Since Indonesia has eased restrictions, a number of people have returned to some of Bali’s travel forums, and a common topic of conversation is where visitors can go to swim with the dolphins or where they can catch a boat to see the sunrise with the dolphins, two popular tourist traps in Bali.
However, something these curious tourists are likely not aware of is that the Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins they seek are a “near threatened” species, having just recently been added to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species in 2019.
At the Dolphin Lodge Bali in Sanur, tourists could once swim with dolphins, as the famous Indonesian Lucinta Luna did. However, once the footage of her adventure with two bottlenose dolphins went viral, the attraction was closed forever.
Most people around the world admire dolphins and regard them as highly intelligent and emotional creatures, the humans of the sea. We’ve all heard stories about dolphins rescuing sailors at sea, guiding them safely ashore, and even joining forces with local fishing fleets.
Some claim to have a deep connection with dolphins, saying they represent a window into the marine world because of their social structure and complex behavior.
To others, including some Asian cultures, marine mammals, including dolphins are consumed as food or for other purposes. It’s no secret that culture appears to shift dramatically as you travel from West to East, whether it’s food, survival, religion, available resources, education, or anything else.
In provinces like Riau, dolphins are sometimes caught accidentally (or so the story goes), and rather than releasing them, the dolphin meat is sold at the local fish market as cow meat due to the similarities between the red color and texture of dolphin meat and beef.
In the province of Sikucing Kendal in central Java, young dolphins are taken from the Java Sea and falsely reported to the local forestry department as rescues in need of medical attention. This is done in order to gain a permit to keep them and force them to perform tricks in traveling circuses.
The shallow chlorinated pools they keep these dolphins captive in cause serious eye and skin issues, acute hepatitis, and phycological repercussions in Indonesia’s captive dolphin industry. To prevent unhappy and stressed dolphins from injuring tourists who hold onto their pectoral fins, the dolphins’ teeth are sometimes filed down to their nerves.
But who is to decide one culture is more acceptable than the other?
While Americans disapprove of Asian nations that eat dogs or cats, Hindus in India believe Americans are immoral for eating their holy cows. Why are dolphins so special, and why do people care? How do they differ from any other animal kept in zoos and animal parks around the world?
Richard O’Barry, the Dolphin Project’s founder and director, cared less when he was capturing and training dolphins for a living. But after many of these dolphins died in his arms while working with him on the big television hit series Flipper, he ultimately realized that training dolphins to do silly tricks was even sillier and simply wrong.
More than fifty years later, Richard O’barry’s Indonesian Dolphin Project crew tracked a traveling dolphin show that transported dolphins in coffin-like containers around Sumatra, Kalimantan, Sulawesi, and Java for up to three days. This has been going on since the first entry ticket to the traveling circus was sold in 2009.
Because of this, The Dolphin Project went above and above by sending petitions, organizing demonstrations, attending meetings, lobbying the Indonesian government, and doing significant field research.
While the traveling dolphin circus is no longer allowed to operate, Wersut Seguni Indonesia still has dolphin shows at their permanent location in Central Java. According to the Dolphin Project Indonesian team, 20-30 dolphins are kept in captivity.
The team promised to keep an eye on things to ensure that no dolphins are transported illegally between Indonesian provinces and that the law is followed. The Dolphin Project will also continue to work to rehabilitate and release the remaining captive dolphins in Indonesia.
Dolphins like Rocky, Rambo, and Johnny, who were rescued on August 3, 2019, from the Melka Excelsior Hotel in North Bali. Sadly, the Dolphin project arrived too late for their friend Gombloh, who died two days before the rescue, and for another marine friend, Dewa, who died after being rescued.
The Umah Lumba Rehabilitation, Release, and Retirement Center and the Camp Lumba Lumba Readaptation and Release Center are currently working together with the Ministry of Environment and Forestry of the Republic of Indonesia, BKSDA Bali, the Dolphin Project, the Jakarta Animal Aid Network, Karimunjawa National Park, and West Bali National Park. Together, they built Umah Lumba, the world’s only permanent facility for rehabilitating, releasing, and retiring dolphins that had been kept in captivity, and Camp Lumba Lumba in Kemujan, Karimun Jawa, the world’s first permanent facility for readaptation and releasing dolphins.
Since the rescue, the three dolphins have put on weight and grown stronger. They now spend their days exploring a 50-foot (15-meter) sea pen, where they can hear and feel the sea’s natural currents and sounds.
Their expert team of veterinarians and caretakers, who watch over them 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, is currently re-evaluating Johnny to decide if he can be released back into the wild. There is no better time like the present to adopt Johnny, Rocko, or Rambo and show your support to their cause.
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