statement.
“We have presented Mr. Kuznetsov with a proposal to reconsider his position. Currently he has no licence to operate and although he appears confident he will receive one, this is a matter yet to be resolved. At the forefront of our discussion was our concern for the welfare of Tom and Misha.
Born Free is prepared to continue negotiations on the feasibility of a rehabilitation programme for these two dolphins and an adapted use of the current facility, so that it no longer remains an aquarium but an alternative use is sought. In addition Born Free will take this issue up with the Turkish Authorities.
Born Free will deploy a team of experts and continue dialogue if Mr. Kuznetsov will work towards a resolution, the first stage of which would be a full health assessment of the dolphins.”
Meanwhile protestors are still vocal in their objections to the dolphins continuing captivity in Hisarönü, Ölüdeniz. Their spokesperson issued the following statement.
“We are delighted that Born Free and in particular Helen Worth have come to see the dolphins. They have seen the concrete prison and have witnessed the totally inappropriate conditions in which the dolphins are being kept.”
“We hope that the positive discussions held today will be the start of a journey towards the dolphins’ rehabilitation and eventual return to the sea. We understand that Born Free will continue to negotiate with Mr. Kuznetsov, offering expertise and support whenever possible, if this is acceptable to all concerned.”
“Born Free have expressed a wish to work alongside those involved in the hope of finding a satisfactory solution to this situation. This will include Born Free continuing to advise and negotiate with Mr. Kuznetsov and they have offered their support and expertise to achieve an outcome that is in the best interests of Misha and Tom.”
Meantime, the Hisarönü Dolphin Park, together with the other 10 dolphinariums in Turkey is not good for Turkey’s image abroad, the Turkish people and the tourism industry. Hopefully Born Free will return to continue discussions with Mr. Kuznetsov and both parties will persevere with their negotiations as a step to put an end to the exploitation of dolphins.
Mr. Kuznetsov smiles softly at the thought of becoming one of the good guys: possibly even the dolphins’ hero. If he decides to accept Born Free’s support it could eventually mean some good news for Misha and Tom. This is a starting point.